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Sixty Seconds with Alison Steadman

The actress, 73, on her Gavin and Stacey quiz — and getting a FaceTime lecture from her grandson

Tell us about this charity event you’ve got coming up.

I’m presenting a Gavin And Stacey-themed quiz and reading out the questions to raise money for cancer charity Marie Curie. They need £2.5million a week to keep their nine hospices going. Hopefully the quiz will raise money for them.

Why are you supporting Marie Curie?

My mum was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It was a terrible shock. The hospital told me they didn’t have enough nurses and facilities to cope so she would be helped by Marie Curie. She was sent to Marie Curie, had a chat with the doctor and ended up having a lot of surgery. She lived for another two years but during that time had spells when she was very ill. She needed respite care and blood transfusions. Marie Curie were so supportive and to have them on the end of the phone was a great reassurance.

Have you been doing any quizzes during lockdown?

I’ve been doing one every week. I’m hopeless, but my partner, Michael Elwyn, is very clever so I hide behind him and pretend I’ve given him some of the answers. They’re keeping people together and it’s fun. The one I do each week is organised by the lady who directed Gavin And Stacey. I’m also going to be doing one with my family.

Tidy quiz: Gavin and Stacey PICTURE: GS TV PRODUCTIONS LTD

Do you have any specialist subjects?

I love birds and insects and all that. I’m a patron of the London Wildlife Trust. They’ve had to close a lot of their spaces due to social distancing. It’s a scary time for everyone. We’ll find a way through it, but when? I’m fretting as I can’t see my three-year-old grandson. I haven’t seen him for two months. We FaceTime but it’s not the same. He told me this virus is a germ — you can’t see it and you must not touch it — so I must not visit him. So I got lectured on the dangers of the coronavirus by a three-year-old! If I was a bit muddled, that put me straight.

What else have you been doing in lockdown?

Reading. I love to read but I don’t do it when I’m learning lines as it gets a bit stressful, so this has been an opportunity to read some books. I’ve just finished Jojo Moyes’s After You and Michael Frayn’s Skios, which I really enjoyed. And I love making things. I’ve made a Mr Punch puppet for my grandson. I grew up with Punch And Judy. I love the history or Mr Punch so I’ve made a papier-mâché head and glazed it. I’m doing the body now.

Have you been working?

I’ve done a ten-minute film with my partner for the Headlong Theatre Company, who are making 14 ten-minute films for the BBC. Katherine Parkinson, me and my partner, Michael, have done a film for them. We were directed via Zoom and filmed it on our phones. It was fun but we had to do things we weren’t used to, such as dealing with the lighting and I had to provide my own costumes. I enjoyed it, though.

A one-off: John Cleese PICTURE: BBC

What’s it about?

We play husband and wife and Katherine plays our daughter. She was in her own house. The story is about the daughter chatting to her parents over FaceTime and about the older generation being initially unaware of how deadly serious Covid-19 is. I was like that to begin with.

Will Hold The Sunset make a return?

No, that’s finished after two series. John Cleese is such a one-off. I worked with him on the 1986 film Clockwise so he wasn’t a stranger to me. I was sad they didn’t want to do any more but it was good fun to do. I’ve also got a six-part drama called Life, by Mike Bartlett, which has all been filmed. I play a nice middle-class lady who looks at her life, realises she doesn’t have much time left and decides to make some changes.

What are you most proud of in your career?

I’m still very proud of Abigail’s Party and how people still talk about it. People download it, so it’s never gone away. It was improvised. We all put it together with Mike Leigh and if anyone had said people would still be watching it 43 years later I wouldn’t have believed them. It even used to be on the A-level syllabus! I’m also proud of Pride And Prejudice — people still tell me they like that. And of course Gavin And Stacey. To wait ten years and do a Christmas special that was so successful has been brilliant. I’m most proud of being able to earn a living as an actress all my adult life and being able to pay the rent all these years.

Do you have a favourite quote from Abigail’s Party?

It has to be, ‘A little top up, Sue?’

Steadman hosts Marie Curie’s Gavin And Stacey quiz on Thursday at 8.15pm. For more details visit mariecurie.org.uk