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Reflections

When Judi Dench sent me a letter

A silver theatre mask

When I was a shy, awkward 13-year-old, I remember my mum nodding vaguely as I told her that I wanted to join my local youth theatre group, but didn’t have the confidence. She obviously didn’t think I could overcome my nerves.

But I was desperate to try.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, so I decided to write a letter to Judi Dench, asking for tips on becoming an actress. I knew that she was performing in a play at the National Theatre, so I addressed the letter to:

Judi Dench,

The National Theatre,

South Bank,

London,

SE1 9PX.

And I posted it off.

About a week later, I was shocked to receive a lovely reply that had been written and signed by Judi Dench herself. As well as offering plenty of acting tips, she advised me to study hard and gain as many qualifications as I could, because acting was an “unstable profession.”

Dame Judi’s reply gave me the push I needed to overcome my shyness and join Playbox Theatre for Young People. Within a few weeks, I discovered that I was pretty good at acting, and I began to audition for a few productions.

Over the next few years, my confidence soared as I performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, toured round dusty village halls and acted in front of several hundred people at Warwick Arts Centre. Then, in 1988, a small group of us made it through to the finals of the first Lloyds Bank Young Theatre Challenge and I had the opportunity to perform at The National Theatre.

At the after party, guess who I bumped into?

I didn’t become an actress in the end, despite studying Drama at university. But I still have Judi Dench’s letter.

It’s one of my treasured possessions, as it reminds me of the enormous surge in confidence I experienced when a famous actress took the time to write back to me.

Never underestimate the power of kind, encouraging words.

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