Most people know Julie Andrews from the famous musicals she starred in early in her career — Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music and Victor Victoria — where she delighted audiences with her pristine voice and four-octave range.
I know about her in a more personal way: My maternal grandmother, a talented seamstress, worked as one of her dressmakers. She always said that Julie Andrews was a kind, fair employer who was interested in keeping up with the times. No wonder Julie Andrews became a social media sensation this year in a surprise appearance at the Oscars, when she greeted Lady Gaga — who had just paid homage to her with a medley of songs from The Sound of Music.
In honor of Julie Andrews’ 80th birthday, here are some of my favorite, lesser-known things about her.
1. She’s a children’s book author
Most people don’t know that she is the author of over 20 books, including several children’s books. My favorite and the focus of many childhood memories is The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles, which is now available in a 30th anniversary edition, with a foreword from Andrews. I love the fantastical world she created where the Whangdoodle lives among other creatures without any contact with humans, who have forgotten him. That is, until one human family makes an astounding discovery.
2. She’s royalty (for real)
We loved watching her in The Princess Diaries where she played the role of Queen Clarisse Marie Renaldi of Genovia, but did you know that in 2000 Andrews was actually made a dame (that’s Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire) by Queen Elizabeth II for services to the performing arts?
3. She’s the mother of reinvention
When her career faltered in the 1990s, she found a second wind in the 2000s by starring in The Princess Diaries movies alongside “it girl” of the time Anne Hathaway. More recently, she played Queen Lillian (married to the frog king) in the Shrek animated films and followed them with Despicable Me, where she gave voice to Gru’s soul-crushing mother Marlena.
4. She inspired a fun phenomenon
Sing-Along-A Sound of Music became a social sensation in the United States, shortly after it started in the U.K. in 1999. That’s when a night at the movies became a party — The Sound of Music would be screened in color, along with subtitles (and requisite bouncing ball) so the audience, dressed up as their favorite characters, could sing along. I actually had my birthday party at one of the screenings and got into the spirit by dressing like Maria herself, in a blond wig and dirndl (minus the chintz). Although it’s no longer in most major theaters, the screening events are still going strong on some college campuses today.
5. Here’s “something good” — she has more to do
Although Julie Andrews is 80 years young, she still has dreams to fulfill. For example, this past August, it was announced that she would direct My Fair Lady in 2016 at the Sydney Opera House. If that’s not a great reason for all of us to head to Australia, I don’t know what is.
I think we can all agree, the best word to describe Julie Andrews is a word she knows well — supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!