‘Why I kept my cancer a secret’ Dame Julie Walters opens up on why she hid her devastating diagnosis from her family and the world

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  • Dame Julie Walters is one of the most well-loved, funny and talented actresses in our country, having starred in a range of hit films, from Billy Elliot to Mamma Mia! and the Harry Potter series.

    So it came as a huge shock earlier this year when she revealed she’d been secretly recovering from bowel cancer.

    But it wasn’t just the public that 70-year-old Julie was hiding her devastating diagnosis from. Julie didn’t even tell her daughter, Maisie, or her two older brothers, Tommy and Kevin, until after she had gone through the operation to remove the tumours from her lower intestine. Instead, she told Maisie she needed to have her appendix removed.

    Julie explained to the Telegraph Magazine, ‘I couldn’t bear the thought of everyone worrying – particularly my daughter. I didn’t want to upset people around me. I wanted to keep it small.’

    The only person who did know was Julie’s husband, Grant Roffey, who she told in the car after he had waited for her to come out of her doctor’s appointment.

    Recalling the devastating moment she had to tell him of her diagnosis, on the Victoria Derbyshire show, she said, ‘I’ll never forget his face. Tears came into his eyes and I thought, “Oh, Grant!” So I then worried about him, more than me.’

    But Grant was Julie’s rock throughout her chemotherapy and operation, which she says were ‘frightening’ – and he stayed with her even through her ‘dramatic moments’. She says, ‘Grant was with me every step. I wanted to wait until I was in the right place and then I had my dramatic moments.

    ‘If people fussed, I’d shout I was fine. If they treated me like I was fine I’d complain. I still wasn’t totally better. But, really, I didn’t want to have to talk about it until I’d processed it myself.’

    Remembering loved ones

    When Julie found out she had cancer, doctors discovered she’d actually been living with it for four years, which means she would have had it at the same time as her friend Victoria Wood, who passed away from cancer in 2016.

    However, while she and the late comedian never got the chance to support each other through the horrible illness, Julie says she still speaks to Victoria ‘all the time’, as well as her late parents.

    She says, ‘I have a photo of her in my house. I say, “Where are you, Vic?” I talk to my mum and dad too. “What shall I do now, Dad?” or, “Mum, what do you think?”

    ‘I never get answers but I feel they are all still with me and I like that. These are people I loved. Love. They never really leave.’

    ‘The cancer was a gift’

    In a bid to stop the cancer from returning, Julie has overhauled her diet and now avoids red meat and fills up on greens. She also tries not to eat sugar, but admits ‘that’s hard’.

    She has also slowed right down when it comes to work too, and has admitted she may never appear in another film again.

    She says, ‘It would have to be something I’m really engaged with. ‘I’m not saying I’ll never act again. But I certainly don’t think I can go back to six days a week, five in the morning till seven o’clock at night.’

    And while most people would be left devastated by a cancer diagnosis, Julie – ever the upbeat person – is quite the opposite, believing it’s changed her life for the better.

    Julie adds, ‘I’ve let a lot of noise go and now a year and a half has passed. I’ve gone from thinking of my cancer as a shock and something terrible that happened to me, to thinking that, in a way, it was a gift.’