We all remember the Dursleys from the Harry Potter universe. Especially Petunia, Harry’s aunt. The Dursleys treated Harry as the house slave, since they were worried the ‘craziness’ in his genes would embarrass them. This craziness, which is nothing but magic, in reality actually scared them. And so they decided to never let Harry know about the true nature of his past. This is Rowling’s way of showing how humans are so narrow minded towards something they don’t understand. They choose ignorance and hatred, instead of understanding. Well, before we get sidetracked regarding Harry Potter and his life – Fiona Shaw played Petunia. This 61 year old actress got married to a Sri Lankan tsunami survivor and economist, Sonali, in 2018. Let’s take a look at how her life has been.
Fiona Shaw was brought up in a rich suburb of Montenotte. Her father was an ophthalmic surgeon and her mother was a physicist. Her father was the kind who expected his kids to study at home, instead of going out to have fun.
Fiona has said to The Sun, “He was very, very strict. We were terrified of him. He wasn’t abusive. Knowledge, history and rugby were the three big themes in our house. But he was unbending. His big complaint was that I was either out or sick. My mother was a party girl, so they were very different people.”
Fiona’s parents flat out rejected her acting passion and dreams. But after some serious convincing, her dad approved to fund a course on drama. But on one condition – she had to go to university first. This was all the motivation Fiona needed. She acquired a degree in philosophy, and was then permitted to study acting at London’s leading Rada school.
Her career and life was “at its zenith” , when she became a part of the Royal Shakespeare Company in her early 20s. This high came down crashing, when she suddenly lost her brother in a car accident. “When Peter died, it stopped me. I was just having my debut at the RSC. It was devastating”, she told.
Fiona’s acting career:
Fiona Shaw shifted to serious roles from comedic ones, when she came back to stage. The grief she went through because of losing her brother, inspired her to use stage to express her deepest darkest emotions to an audience.
My Left Foot, the Oscar nominated movie, was her first big film. She played the part of carer for Christy Brown, Daniel Day-Lewis’s disabled artist. This movie came out in the year 1989. After which, she immediately did Mountains Of The Moon, in which she did a sex scene. “Oh, God! I couldn’t have been more naked. My mother hasn’t seen it yet, thank God. I can hear her now, ‘They’re our genes on display, like a common meat rack’”, said Shaw once.
She is also completely unhappy of her role in Three Men And A Little Lady. She played aside Tom Selleck as a love craving headmistress. It was a hit back in 1990. “[That role] completely ruined my career as anything viable as a heroine. I was a clown”, she added.
She preferred theatre to movies, for a few decades. But playing Petunia Dursley in Harry Potter fixed her career. This role made her recognisable and a memorable face, all over the world.
Coming out as gay:
This 61 year old actress, who has starred in Flea bag and Killing Eve, confessed that she filled herself with ‘self-hatred’. This was during the time when she realised she’s gay. She dated men for many years before she understood she’s gay. She also said it was a massive surprise for her as well.
I’m only just finding out Fiona Shaw has a wife? MARVELLOUS. pic.twitter.com/SnUsoUq7CD
— Cass 🏳️🌈 (@_ACasso) May 12, 2019
In a conversation with Big Issue, Shaw said, “I wasn’t in any way gay until I was. One goes on developing. As a teenager, I was very modest in my romantic life. I had this wonderful boyfriend, then another, then later I became gay. It was a shock. I was full of self-hatred and thought I would come back into the fold shortly. But I just didn’t.”
Just like many people who realised their sexuality, Fiona Shaw faced the same problems of confusion and fear. Fear of what the society would say, of what her parents would say. But she chose to be open about her sexuality, rather than hiding it inside a closet. Ever since she realised she is gay, Fiona openly dated many women.
Fiona Shaw tied the knot, at the age of 59:
Fiona had serious relationships with work colleagues. She dated Deep Blue actor Saffron Burrows. But, she met Sonali Deraniyagala, one of the Boxing Day tsunami survivors.
Fiona found her true love, when she read Sonali’s emotional book Wave, in which she wrote about losing her entire family to the fatal tsunami. And her battles to cope from it. Fiona attended a book club conference, where Sonali was speaking. After she spoke with Sonali, Shaw was totally taken with this person’s strength who lost her parents, two kids and husband. To the 2004 tragedy.
“I was so surprised that she was that person, not the person in the book. We spent half an hour chatting. When I left I thought, ‘I have just met life’.”, said Fiona. “Very quickly I thought, I just want to live with this person — and it’s been one of the most marvellous things to happen but it was also highly unlikely. Thankfully, she thought the same and it’s been a beautiful thing to happen at this stage of my life.”
Fiona at 59 and Sonali at 54, tied the knot in 2018. At Shaw’s home in Cork. Many brows were “more than raised” at the fact that she was marrying a woman. But thankfully, Fiona’s mom “was very good about it”. And that’s what really matters yeah?
The actress now divides her time among New York and North London, where her home is. Her wife is a scholar in North London’s Columbia University. Fiona is currently enjoying the massive success of her show Killing Eve.