Julie Christie

It's hard to find a screen legend less interested in the limelight than Julie Christie. The actress, who won her first Oscar at 24 and became a major star in films such as Billy Liar and Dr Zhivago, stunned showbiz circles by turning her back on LA in the Seventies in favour of the Welsh smallholding where she's lived ever since.

Julie Francis Christie was born on April 14, 1941 in Assam, India, to Rosemary, a Wales-born painter, and Frank who ran the tea plantation where she grew up. At the age of six she was sent to live with a foster mother so she could attend a convent school in England - from which she was later expelled for telling a rude joke. After her parents separated during her childhood, she spent time with her mother in rural Wales before heading to Paris to finish her schooling and brush up on her French. A keen linguist, she speaks fluent French and Italian. She then returned to Britain and enrolled in London's prestigious Central School of Speech and Drama.

Her 1957 stage debut was a low-key affair, as a member of Essex's Frinton Repertory. Four years later she made her first appearance on TV in the science fiction series A For Andromeda, and, 12 months later, landed her first big screen role in comedy Crooks Anonymous. The pretty ingénue went on to make a big impact as Liz in the 1963 movie Billy Liar, leading the film's director to cast her in Swinging Sixties flick Darling. Her portrayal of amoral model Diana Scott won her an Oscar and brought worldwide recognition.

A role as love-challenged Lara in box office hit Dr Zhivago further cemented her reputation and brought offers of more plum roles. She turned most down, however, in favour of independent projects such as Fahrenheit 451. In 1967, the same year she appeared in Far From The Madding Crowd, Julie began a seven-year, intermittent love affair with American actor Warren Beatty.

Increasingly interested in political issues and animal rights, Julie seemed to lose impetus in furthering her career. She turned down the lead in They Shoot Horses, Don't They? and Anne Of The Thousand Days, which delivered Oscars for second-choice actresses Jane Fonda and Genevieve Bujold.

Her 1969 film In Search Of Gregory was, for her, a rare box office flop. But the following year's The Go-Between brought more critical acclaim, while Robert Altman's 1971 classic McCabe & Mrs Miller, in which she starred alongside Warren as a tough cockney madam, brought another Academy nod. Although their relationship ended in the mid-Seventies, Julie and Warren remained friends and worked on several more films together, including 1975's Shampoo and, three years later, Heaven Can Wait. He dedicated his 1981 film Reds to her after she turned down the role of Louise Bryant which eventually went to Warren's new lover, Diane Keaton.

By the end of the Seventies Julie wanted out of LA and bought herself a farm near Montgomery in North Wales, inviting some friends to stay with her. It is the way she still lives. She also has a house in London's East End that she also shares with friends. Fiercely independent, she's always shied away from conventional relationships and has never lived with her long-term partner since 1979, Guardian investigative journalist Duncan Campbell. In January 2008, however, Julie's brother Clive revealed the pair had apparently made their relationship official and wed two months earlier in India.

In the Eighties it was often assumed she had retired, although there always seemed to be a next film. And it was into campaigning against various issues, from nuclear waste to animal cruelty, that she really threw her energies. She made something of a comeback in1996 when she was persuaded by Kenneth Branagh to take on her first Shakespearean role as Queen Gertrude in his screen version of Hamlet.

The following year she put in a second Oscar-winning performance as an unhappy wife in domestic drama Afterglow, but then continued to turn down lead roles, taking instead small parts in films such as Harry Potter, Troy and Finding Neverland - for which she earned a best supporting actress Bafta nod.

A determined onslaught by Canadian director and actress Sarah Polley, who'd become friends with the star when they appeared together in No Such Thing and The Secret Life Of Words, bore fruit, though. Julie agreed to portray the lead in Sarah's directorial debut Away From Her, about an Alzheimer sufferer who checks herself into a home to save her husband from having to look after her. The result was a mesmerising performance which earned her a Golden Globe and her fourth Oscar nomination.

Despite being the toast of Hollywood once more Julie's in no hurry to change a life-long of aversion to the spotlight, and says she may never make another film. Her fans, however, certainly hope she'll be persuaded.
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