Sally Phillips: People say you should be burned at the stake but we’re allowed to make mistakes

Two decades since Bridget Jones’s Diary, Abi Jackson chats to comedy star Sally Phillips about self-care and her dad’s best ever advice

Comedian and actor Sally Phillips
Comedian and actor Sally Phillips

SALLY Phillips is currently in Australia, filming comedy-drama How To Please A Woman. It’s sunny, the beach is nearby, and lockdown restrictions are a distant memory (well sort of – at the time of writing, Perth just ended a snap three-day lockdown).

There was a price to pay though. Two weeks cooped up in a hotel room, doing the required quarantine with two of her three sons, Olly, who's 17, and 10-year-old Tom.

“We’ll see who comes out alive!” Phillips jokes when we chat over Zoom, shortly before she set off from London in April. Thankfully, Phillips’s Instagram confirms they all survived the fortnight intact.

It’s a funny twist though, considering hotels are one of the things many of us have really missed this past year. Hotels are also part of the reason for this interview – Phillips has teamed up with streaming service NOW to mark the recent 20th anniversary of Bridget Jones’s Diary, offering fans the chance to win a hotel mini-break just like the one Bridget and Daniel Cleaver had in the movie.

“That’s the iconic scene from the first film, Bridget and Daniel’s mini-break in Stoke Park Hotel in Buckinghamshire,” says Phillips, who played Bridget’s foul-mouthed best friend Shazza in the hit 2001 movie and sequels.

“It’s a bit of a thing, acting out scenes. Well certainly for Miranda [the sitcom Phillips stars in with Miranda Hart, Sarah Hadland, Patricia Hodge and Tom Ellis], fans act out whole episodes. They go to the locations and act them out,” she adds.

“NOW have made it really easy – they’ve given you the same suite in the hotel, the drive in the open top Mercedes, complementary chardonnay, unlimited ice-cream, and enormous pants!”

Despite “clawing slowly towards the end of lockdown” when we chat, the comedy star – who got involved with The Oxford Revue comedy club while studying Italian and linguistics, later racking up shows at Edinburgh Fringe and becoming a household name with the likes of Smack The Pony and I’m Alan Partridge – is full of wit.

There’s reflection and gratitude too. “Weirdly, I can believe it’s been 20 years,” she says, when asked if it’s hard to comprehend how long it’s been since Bridget Jones first hit cinemas. “Because I feel like I’m, well, not really a different person, but I feel like so much life has happened. When we went back to do the third one [2016’s Bridget Jones’s Baby], we were all just a bit more ragged, you know?

“There’d been huge things: people had won Oscars, got married and divorced, and remarried, people had died and fought cancer. We’d all really been through it, but it was just absolutely lovely to be back together again.

“That is the really good thing about getting older. You’ve got the longer history with your friends, so more of a shorthand.”

We caught up with Phillips to ponder self-care, life lessons and the best dad advice…

:: What things really helped you get through lockdown?

“My partner and nature. But I’m so over nature. I remember doing an article last summer, where I talk about walks by the river and my ChirpOMatic [bird identification] app and plant-identification app and how obsessed I was. And that was true, it wasn’t a lie, but now I’m just over it. Not another tree.

“We went for a walk the other day, and we no longer wanted to see the park or the river, we went somewhere entirely concrete, a deserted shopping centre. Fantastic.”

:: What does self-care mean to you these days?

“Before [the pandemic], self-care was another thing on my to-do list that was related to work, trying to look not s*** for work. It wasn’t something I particularly enjoyed. Now, if left to my own devices, I’ll get up, make tea, meditate for as long I can get away with. Do pages – the ‘artist’s way’, which I’ve been doing for 12 or 13 years, where you write your three pages first thing – it’s a bit like running a rusty tap, to run the yellow water off to get to the clean stuff.

“So I’d do that, go on the running machine, have breakfast, and then sit down and write. And then go for a long walk in nature, come back and make a healthy dinner, then watch a film and go to bed. Possibly with a hair mask on.

“But that was when there was nothing going on, and really to keep me sane, and obviously most days weren’t like that because most days had home schooling and peeling meals off walls. But self-care to me probably means making space to be quiet, say a prayer or meditate, and being outdoors. And feeding your mind. I can even talk like that now – what a change! I clearly have been meditating for a year.”

:: Do you think there’s a lot of pressure on us to be doing so much?

“There is so much pressure on us, particularly women, to be the best we can be. I also think we need to give ourselves permission to just not be concerned with any of that – not to be the best we can be, or the worst we can be, but just be.

“That’s what I really like about the friendships between Miranda and Steve and that series, they are just having a laugh. They’re pretending bananas can talk and dressing up as Where’s Wally, just p****** about.

“There’s so much pressure on particularly young women – we’re just never good enough, we need to be learning Mandarin and doing jiu jitsu and volunteering and doing all these things all the time, it’s exhausting. I think we need to kick back against it a bit, because it’s another way of us being controlled. They’re selling it to us as us being in control, but we’re still not in control. We’re still not able to just be. We’re still subtly getting the message we’re not good enough.”

:: Is there a piece of advice that’s always stuck with you?

“My dad always said to me, ‘You’re never as good or as bad as they say you are’, and I think that’s becoming more and more helpful. People kind of flock, you know – you might say one wrong thing on Twitter, or you might be right but everyone gets angry, or you might have made a mistake, yet people decide you should be burnt at the stake. But we’re allowed to make mistakes.”

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