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Harry Enfield And Chums actress, Kathy Burke tells tales from her teenage years and reveals how punk changed her life, and why she turned down directing Gavin And Stacey. By Lisa Williams

Kathy Burke has a glint in her eye which suggests she has many a story to tell, but she won't write her autobiography for love nor money. "I mean, I've been asked," says the 48- year-old, who's just come in from a sneaky fag break. "I just feel we're inundated with them, you know?" The born- and-bred Londoner pauses, then adds: "But I'm also such a lover of books, I so admire the writer, more than anyone else, that it just never appealed to me to write an autobiography."

If there was an appetite to find out more about the acclaimed actress, whose work ranges from the hilarious Harry Enfield And Chums to the heartbreaking Nil By Mouth, it was certainly whetted by her now-famous edition of Desert Island Discs. In conversation with presenter Kirsty Young, Burke chose songs by Lady Gaga and The Sex Pistols, spoke about how punk had made her life easier, and revealed her luxury item would be a life-size laminated picture of James Caan from Dragon's Den "to body-surf on". Many listeners declared it to be the long- running series' best edition ever.

Burke leans forward and says sincerely: "I have to say I was really shocked at the reaction. Pleasantly shocked but I was sort of, 'Crumbs, why's it such a big deal?' And I've heard much better Desert Island Discs than mine." But she admits that revisiting her past through music did awaken something within her, so when Sky asked if she would write a series about her life as a teenager she jumped at the chance. "I thought, 'Oh all right; well this is my autobiography then', and to me it's just enough. I'm not going to write any more," she says.

The four-part series Walking And Talking followed young 'Kath' and her friend Mary, literally walking around Burke's home turf of Islington and talking, mainly, about music, school and boys. "We just used to talk about everything and nothing," recalls Burke.

Kath's pal Mary, who gets all the male attention, is an amalgamation of many of Burke's best school friends, all of whom she says were "the pretty ones". But Kath in the show only gets slightly huffy about this, not letting it get in the way of their friendship. "I wanted to show girls being kind to each other. I'm getting really fed up with the way that girls and women get portrayed a lot of the time." On a roll, she continues: "It's like everyone loving that film Bridesmaids, and I hated it. I thought, 'Oh right, so we've got to invest in these women because that one's more bitchy than this one?'"

Burke lost her mother to cancer when she was just two years old, and has no memory of her - she was brought up by family friends and her alcoholic father (although she's said she regarded her older brother John as more of a father figure). If young Kath in the series

is anything to go by, this made Burke a wise old soul from a young age. "Kath in the show is what I was like," explains Burke.

"I was like a sort of 40-year-old. But of course, what I don't include is the horrible side of me. If I'd have shown her more at home, I would have had to have shown her like a typical, miserable, moody teenager!" Teenage smoking has also been edited out of the series. Though she's known for the Waynetta Slob catchphrase "I am smokin' a fag", and refers to her Islington house as "the Big Smoke" (because it's the only place her friends can light up indoors), Burke isn't a proud smoker, and certainly didn't want the two young actresses Ami Metcalf and Aimee-Ffion Edwards to start under her watch. "And also," she adds. "Audiences don't need to be patronised any more by being shown in period things how much people smoked."

It's clear from Walking And Talking that Burke has always

been a bit of a tomboy, which perhaps prepared her well for her work with Harry Enfield, in which she had to leave any shred of vanity at the door to play characters such as hormonal teenage boy Perry and Waynetta. "I didn't really feel like a girly girl," explains Burke, who today is wearing a modest cardigan and pendant. "I didn't want to wear boob tubes and flared trousers and disco clothes. And then when punk came along it was like, 'Oh great, I can wear ripped jeans and manky t-shirts and flat caps'. It was just perfect timing for me."

Also perfect timing was Burke's acceptance into the Anna Scher theatre school in Angel, which is referred to in the show and, along with music, books and TV, gave the young Burke an escape from family life. "It just changed my life once I was there," she says. "I felt like I'd come home. I hate that saying, but there's no other apt phrase for it really."

Although she wrote and starred in her latest series, Burke stopped short of directing it too. She also famously turned down the chance to direct Gavin And Stacey and, more recently, Simon Amstell's Grandma's House because, in her words, it was "too beautiful to ruin". She admits she was put off by her experience directing Mat Horne and James Corden's sketch show, Horne And Corden, which received a critical drubbing.

On the whole though, Burke is content with her career so far. "I'm quite happy with the way things have gone, really," she says. "And I am really proud of this. I'm really proud that I've written two lovely parts for two young actresses, where they don't have to take their clothes off, or smoke or do sex scenes, or anything like that."

And, apart from her "old lady's dream to be by the sea" eventually, she's thoroughly enjoying growing old disgracefully. "What they say is true, you just sort of care less. I do what I wanna do and I see who I wanna see. And when you get into your forties, it's like being a teenager again, really.

"Everyone else in their forties thinks they can chat to you," she adds with a giggle. "And everyone's outside caffs smoking and talking." Life Begins 47

Dominic Lipinski/PA Photos

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