Lynda Bellingham: Lynda bares all

Actress Lynda Bellingham talks to Sarah Peters about her memories of growing up on a farm near Aylesbury and her latest role in the hit play, Calendar Girls

LYNDA Bellingham is having the time of her life. In the last year she has got married and toured the country in the hugely popular Calendar Girls - at the age of 60. And she is loving every minute of it.For Lynda, acting has always been an essential part of her life - she first knew she wanted to be an actress when she was cast as a slave in Macbeth at Aylesbury High Grammar School some 50 years ago and then went on to study acting at the Central School of Speech and Drama, graduating in 1969. A huge variety of plays and television series followed with roles in Doctor Who, All Creatures Great and Small, At Home with the Braithwaites, The Bill and Faith in the Future.But it is for her role as the perfect mum in the OXO ads, which ran for 16 years, that she is still most fondly remembered.Lynda, who turns 61 on May 31, has fond memories of her childhood, much of which was spent travelling abroad when her father was a pilot with BOAC. 'I had an idyllic childhood,' she muses. 'I was born in Montreal, but we first settled in a little place.'Then in 1959, when I was 11, we moved to a run down farm in Aston Abbotts, near Aylesbury. It was called Longmoor Farm and it had about 200 acres. There were sheep, cows and pigs - plus my adorable horse, Tiddlywinks.'She had aspired to being a horsewoman, and remembers hours of mucking-out and early morning rides. But when she developed hay fever aged 14 she couldn't go near a horse again. Lynda's father came from a farming background, and he relished the chance to raise his family in the countryside. 'It was very tumble-down. I remember lots of manure and having to queue with my sisters for the bath at the end of the day,' she recalls. 'We worked hard but it was an enormous adventure. We loved the house - we had a huge playroom, with table tennis and a record player. I remember the typical farmhouse kitchen with a pantry and an Aga.'Lynda did her fair share of chores around the farm. 'I remember getting up early to help Dad with milking, which I loved. We'd head back to the kitchen for eggs and bacon and then I'd go off to school when we were finished.'After years renovating the farmhouse, Lynda's home was a far cry from the ramshackle farm they had first bought. Her mother was an antiques dealer and filled the house with Victorian and Georgian furniture.By 1985, with Lynda and her sisters having left home, Longmoor was sold and her parents moved to a nearby house in Aston Abbotts. 'I have such fond memories of my childhood. If every child could spend at least a few years in the country it would enhance their lives,' she says.Lynda still visits the area, although less now as her parents and sister have passed away. 'I still have some good friends in the county though. One very good friend from school, Jenny Puddiford, was mayor of Aylesbury last year.''We do take our clothes off live, on stage, every single night. That's quite a feat!'Since 2007, Lynda has been one of the panellists on the daytime chat show, Loose Women, which she loves, and has no qualms about baring all in the West End in Calendar Girls.The play traces the fortunes of the Rylstone WI who attempt to raise money for Leukaemia Research by making a calendar where they are all photographed nude. Lynda reveals, 'We do take our clothes off live, on stage, every single night. That's quite a feat! But it's done so cleverly - it's choreographed like a ballet. 'Our modesty is preserved with tastefully positioned pots of jam, bunches of sunflowers and some knitting. It's great.'Lynda speaks of an overwhelming sense of support from the audience each night. 'It makes you realise what an amazing thing these women achieved when they first made their calendar. They were just ordinary women from a small village in Yorkshire. They had to overcome all sorts of hurdles to strip off and convince their husbands and children they were not crazy! I know what my sons are like if you do anything out of the ordinary.'Lynda has two sons: Michael, 26, and Robbie, 21, plus stepson Brad and a step-daughter, Stacey. Whilst touring last year, she made every effort to get home each weekend so the family could eat Sunday lunch together. 'The shopping is delivered on Sunday morning and I normally have lunch on the table by mid-afternoon. Then I'd head off to the next theatre on Monday morning.'Lynda, who now lives near Barnet, married her third husband, Spanish property developer Michael Pattemore, in May 2008.'I am really enjoying getting to know Spain. I do feel I am rather continental: I love France and the Italian Riviera. There are so many different elements to Spain.'Lynda already speaks French and Italian, 'at a conversational level' she adds quickly, and Spanish is the next language she would like to attempt. 'I just think people respect you a little bit more if you make the effort to speak their language. Brits are very bad at it, but when you do try to speak, people respond accordingly.'When not working Lynda finds time to relax by reading crime novels and adds, 'I have an absolute obsession with them. As soon as a new author pops up, I have to get a copy. I really got into it because of Patricia Cornwell and the Dr Kay Scarpetta novels. Lynda La Plante is a very old friend and I love her books too. We have discussed many a crime together. I am absolutely fascinated by what makes somebody really dark.'And the dark theme continues through to her cinema choices as she has a love of psychological thrillers. But for a good night out Lynda prefers to head for dinner, listing London's The Ivy, St Alban and The Connaught as her restaurants of choice. 'Oh my, I love it!' she exclaims. 'Those proper, old fashioned restaurants are marvellous. Not so formal you have to whisper like being in church, but places where the service is impeccable. 'There is a wonderful sense of theatre that I find so exciting. I am not grand; I just appreciate things when they are done nicely.'n Lynda is starring in Calendar Girls at the Noel Coward Theatre in London's West End until June 12.