Imelda Staunton: The magic ingredients that make my shepherd's pie irresistible

Harry Potter actress Imelda Staunton, 55, lives with husband, actor Jim Carter (who plays the butler Mr Carson in Downton Abbey), in London with daughter, Bessie, 18.
Master chef: Actress Imelda Staunton

Master chef: Actress Imelda Staunton


As a family we're big on comfort
food, and my specialty is shepherd's pie, which is done to an old Delia
Smith recipe. I was vegetarian for almost 20 years until a few years
back when a better selection of organic meat became available.

The thing that makes my shepherd's
pie really special is that I add a bit of nutmeg and cinnamon. You don't
really taste them in the final result, but it makes the overall dish


I love everything about Aromatherapy Associates' natural body and skincare range because the founders have a solid background and really know what they're talking about.

My favourite is the sensational bath oil, which I probably use too often because it's so luxurious, but I justify it by saying I only have a small bath because I'm short!


Both Jim and I are avid gardeners (he is head gardener and I am his assistant) and we take a lot of pleasure from seeing our garden flourish. Only torrential rain will keep us inside.

Eighteen years ago we moved to our house in North London which has a big garden. We tried vegetables and herbs but they didn't really work, so now the whole of it is given over to flowers and I love taking cuttings from them for the house.

Comfort food: Imelda adds nutmeg and cinnamon to her shepherd's pies

Comfort food: Imelda adds nutmeg and cinnamon to her shepherd's pies


I'm not a big drinker, but in the winter I do like a sherry with a lump of ice in it. Just the smell of it reminds me of the holidays. I'm an absolutely philistine when it comes to good wines and alcohol. I don't like a particularly sweet sherry or one that's too dry – a medium one is good for me.


Vaseline is my can't-live-without beauty product and it just goes to show you don't have to spend a mint to get something that delivers.

It has so many uses, from softening cuticles to soothing chapped skin, and it makes a great scrub.


I first read Wild Swans by Jung Chang
about 20 years ago and it's a firm favourite. I knew nothing about
'modern' Communism beforehand, and it eloquently shows what it was like
through three generations of women: granny, daughter and granddaughter.

It masterfully combines important historical events like the Cultural
Revolution with the personal emotions and struggles of the main
characters. I return to it often.


Over the millennium, my husband Jim, our daughter Bessie and I went to Hemingways’ wonderful hotel at Watamu in Kenya, for a fortnight.

On New Year’s Eve we had a fantastic night with food and dancing by the beach. At about 1.30am, Jim said he was off to bed and Bessie was already asleep.

There was no way I was going to miss the dawn rise on the next 1,000 years, so sat on the beach in my posh frock, watching the sun come up. It was breathtaking.

Paradise: Hemingways' hotel at Watamu in Kenya

Paradise: Hemingways' hotel at Watamu in Kenya


Last year I was starring in Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd at
Chichester Festival Theatre for several months. I used to love going
down to the beach at West Wittering looking to East Head, at the
entrance to the harbour. It was very early in the morning so there were
few people about – it felt like it was just me and my wee Cairn terrier
cross, Molly.

I was born a Londoner and have never wanted to live
anywhere else, but the beauty of that West Sussex area, with the white
sand and blue sea, really tempted me.


I remember watching Bette Davis
as a child and I thought she was fascinating. Of course, there were lots
of beautiful actresses around at the time, such as Elizabeth Taylor,
but Bette Davis wasn't conventionally beautiful and neither was she

She played feisty characters, and it was her talent that
made her so successful. I wanted to emulate her when I grew up.

Heroine: Actress Bette Davis was Imelda's idol growing up

Heroine: Actress Bette Davis was Imelda's idol growing up


I watched Frozen Planet religiously every week it was on. There's something
comforting about David Attenborough because he's dependable and
tells it like it is, emphasising content and expertise rather than
showmanship, sensationalism and entertainment like a lot of factual
programmes do these days. The years of dedication he puts into his programmes is incredible.

Imelda Staunton is a patron of Richard House, London's oldest children's hospice. To donate or find out more, visit and