|MY SISTERS WARN ME OFF ROGUES BUT THAT'S WHAT I'M ATTRACTED TO..A BIT OF ROUGH AND READY - JULIA SAWALHA|
THE CHRISTINE SMITH INTERVIEW: JULIA SAWALHA ON FINDING TOO MANY MR WRONGS
JULIA Sawalha is enjoying a plate of vegetarian sushi. And talking about men. She has this problem... she can't stop falling for rogues.
"I am not very good at choosing the right partner," she declares as an almost embarrassed smile crosses her pretty face. "I always seem to get it wrong and I'm always trying to please men. Terrible!
"Your self esteem drops and you get into self-loathing. I am awful when I go out with someone. I put my whole life and soul into the relationship..." Of all Julia's lovers, no one fits the rogue bill better than notorious TV wildman Keith Allen.
The couple enjoyed a real-life romance back in 1995 after meeting on the set of Martin Chuzzlewit.
Hard drinking womaniser Allen is not everyone's cup of tea. Or, as Ms Sawalha puts it: "Keith is like Marmite ... you either love him or hate him."
Although their affair was brief it is full of fond memories.
"Keith was great," she says, "Exactly what I needed at the time. I had just come out of a long relationship (with actor Dexter Fletcher) and I was not feeling very good about myself. He made me feel great."
There have been a few dalliances since Mr Allen - most notably with comedian Richard Herring.
Julia split from Herring nine months ago and has been resolutely single ever since.
Richard was a serious exception in Julia's personal gallery of rogue Romeos.
And, evidently, he found Julia a bit too - er - Ab Fabish for his liking. And, to put it bluntly, he chucked her.
Julia bursts into loud laughter, scrunches up her face and shakes her head vehemently. Richard, she explains, did not fit her usual bad boy mould.
"He is very sweet," she says, looking back on their year together, "But we wanted different things. He is quiet and studious. Our lifestyles weren't blending and rather than get to the point where we were bitter, Richard thought, 'Knock it on the head'.
IN retrospect she admires Herring's perceptive analysis that they weren't going anywhere.
"When we broke up I didn't think it was right," recalls Julia. "But now I am relieved."
Julia is not renowned for dishing the dirt on her own love life. But today she is clearly making an exception. The jokes come thick and fast.
Rogues are usually charming, she insists. Then she explains why she gets it wrong every time.
"When I spot someone," she muses, "I think 'He's nice' and my sisters despair of me.
"'Julia!' they squeal. 'He is a rogue!' But that's exactly what I am attracted to. A bit of rough and ready..."
Suddenly Julia lets out the most almighty howl of laughter. She throws back that famous head of curly hair and simply guffaws.
She has such a wickedly infectious giggle. She is an absolute scream, sending me into hysterics with her hilarious self deprecating and mischievous humour.
In the company of Miss Sawalha you never quite know what's going to happen next.
As we sit having our chat in the luxurious surroundings of London's Langham Hilton Hotel we cover every topic imaginable - food, booze, Louis Theroux (her hero), her passion for Greenpeace, and - last but certainly not least - men.
Julia is the total opposite of her dullard student Ab Fab character, Saffy.
"Actually, I can be quite studious just like Saffy," Julia insists, "But, I agree, there aren't too many similarities." At 33, she is loving every moment of her status as an unattached bachelor girl.
"Occasionally I have a short temper," she concedes. "But on balance, I am so happy at the moment. I love being in my 30s.
"And being a Virgo."
I'm giggling again.
Last month Julia was spotted sharing a passionate looking embrace with her latest co-star, Alan Davies. They had just finished filming a new series of Jonathan Creek.
"I know what you are getting at," she squeals. So you did get it together with Alan then, I ask excitedly.
"No, I told you I am single!," she chuckles. "Alan is a lovely bloke and I do find him attractive..."
And you had fun with him?
"No!," she squeals, still laughing. "You know what luvvies are like! They kiss and cuddle a lot saying, 'I love you' all the time! And that's all we did. It was totally innocent. Alan is just a friend."
"Look I am really enjoying being single at the moment," she declares, returning to her theme,"It makes life so much easier. Sometimes when I am cooking my meal for one, I think 'Ooh, I am a bit of a saddo' but honestly it feels good.
"And I am not like Bridget Jones. I am not desperate. And I am not broody yet either. Oh God no!
