They sing, they dance, they act, make us laugh, cry, and run out to the theatres and record stores to spend our money. From Hollywood icons to pop songstresses, here are the most successful British women in show business.
Dame Julie Andrews
Born in Surrey, England in 1935, Dame Julie Andrews began her career on stage in the UK before moving on to film in the US. She gained the title role in “Mary Poppins” in 1964, followed by 1965’s “The Sound of Music”, two of the world’s most beloved films for which she is still best-known. She has since continued to appear in a variety of film, television, and theatre productions, as well as recording two solo albums and publishing numerous children’s books and a memoir. Among her honors are an Academy Award, five Golden Globes, two Emmys, three Grammys, a Kennedy Center Honor, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild. She has also been made Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
Audrey Hepburn is a screen legend, an icon of both film and fashion. Born in Brussels, Belgium in 1929, she began her career on stage as a London chorus girl. She later took minor roles in several films while continuing to work on stage. Her first major role was in 1951’s “The Secret People”, followed by 1953’s “Roman Holiday”, the film which made her a Hollywood star. She found further success with films such as 1954’s “Sabrina”, 1959’s “The Nun’s Story”, and 1961’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, the latter her most iconic role. Hepburn is one of 13 individuals to receive Academy, Emmy, Grammy, and Tony Awards. For her extensive humanitarian work, she was appointed Goodwill Ambassador of UNICEF and awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Dame Elizabeth Taylor
Dame Elizabeth Taylor is a pivotal figure in cinema, one of the most successful and distinguished actresses of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Born at her parents’ home in London in 1932, she began her career at age nine under a brief contract with Universal, who unexplainably fired her a year later. She then went on to MGM, who signed her after her well-received performance in 1943’s “Lassie Come Home”. She later found success as an adult actress and became a top earner at the box office with films including 1958’s “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”, 1959’s “Suddenly, Last Summer”, and 1960’s “BUtterfield 8”.
Taylor stands today with an enduring legacy of being considered one of the greatest movie stars of all time. She was awarded two Academy Awards, two Golden Globes, a Kennedy Center Honor, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild. She was also awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal for her efforts in humanitarianism. In 2000, Taylor was made Dame Commander and Chief of the Order of the British Empire. She also launched three successful perfumes.
Kate Winslet is one of the most distinguished and accomplished actresses of today. Born in Berkshire, England in 1975, her first role was in Peter Jackson’s 1994 film “Heavenly Creatures” for which she received wide recognition. She followed this with 1995’s “Sense and Sensibility” and 1997’s “Titanic”, the world’s highest grossing film for 12 years which established Winslet as a movie star. Since then, she has continued to act in a wide variety of films, including 2001’s “Iris”, 2004’s “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”, and 2006’s “Little Children”. Winslet is the youngest actress to receive six Academy Award nominations, winning for 2008’s “The Reader”. She has also won two Golden Globes, two SAG Awards, and an Emmy for 2011’s made-for-television “Mildred Pierce”.
Dame Judi Dench
Dame Judi Dench is one of Britain’s most acclaimed actresses, working in film, television and theatre in a career spanning over 60 years. Born in York, England in 1934, she began her career on stage in 1957. She joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1961 andmade her film debut in 1964. She spent the next three decades appearing in a number of stage productions and British television programs before rising to prominence in film in 1995, when she was cast in the James Bond film “Goldeneye”. She has since appeared in a number of films, including 1997’s “Mrs. Brown”, 1998’s “Shakespeare in Love”, and 2006’s “Notes on a Scandal”.
Dench has been awarded an Academy Award, two Golden Globes, 10 BAFTAs, and a Tony. She was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1970 and promoted to Dame Commander in 1988.
Dame Maggie Smith
In a career spanning 60 years, Dame Maggie Smith has established herself as one of Britain’s pre-eminent actresses, appearing in over 50 films and television programs and more than 60stage productions. Born in Ilford, Essex in 1934, she began appearing on stage in 1952 and made her first film in 1956. She was a main attraction at the Royal National Theatre in the 1960s, particularly for her performances in William Shakespeare’s “Othello”. Some of her most notable films include 1969’s “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie”, 1985’s “A Room with a View”, and 2001’s “Gosford Park”.
Smith has been awarded two Academy Awards, two Golden Globes, two Emmys, five BAFTAs, and a Tony. She was made Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1970, becoming Dame Commander in 1990.
