The phrase “living legend” can sometimes be thrown around far too loosely, but one individual that coveted title falls upon quite deservingly is none other than the life-long stage, television, and film star Julie Andrews.
The 87-year-old’s illustrious Hollywood career of unforgettable singing and acting performances in such iconic films as Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music, and The Princess Diaries continues to leave a rather timeless effect of joy and optimism on audiences of all generations.
Back in 1997, however, Andrews had to undergo throat surgery that ultimately left her unable to continue singing professionally. So, the beloved entertainer was forced to pivot within her already established career, finding a new creative outlet through writing children’s books alongside her daughter Emma Walton Hamilton.
Andrews told me, “I think I would go completely mad if I didn’t have some lovely thing to work on. I think really since I had a bad surgery on my throat, I’ve just turned to this with Emma and it’s been such a joy. It has been very refreshing for me and reviving in a way, because of course, it was a very sad event.”
Their latest fictional book titled The Enchanted Symphony was inspired by the very real story of a Barcelona opera house that filled its seats with plants during the Covid-19 pandemic, when people were still unable to return to public spaces.
“It is true that plants respond to good music,” Andrews said. “It is extraordinary and it made us think, ‘Oh my gosh, there must be some way of telling a tale like that.’”
Hamilton said, “We were very aware of, being such arts advocates, the peril art institutions were in [throughout the pandemic] – no theaters, no opera houses, no galleries, no movie theaters. We were also aware of how much joy we were taking in nature. We always do but it became even more important during the pandemic as a substitute of all the arts and the entertainment that we enjoyed. It just felt like an important and logical place to go with the story.”
Andrews and Hamilton went on to say that the message they hope children and families alike will take away from their new The Enchanted Symphony book is to find out for themselves what is most important in their lives and to not forget the simple joys in life.
Over the years, Hamilton has built her own background within the theater and writing communities. Having witnessed firsthand her mother’s elaborate career, I wondered in what ways Hamilton might say that Andrews has helped mold her into the creative professional she is today.
“Definitely by absorbing,” Hamilton said. “I’ve been working alongside my mom since I was born, essentially, so I have been very fortunate accompanying her a lot of places and absorbing a lot of stimuli from the arts. She’s a great music lover – there was always music in the house, there was always reading in the house. I’m also a bit of a life-long learner myself, so in the years that we’ve been working together, I took myself back to school and got a master’s [degree] in creative writing and I teach creative writing. I’m always learning.”
Andrews may have had her big break in Hollywood when she landed the starring role as the wisdom-filled, flying nanny in Walt Disney’s 1964 film Mary Poppins, but she has been performing on some of the biggest stages in the world since she was a little girl. Now being able to look back on her lasting impact across the arts, I wondered what Andrews credits to the longevity of her life and career.
“Well, most of the time, I credit it to great, good fortune and then a lot of hard work,” Andrews said. “I mean, I’ve just been so really lucky in my career that the opportunities, the mentors – somehow being somewhere at the right moment. None of it was really planned – and so, things don’t just land on your desk every second but surprises do, and I just think nobody has been more fortunate than I’ve been.”
Andrews went on to say that she is “pretty much retired” from her Hollywood career today, while still lending her speaking voice as the narrator, Lady Whistledown, on the popular Netflix series Bridgerton. These days, Andrews and Hamilton get the most enjoyment out of their days in their garden, with their dogs, and with Andrews’ grandchildren. Since their very first book Dumpy the Dump Truck came out in 2000, inspired by Hamilton’s son’s love for trucks at the time, the writing duo have published a total of 35 books together and do not seem to have any plans of slowing down in sharing even more enchanting stories with the world.
I concluded our conversation by asking Andrews if she could go back to the 27-year-old Julie Andrews, who had just moved to Hollywood from her home in England alongside her first husband Tony Walton and their three-month-old daughter Emma to start working on Mary Poppins, and could give her advice or a warning after everything she has experienced in life up to now, professionally and personally, what would she say today to that ambitious and aspiring Julie?
Andrews said, “I always used to think that ambitious was a very nasty word because it sounds like it’s grasping, but it’s not. It’s just pure desire to do something well or get the job done. What would I say? I’d say take it one step at a time, because also – many, many people ask me, ‘Do I have a thought about how to get on in this life and so on?’ I always say things are going to float by sometimes and you barely know that they’re important, but they’ll float past your nose and miracles happen that way. So, do your homework, be ready – and gratitude, of course. I don’t take anything for granted.”