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Anna Chancellor: My family values

21 April 2012

My parents had four children quickly, divorced quickly – when I was two – and my mother remarried quickly. We were suddenly in a different environment with a different father. He had two children. We were all grappling to survive in a house in the country, where our lives were dominated by horses. My poor stepfather, Richard, was quite tidy. Our horses would gallop on to the lawn, and you'd see him with his hands behind his back stamping the earth back in. How he didn't go mad, I don't know.

My granny, Lady Perdita Hylton, had severe depression. I remember once walking in and seeing her distraught face, and she rushed out of another door. Because of granny's depression, my mother, Alice, had developed a certain armour. She found it hard to talk about anything vulnerable-making.

We would visit my father, John, in the house on Kew Green where I'd been born. I felt worried for him. The banks of the Thames had burst and there was a tide-line around the kitchen that was never repainted. He had no idea about children. He would sometimes take my brother Eddy and me on holiday to visit friends and leave us in the car. By the time he came back, we'd have burned holes in the seats with the lighter. For a long while, he travelled and we only seemed to meet him in restaurants. But, since he's been old – he's 84 – he's been much more in our lives and that's fantastic.

When I had my daughter Poppy, who is 24, I was probably conscious that I hadn't had a cosy relationship with my mum. So I'd tie her round me and take her to parties until 3am. I think there's an enormous amount of luck in what kind of child you have.

Some people in my family achieved a lot, some people inherited a lot. But I turned my back on the whole thing. When my father saw Four Weddings, he turned to somebody and said: "That girl looks remarkably like my daughter." He gets annoyed with me now because people tell him they've seen me on TV and he didn't know.

I adore my sisters, Isabel and Kate, and have always lived near them. They have got three kids each. On Christmas night, my nephews and nieces come to my house and I make them do some kind of performance – they hate me for it! We did it the year my mum was dying, when my father and Poppy sang a song in German.

Redha and I got married a year ago, having been together for 14 years. I got very ill with meningitis in New York and I had to write down that I was "single". But who was going to come and take my body out of the morgue? It would have been Redha. That made me think about it. I'd been married before, and it was a bit shallow. I was surprised how touching it was with Redha.

Anna Chancellor stars in South Downs/The Browning Version at the Harold Pinter Theatre, London

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2012

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