‘I still struggle with self confidence’ Dame Helen Mirren on facing the same battles as the rest of us

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  • With her timeless elegance and sparkling career, on the surface, Dame Helen Mirren has it all – confidence, glamour and success.

    But the award-winning actor has admitted that, behind closed doors, she still suffers with ‘bouts of inadequacy’.

    As she’s grown older, however, Helen, 74, has realised that she isn’t the only one who feels like that – and this realisation has helped her hugely.

    ‘None of us is really confident,’ she divulged. ‘It’s a great help to understand you’re not the only one.’

    But, while Helen has overcome many difficulties in her life, and nonchalantly dismisses her ‘sex symbol’ status, she admits that she’s still ‘sensitive’ when it comes to her work…

    Early difficulties

    Opening up about the difficulties she faced at the beginning of her five-decade-long career, Helen admitted, ‘You were never really allowed to talk about not having self- confidence. It was sort of swept under the carpet.

    ‘You just had to put on the show and not ever show any vulnerability or weakness.’

    She was even insecure about her looks, adding, ‘Because of the way I was born, I fell into a rather 50s understanding of sexy, which I found so annoying and embarrassing and mortifying and humiliating. It just wasn’t ever my taste.

    ‘I wanted to be, you know, a skinny girl in black with a Gitane cigarette – and, physically, I just wasn’t. I had to deal with what I was given genetically, but, at the same time, not allow it to rule my life.’

    She added that, in earlier years, a woman’s success was not so much based on her talent as her sexuality – and this is something that has dogged and hugely bothered the veteran actor.

    ‘History really doesn’t want women to be successful,’ she said. ‘And, if they are, they have to have gotten their success through sex, basically.’

    The beauty of ageing

    It’s no wonder Helen isn’t a fan of being labelled a ‘sex symbol’. She said, ‘I don’t agree that I’m a sex symbol. The great thing about getting older is that you get over all that. You tend to think, “Sex symbol? What the f*** does that mean?”

    There are so many other interesting things to be driven by. It’s great, and I’m not knocking it – it’s a fabulous part of life – but it’s only a part, it’s not everything. So I’ll take it, I’m not going to argue with it. But I’m not going to pay attention either.’

    When it comes to her career, Helen is still sensitive. ‘I do give a big f*** about a lot of things,’ she admitted. ‘If someone says, “I didn’t like that Helen Mirren movie,” it always hurts a little bit because my job is to entertain and for people to enjoy my work. You’re nowhere without an audience.

    ‘I’m quite sensitive, actually. But certain things you have to learn not to give a f*** about, and getting older does help with that hugely.’

    Balance is key

    While many female figures in showbiz are looks obsessed, it’s refreshing to hear that Helen takes it all with a pinch of salt.

    ‘I kind of take care of myself,’ she said. ‘[But] I’m not an obsessive in any direction. I go through phases of doing exercise, but it never seems to last more than a month or two. I go through phases of eating really, really, really, really well!’

    She added, ‘My weight has always fluctuated by the same basic 7-10lb, and the minute I reach the upper end of that, I go, “Uh-oh, time to deal with this”.’

    She concluded with some words of advice for all of us: ‘“Do everything, but don’t do too much of anything” has always been my mantra.’

    Wise words, Helen! Who could disagree with that?