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JULIA SAWALHA (born 9 September 1968) is an English actress best known for her roles of Saffron Monsoon in Absolutely Fabulous, Lynda Day, editor of The Junior Gazette in Press Gang, and Lydia Bennet in the 1995 television miniseries of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.
Sawalha was born in London, the daughter of Roberta and Nadim Sawalha. She was named after her grandmother, a Jordanian businesswoman who had received an award from Queen Noor for enterprise. She is of Jordanian, British, and French Huguenot ancestry. She was born into an acting family: her father Nadim is an actor who appeared in the James Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me, while her sister Nadia starred in the soap EastEnders and is now a television presenter and chat show host.
She first gained public attention for her starring role in the ITV teenage comedy/drama Press Gang, which ran from 1989 to 1993. The on-screen chemistry between the two leads was reflected off-screen, as she and co-star Dexter Fletcher became an item for several years. From 1991-94, she starred in the ITV family comedy Second Thoughts and continued with her character, Hannah (Lynda Bellingham's daughter), in the British Comedy Award winning Faith in the Future (1995–98). From 1992 to 2005, she played Saffron Monsoon in the sitcom Absolutely Fabulous alongside Jennifer Saunders. She starred in the 1995 BBC adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice as Lydia Bennett, co-starring opposite Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth. She also voiced Ginger in DreamWorks/Aardman's Chicken Run. In 2000 she appeared as Janet, the Australian Barmaid ("Built for bar work; it's instinct... instinct!!") in the first series of the British sitcom Time Gentlemen Please. She also played the much put-upon PA to "Zak" in Argos TV adverts during 2002-2004, along with Richard E. Grant. She has also joined acclaimed actor Ioan Gruffudd in the internationally successful TV/DVD adaptations of CS Forester's Horatio Hornblower novels, as the captain's first wife Maria. In 2001, she became the Alan Davies co-star in Jonathan Creek after Caroline Quentin left, appearing in a Christmas Special ("Satan's Chimney"). She returned for a series between 2003-2004. In 2006, she participated in the third series of the genealogy documentary series Who Do You Think You Are? tracing her family's roots, which are Jordanian Bedouin on her father's side, and French Huguenot on her mother's. She also appeared in the pilot of BBC 1's "A Taste of my Life" presented by Nigel Slater. After a two year break, she was back on screen in May 2007, competing in the BBC dog training celebrity reality show The Underdog Show. She then returned to acting in two successive BBC costume dramas; as Jessie Brown in 2007 series Cranford, followed by Lark Rise to Candleford in 2008.
She went out with and lived with Press Gang co-star Dexter Fletcher, and later went out with comedian Richard Herring: "So taken was he that the Oxford-educated stand-up comedian even set up a shrine to her on Fist of Fun, the television programme he wrote and acted in with Stewart Lee. "My ideal woman has the head of Julia Sawalha, and the body of Julia Sawalha," Herring would declare. Lee would reply, "Why not just say that your ideal woman is Julia Sawalha?" To which Herring would reply, "I didn't say they would be attached." Sawalha then dated Patrick Marber. She reportedly had an affair with actor Keith Allen, the father of Lily Allen. On 1 January 2004 it was alleged in the tabloid newspapers that she had married boyfriend Alan Davies, her co-star in the television series Jonathan Creek. Both she and Davies, who avoided discussing their private lives in public, denied this, and took legal action against the reports. The couple split up after Davies reportedly refused to commit - and was branded "a miserable git" by her sister Nadia. After meeting Rich Annetts at the Glastonbury Festival in 2005, the couple moved to Bath, Somerset and lived in a flat close to the Royal Crescent. Annetts had a canal boat on the Kennet and Avon canal, which the couple would regularly visit. The couple then moved to a cottage in the Somerset countryside, with solar panels and a woodburner stove, which they renamed Flowers Cottage. Sawalha started growing her own vegetables, attending yoga lessons and is studying for an Open University English degree. Sawalha and Annetts have since split up, in part caused by her return to acting in Cranford.
She currently stars on the BBC hit costume drama Lark Rise To Candleford where she plays the meddling post mistress Dorcas Lane. The forth series will begin filming early this summer.