Imelda Staunton was born 9 january 1956 in Archway, North London, the only child of Bridie (née McNicholas), a hairdresser, and Joseph Staunton, a road-worker and labourer. The family lived over Staunton's mother's salon. Her parents were first-generation Catholic immigrants from County Mayo, Ireland; her father from Ballyvary and her mother from Bohola. Staunton's mother was a musician who could not read music, but could master almost any tune by ear on the accordion or fiddle and had played in Irish showbands. As a pupil at La Sainte Convent, she took drama classes with her elocution teacher and starred in school productions of plays, including the role of Polly Peachum in a school production of The Beggar's Opera. Encouraged by an elocution teacher at her school, Staunton auditioned for drama schools and got into the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) at the age of 18. She also auditioned for the Central School of Speech and Drama and Guildhall School of Music and Drama, but was rejected by both schools. Staunton and her husband, English actor Jim Carter, have a daughter, Bessie, born in 1993. In 2007, the three appeared in the BBC series Cranford (Carter was Captain Brown and Bessie a maid). Staunton was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2006 New Year Honours and Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2016 New Year Honours, both for services to drama. Staunton owns a dog (Molly) who appeared in Gypsy at the Chichester Festival Theatre from 6 October 8 November as "Chowsie" the dog. Staunton played the leading role, "Momma Rose”.
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