sally phillips

She’s brilliant and British

By Lauren Edwards

It has been twenty years since the film Bridget Jones hit our cinemas. I loved the book and binge read it over a couple of days whilst living in Brighton. It was a refreshing change to see the heroine of a story complain about the sort of things my friends and I did. She wasn’t perfect, she worried about her weight, smoked too many fags, and drunk too much wine. Her love life was chaotic, and we could all relate in some way.

Bridget’s sweary, straight talking friend Shazza featured in the film trilogy and was played by the ever-watchable Sally Phillips. During the recent 20th anniversary celebrations, Phillips has had to defend the films as modern viewers complained about the ‘antiquated ideas about body image, sexual harassment and feminism’.

Criticisms came thick and fast on Twitter and included how Bridget’s boss Daniel Cleaver objectifies her in the workplace, particularly how he openly pats Bridget’s bottom, which she doesn’t discourage, and how Bridget refers to herself as fat when she quite clearly isn’t. However, in the early noughties, it did feel progressive and ultimately, Bridget does get her revenge on her sexist boss and embraces her curves.

I think what would change is the diary entries. It wouldn’t be weight and cigarettes. It would be a more intelligent self-improving wellness thing you were failing at.

Sally Phillips

Phillips was born in Hong Kong in 1970. Due to her father’s job as an executive for British Airways, she grew up in the Far East, the Middle East, Italy, and Australia, before heading to the UK and boarding at the Wycombe Abbey School at the age of 13. Phillips was then offered a place at Oxford University, where she studied Italian and linguistics and discovered her love for performing after joining the Oxford Revue, alongside fellow comedians Stewart Lee and Richard Herring.

When I was in the Oxford Revue, I was either playing men, boys, or monsters. I was allowed to be a woman in comedy as long as I betrayed no feminine characteristics whatsoever.

Following her graduation, with a first-class honours’ degree, Phillips joined the London based theatre company, Théâtre de Complicité. She trod the boards at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival before being cast in numerous acting roles on television shows such as Fist of Fun, I’m Alan Partridge and Hippies.

In 1999, she met Fiona Allen and Doon Mackichan and the threesome wrote and created the hit sketch show Smack the Pony. It was unlike any comedy show at the time, as it included a mainly female cast and tackled subjects such as dating and competitive workplaces from a woman’s perspective.

I’m very lucky in that I haven’t ever had a particularly dry patch in my career, and I think that’s because I was never playing the great beauty. I think if you always play the ingénue, when you hit 45 it gets difficult.

Smack the Pony ran for three years and launched Phillips’ career. She went onto to appear in the prime-time television shows Miranda, Green Wing and Death in Paradise before hitting the big screen in Bridget Jones.

Phillips has three sons, one of whom, Ollie, has Down’s Syndrome. Diagnosed at 10 days old, Phillips has spoken openly about the implications of adapting to the situation of her son’s condition. She speaks fondly about her huge bond with Ollie and how he has brought happiness and meaning to her life. Phillips wrote and presented the one-hour documentary A World Without Down’s Syndrome to share her experiences.

Once you’re told you’re funny, everything makes sense. Knowing I was ridiculous, and it was fine to be so, was freeing. It’s the thing that provides for my family and I love it.

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