Page last updated at 08:02 GMT, Friday, 8 May 2009 09:02 UK

Profile: Joanna Lumley

By Michael Osborn
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Joanna Lumley
Joanna Lumley as model, actress, documentary presenter and campaigner

Actress Joanna Lumley has recently hit the headlines for her high profile involvement in the Gurkha campaign rather than her dramatic roles.

The 63-year-old has taken the cause all the way to the Prime Minister's drawing room, becoming a draw for the cameras and a semi-permanent fixture on news bulletins.

Her starring role is the latest chapter in a career that spans five decades, beginning as a photographic model in the swinging sixties.

Lumley did not go to drama school, but slowly gained a foothold on the small screen - her first credited role is "a flirty patient" in an episode of soap opera General Hospital.

Iconic haircut

The cobbles of Weatherfield gave the actress her first role which was more than just a bit part, playing Elaine Perkins in more than 100 editions of Coronation Street.

Joanna Lumley in Downing Street, 1980
A campaign against seal culling took Lumley to No 10 in 1980

Her on-screen character famously turned down a marriage proposal from boyfriend Ken Barlow, the serial lothario still up to his tricks.

Other glamour roles included a Bond Girl in On Her Majesty's Secret Service in 1969, and as a science fiction beauty in cult show Sapphire and Steel a decade later.

In 1976, Lumley landed one of her landmark roles as Purdey in popular series The New Avengers, but is largely remembered for her iconic bowl haircut.

But the show gained Lumley a special Bafta TV award in 2000 to sit alongside a pair of trophies for her comic portrayal of the outrageous Patsy Stone in Absolutely Fabulous.

'Thespian rebel'

In another guise away from her self-indulgent and wild alter ego, Lumley turned documentary presenter, being stranded on a desert island in Girl Friday, and travelling in the Arctic Circle in 2008's Land of the Northern Lights.

Patsy may have helped make the actress a national treasure and beloved gay icon, but away from the studio floor, Lumley has embraced a series of causes close to her heart.

She has lent her unmistakably velvety tones to numerous humanitarian fund-raising campaigns.

And the avowed vegetarian has been an advocate for animal rights causes from the plight of seals to speaking out against live exports.

Joanna Lumley arrives at the 2008 Baftas
Lumley's glamour has regularly graced the red carpet

Lumley's vocal support of the campaign to allow Gurkhas who retired before 1997 the right to settle in the UK stems from her birth in India to a British major in the 6th Gurkha Rifles.

Her father held the Nepalese servicemen in "admiration and affection", while the star has passionately become the public face of the Gurkha Justice Campaign in parliament and in front of the media.

The actress has said: "I can't remember a time when I did not support their cause - I have always felt like a child of the regiment."

Lumley's prominent role has prompted a slew of newspaper coverage, with The Daily Telegraph's Dominic Cavendish calling her "a thespian rebel with a cause".

He added that her stand has made her "a mascot for the country" and "a symbol of people power", while she is "a reminder that celebrities are not all cut from the same, self-serving cloth".

The News of the World, meanwhile, joked "if she gets any more public adoration, Susan Boyle might send her a signed photo".

The Sun has gone one further and called for the actress to be made a Dame for her campaigning spirit, with another tabloid anointing her as Prime Minister.

While Lumley - the actress - has more recently made her name playing a toothsome old dear in Jam and Jerusalem and reviving Ab Fab's Patsy for Comic Relief, her reputation as a campaigner is making all the waves at present.

If the called-for honour does come her way, the question is whether she will be recognised for her crusading work or long screen career.

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