Spending a morning in London with Welsh national treasure Dame Sîan Phillips on a blustery rainy day went far too quickly. We chatted away merrily non stop until we both looked at our watches and went our separate ways, Sîan headed off to a meeting and I dashed off to Blackheath to see Alan Williams, another Welsh diaspora.
Sîan Phillips grew up in Gwaun Cae Gurwen in Glamorgan, the only child of a policeman and teacher and enjoyed an idyllic Welsh childhood. Knowing all about the close knit Welsh communities I was intrigued to know what prompted Sian to take up acting and she said at the age of 6 she had been to the panto and then had her first visit to London shortly after.
As well as learning about Sîan and her fascinating life I also learnt more about Welsh history and culture, married women weren’t allowed to teach so her mother gave up teaching when she married. Her father was from Llanelli and took over the family business in 30s, his real passion was music and he would play piano, sing and put on concerts.
Sîan’s mother was an inspirational teacher and her father instilled a love of music. He was scouted as a singer as a younger man before joining the Police, for which one had to be 6’ at the time. Sîan was also surrounded by wonderful teachers Eic Davies, Saunders Lewis, Herbert Davis and Peter O’Toole of whom Sîan said “Peter was a wonderful actor, he taught me so much and I learned an awful lot from him”.
With everyone so fascinated with celebrity lifestyles these days I asked if Sîan and Peter were under much press intrusion to which Sîan said “at the beginning maybe" but their friends Richard and Elizabeth were the most famous couple. Richard and Sîan performed together in the original Under Milk Wood which Sîan said playing Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard was one of the most wonderful plays to be in.
Moving to Ireland with Peter and their two daughters was like Wales 50 years ago, her mother moved with them and she was so happy it was like being a child again.
If you weren’t an actor what career do you think you would have chosen? Oh I would love to have been a gardener, I love gardening and when we were in Ireland our garden was wonderful.
Growing up in Wales and living in Ireland sounds like a world away from the bustle of London.What did you think of London when you first arrived? Before moving to London I had gone to Cardiff but I didn’t settle there and I was certain that London was going to be scary. I was dreading leaving Wales but as soon as I arrived in London I fell in love with it and had no desire to move back to Wales. I do still have Hiraeth and that never goes away, Wales will always be where I grew up but London is where I call home.
It’s said that every Welsh person misses something about Wales, for Sîan it is the Black Mountains and the Brecon Beacons.
Sîan you have had a wonderful stage and screen career spanning many years, as well as Cabaret tell me more. I was a Cabaret Artist for 15 years and stopped 8 years ago. It was a very busy time when I was in Israel for a month touring 9 cities, learning 50 songs and reducing them down to 20. I enjoyed it immensely. I have been very lucky to have enjoyed such a varied career on stage, television and film.
How was lockdown for you? I enjoyed lock down, I read a lot and walked a lot. I now have a Home Studio and was busy with my autobiographies.
You’ve recently been in Summerland and Dream Horse what’s next? I am in Series 3 of Un Bore Mercher which starts on Sunday 1st November on S4C (fans of Keeping Faith will have to wait until February 2021), now I have a Home Studio I am doing voice over work from home, and David Stuttard’s show Savage Beauty which I have done with Stephen Greif.
I couldn't go empty handed so I took something that I thought Sîan would like, a Welsh Dragon face mask made in Wales. Perfect.
Sîan, thank you so much for your time and warm welcome, it was a real pleasure to chat to you and I can’t wait to see you again very soon to eat pastries, talk gardens and chat some more.