Julie Walters on why it’s time to slow down after secret battle with cancer

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  • Having entertained us on screen and stage for more than 40 years, there’s no denying that Dame Julie Walters is a national treasure.

    The 70-year-old recently made the shocking revelation that she’d been battling stage three bowel cancer – but, after chemotherapy treatment, Julie has been given the all-clear.

    Like many people who go through something as life-changing as cancer, Mamma Mia! star Julie has come out the other side with very different priorities and has even suggested that her most recent film, The Secret Garden, could be her last.

    ‘I’m not saying I’ll never act again,’ she said. ‘But I certainly don’t think I can go back to [working] six days a week, five in the morning till seven o’clock at night.’

    Thinking positively

    Julie is undoubtedly a glass-half-full kind of woman, and she even managed to find a positive aspect to her diagnosis. Confessing that it ‘completely changed’ her perspective of work, Julie explained, ‘The person before the operation is different to this person.’

    In fact, she has said that in some ways she was relieved to have a reason not to go to work. Appearing on the Victoria Derbyshire show, she said, ‘I was due to do two big series and there were two films. And I just didn’t have to do any of it. And that was wonderful.’

    During an operation to remove 30cm of her colon, Julie attempted to remain upbeat, and afterwards she says she tried to focus on anything but the matter at hand. ‘I said to the nurse, “Is Love Island on?” – and we watched it together.’

    Taking a step back

    It’s not the first time Julie has suggested she is done with gruelling filming schedules and it’s no surprise, given the length of her very successful career. It really takes it out of you,’ she said previously. ‘I don’t want to go there any more.’

    It seems her decision to take a step back was also made with mental health in mind, as Julie – responsible for some of our favourite on-screen characters, including Molly Weasley in the Harry Potter franchise – once said that emotional roles ‘take a lot out of you’.

    She explained, ‘I don’t want to have to break my heart on stage every night, that’s not good for you. And I don’t really want to do it in films and television any more either.’

    Keeping things private

    Understandably, privacy was very important to Julie while she recovered.

    As a result, she had to be cut from some scenes in The Secret Garden and she also missed the 2018 premiere of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. At the time Julie’s agent said she had a ruptured hernia. ‘I wasn’t ready to talk about it,’ she said. ‘It was too tender and too private and I just wasn’t ready.’

    Of course, Julie also had to consider her family and close friends, including her husband Grant Roffey. ‘I’ll never forget his face,’ she said, describing the moment she told him of her diagnosis. ‘Tears came into his eyes.’

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    A simple life

    Despite her fame, Julie has always maintained she prefers the simpler pleasures in life. She and Grant live on a farm in Sussex and it’s there that she makes sure to spend most of her time. ‘He works it, he is very good at it,’ Julie once said. ‘The cows love him. He calls to them and they call back. We have 40 cattle and 300 sheep, and a few pigs, 700 chickens, turkeys. It is hard work.’

    In 2002 Julie was asked what she imagined the future looked like for her, and said, ‘Hopefully I’ll be gardening, travelling the world, writing my novels. I’d like to think there’ll be too much real life going on for me to want to do much acting.’ Thankfully the world is still very much Julie’s oyster.