Born in Nigeria in 1959, Sade Adu is one of Britain’s most well-known vocalists. Her career began as a backup singer in a band she performed with while she attended college in London, having moved with her mother and brother to England when she was four. After attracting record companies with her solo performances of “Smooth Operator”, Adu signed a record deal with Epic Records in 1983 and took three of her band’s members with her. She and her band then began producing a string of successful albums, including 1984’s “Diamond Life”, 1985’s “Promise”, and 2010’s “Soldier of Love”. Adu has won four Grammys and sold over 50 million albums worldwide, making her one of Britain’s most successful female artists. She was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 2002.
The Spice Girls
Formed in 1994, British girl group the Spice Girls attained astounding success throughout the world upon the release of their debut album, “Spice”, in 1996. Credited in helping pave the way for the teen pop phenomenon that occurred in the late 90s, the Spice Girls quickly became a worldwide sensation, creating a cultural impact rivaling that of fellow Brits the Beatles. After disbanding in 2001, the group reunited in 2007 for a year-long tour that grossed over 70 million dollars worldwide. With album sales of over 75 million worldwide, the Spice Girls are the best-selling female group of all time.
Dame Helen Mirren
Born in London in 1945, Dame Helen Mirren has had an extensive career in film, television, and theatre, beginning when she joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1966. Since then, she has appeared in over 60 stage productions, more than 50 films, and numerous television programs. Some of her notable projects include the British TV series “Prime Suspect” (which went on from 1991 to 2006), 2006’s TV film “Elizabeth I”, and 2006’s “The Queen”, a role which brought her widespread acclaim.
Mirren has been awarded an Academy Award, three Golden Globes, five BAFTAs, and three Emmys. She was appointed Dame Commander and Chief of the Order of the British Empire in 2006.
Born to the Redgrave family of actors in London in 1937, Vanessa Redgrave is one of Britain’s premier actresses, having appeared in over 80 films, more than 35 stage productions, and numerous television programs. She began her career in 1958, appearing with her brother on stage at the West End. She also made her film debut the same year. Redgrave has been highly praised throughout her career, receiving an Academy Award, two Golden Globes, two Emmys, and a Tony. Some of her notable films include 1971’s “Mary, Queen of Scots”, 1977’s “Julia”, and 1985’s “The Bostonians”. In 1995, she was elected to serve as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador.
Helena Bonham Carter
Born in London in 1966, Helena Bonham Carter began acting at 16, making her debut in a television commercial before receiving her breakthrough in 1985’s “A Room with a View”. She has since become one of Britain’s top actresses and appeared in over 60 films, including 1997’s “Wings of the Dove”, 2007’s “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”, and 2010’s “The King’s Speech”, for which she garnered widespread acclaim. Bonham Carter has been nominated for two Academy Awards, six Golden Globes, and won a BAFTA. In 2012 she was made Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
Born in England in 1960, Sarah Brightman is the world’s most renowned soprano. Her career began in 1978 when she was cast in the dance troupe Hot Gossip, with whom she enjoyed a stint of success. She then began a successful stage career, beginning in 1981 when she was cast in the musical “Cats”. Other notable stage roles include 1982’s “Song and Dance”, 1985’s “Requiem”, and 1986’s highly successful “The Phantom of the Opera”, in which she originated the lead role. After retiring from stage, she began a solo career in music as a classical crossover artist, a genre for which she is credited in creating.
With over 30 million albums sold, Brightman is the world’s best-selling soprano.
Born in England in 1952, Emma Thompson first rose to prominence in BBC’s drama “Tutti Frutti” in 1987. She gained further recognition, as well as established her film career, with 1992’s “Howard’s End”. She has since continued to act in major films, including 1993’s “In the Name of the Father”, 1993’s “The Remains of the Day”, and 1995’s “Sense and Sensibility” for which she wrote the screenplay as well as starred in. Aside from her appearances in film and television, Thompson has appeared in numerous stage productions.
She has been awarded two Academy Awards, two Golden Globes, and an Emmy.
In a career spanning a mere four years, Adele has become one of the UK’s and pop music’s biggest acts. Born in England in 1988, she released her first album, “19”, in early 2008 in the UK where it debuted at number one. Her career in the US was launched after she performed on a viewer record-breaking episode of “Saturday Night Live”, after which her album topped the iTunes chart. Her next album, 2011’s “21”, debuted at number one in 18 countries, including the UK and the US. The album has since achieved record-breaking success and become one of the best-selling albums of the past decade with its lead single, “Rolling in the Deep”, becoming the best-selling single of the digital era with over five million copies sold.
Adele has received two Grammys and sold over 20 million albums worldwide.
So, there we have it. Whether they are acclaimed actresses of the past century or Hollywood starlets and pop stars of today, these British women have proven to be among the most successful in their respective fields of show business.