Skip to main contentSkip to footer

Tilda Swinton - Biography

All you need to know about the Chronicles of Narnia star Tilda Swinton

Tilda Swinton in white suit
Matthew Moore
Online News Writer & Diversity and Inclusion Lead
Updated: August 15, 2023
Share this:

Early life

Born on November 6, 1960, Katherine Matilda Swinton was the third child - and only daughter - of Sir John Swinton of Kimmerghame and his Australian wife Judith Balfour, an ancient Anglo-Scottish family which traces its lineage back to the ninth century. Aged ten, Tilda was sent to board at West Heath Girls School where fellow pupils included the future Princess of Wales, Lady Diana Spencer.

She excelled at her studies and took four A Levels before going on to complete a degree in English literature at Cambridge.

Start of career

Tilda Swinton in floral dress© Toni Anne Barson Archive

After starting out treading the boards with the Royal Shakespeare Company, Tilda made the transition to film in the mid Eighties, and was transformed into an art house icon after becoming the muse of British independent film director Derek Jarman.

Early roles included a gender-blending performance in Orlando, the tale of a nobleman who becomes a woman. Tilda has also worked on low budget films such as Love Is The Devil and Conceiving Ada, while exploring other unusual projects. She even spent a horse-racing season trying to become a professional gambler, before realising it was not for her.

A speculative tour of Los Angeles acting agents in 2000 led to the role that earned her global attention, that of the matriarch of a new-age traveller community in The Beach. She has since gone on to share the big screen with some of the biggest names in Hollywood, including Keanu Reeves in Constantine, Tom Cruise in Vanilla Sky and George Clooney in Michael Clayton, the film which brought her an Oscar in 2008.

Continued career

Tilda has continued to see success with one of her most notable roles coming as the White Witch in the Chronicles of Narnia film series, a role that she played for five years over three films. She has also joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe as The Ancient One, seen in the Dr. Strange series of films.

Alongside her Oscar, the actress was also nominated for a BAFTA due to her role as Eva Khatchadourian in We Need to Talk About Kevin. Other film credits have included The Grand Budapest Hotel, Asteroid City and Isle of Dogs.

Personal life

Sandro Kopp standing with Tilda Swinton© Bertrand Rindoff Petroff

In 1985 she met the man who would eventually become her long-term partner, painter and playwright John Byrne, when he designed the set of a London production in which she was appearing. Five years later the pair fell in love and moved to the north of Scotland, becoming parents to twins, son Xavier and daughter Honor, in 1997. However, the pair parted ways in 2003, with Tilda now living with long-term partner Sandro Kopp, with the couple living in the Scottish town of Nairn.

Despite her phenomenal success, the actress remains resolutely down-to-earth and largely unaffected by her film star status. Her brother Willie maintains "she would rather be back home in Scotland in her wellies, out in the garden" than attend a red carpet event. A comment which Tilda echoed in 2008 when she revealed that thinking about her career "makes me want to run off and farm pigs".

Opening up about her sexual identity in 2021, Tilda explained to Vogue: "I'm very clear that queer is actually, for me anyway, to do with sensibility. I always felt I was queer – I was just looking for my queer circus, and I found it. And having found it, it's my world."

More Profiles

See more