"I don't want to fall into that mid-30 thing and have a baby. You are quite capable of having one when you are 40."
"But I don't want to be an old maid," she says. "When you're younger you read all the story books about being a princess and a knight sweeps you off your feet.
"There is also a bit of that romantic side in me which says I will meet someone that I can love. You gotta have love, haven't you?"
She asks her publicity woman for a glass of mineral water. I opt for a glass of wine.
"Ooh, I am off booze," announces a clearly proud Julia. Any particular reason?
"I wanted to see if I could do it!," she screeches. "You know what it's like. You find yourself walking into a room and everyone is drinking, so you go for it too! But sometimes it's not worth it."
Is she finding it tough sticking to this no alcohol ban, imposed before Christmas.
"I was doing really well," she says. "I even stayed in on New Year's Eve by myself and watched The Sopranos!" Pause. "But I had a couple of glasses of wine last week and regretted it. So now I am off booze again!" We are getting on famously. Julia is mouthy, funny and has the same hang-ups as most of the female population.
But the best thing about Julia is that she is no stick insect.
"Oh God, it is so depressing that there is an obsession with thin women on TV," she says. "It is depressing to think people go for looks rather than talent. The ridiculous thing is so many men say, 'I can't bear stick women'.
I'd say Julia is a size 12. Brown cascading hair, brown eyes, five foot four, she looks extremely sexy in her black Diesel skirt and black Morgan plunging top.
"Sexy? Me?" she laughs "I look like I'm at a wake!" Julia eyes up the plate of biscuits resting on the table directly opposite us.
"Oh gawd, are we going to get through those today?" she sighs wistfully. "Or rather, am I going to get through those?
"I've battled with my weight for a long time. I am a comfort eater and we are a foodie family.
"I've tried every diet before and they just do not work, although this one seems to be doing the trick."
At the moment Julia is on the Blood Group diet, in which she only eats food designated suitable to her particular type of haemoglobin.
She has had to cut out dairy products, wheat, potatoes and pasta. And since embarking on the regime 10 months ago, has shed an impressive stone and a half.
So will she be doing a sexy photo-shoot for a lads' magazine then?
"They haven't asked me yet!" she squeals. "I am not a size eight, am I?"
But Julia is not the type of TV actresses who'd pose next-to-naked just to stay famous. She's a "private soul" who shuns the showbiz scene. She prefers throwing her energies into her hobbies - yoga, flamenco dancing and ballet.
A self-confessed shopaholic, she admits to spending money like water.
"I bought a diamond ring from Tiffany's once," she says as she lights up her second cigarette in 10 minutes. "My mum said, 'Why not? There is no point waiting for a man to get you one!'"
Trills of wicked laughter...
Julia has been acting since the age of 11 when she won a place at the Italia Conti stage school and her credits are impressive. Press Gang, Martin Chuzzlewit, Pride and Prejudice ... the list goes on.
BUT it's her role as Saffy in Absolutely Fabulous that has won her enormous acclaim. The hit comedy, first screened in 1992, is set to be repeated on UK Gold next month.
A new TV special is in the pipeline.
"I do love playing Saffy," says Julia, "She is my favourite! I'm proud that Ab Fab is such a popular programme."
Her next role is playing Jane Austen in a BBC docudrama charting the writer's life.
"I am not nearly as driven as I used to be," she declares. "I am a lot more relaxed. Yes, I will always want to do acting, but I'd like to write a book too."
She lives in South London - next door to mum Bobbi, dad, Nadim (also an actor) and sisters Dina and Nadia, the former EastEnders star who now hosts a BBC daytime show.
The Sawalhas, who have lived south of the River Thames all their lives, are incredibly close.
"My sisters and I didn't have much in common when we were kids," says Julia.
"I felt a bit lost at times. But they are older and in those days I was just a baby to them."
She worries about her father's health. He had a small stroke 12 months ago.
"I was devastated," she recalls. "You think your parents are going to be there forever.
"It is frightening. But Dad had over-worked and it was a warning."
Not normally a worrier, Julia lives each day to the full. Finishing off her tray of sushi, she asks if I like Japanese cuisine. I don't.
So we return to the subject of Julia and her rogues.
"There is someone out there for everyone," she insists.
And you're still looking for Mr Right, I ask.
"Exactly," she says. "But along the way I'll almost certainly come across a few more rogues ..."
I don't doubt it.
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