We grew up without money: two rooms and an outside loo. I remember shyly cowering behind the coal shed as Mum tried to photograph me, but by the age of four I was playing Mia Farrow’s daughter in The Great Gatsby. I loved the fantasy of acting, the contrast of the worlds in which I lived. It’s not that one was better, but going from life with not very much to this extravagant, surreal set opened my eyes to possibilities.

Dad was charming and a genius with numbers – he was also deep in the organised crime world. In the 60s, he worked with both the Kray twins (Reggie was my brother’s Godfather) and their arch enemies, the Richardsons. He went to prison quite a few times and Mum would never take us to visit him. Still, he was my dad who I loved deeply.

If you have a pulse, you go to work – I’ve never taken jobs for granted. By 15, I was going out to Soho’s Wag Club, partying with Wham!, Madness and Spandau Ballet, but while it was wild, my work ethic never slipped. Even when I’ve been going through personal things far too publicly and I wanted to hide under my duvet, I turn up on set – and on time – regardless.

My mother got sick far too young, diagnosed with terminal cancer at 30. I went on a crusade to work, hoping I could buy her health: I worshipped her, we were inseparable. Mum fought the illness for 20-odd years, losing the battle at 53, and with Dad dead I – at 22 – became an orphan. Losing that unconditional love was palpable. For too long I looked for it in relationships, before finding contentment in devotion to my children.

Dinner at Donatella Versace’s house stopped me reading stories about me in the press. It was the 90s and I was in the papers daily. Midway through the meal, Elton John sat down next to me and asked how I was coping. I told him it was all-consuming and totally awful. Stop looking, he said, or it’ll destroy you. From that moment on, I simply didn’t.

When I get a food crush, I eat the same dish every day for a few weeks – it’s all I want. Then I become sick of it and can never again stomach it. Right now I can’t stop eating shepherd’s pie. Yes, I’m having it for dinner.

I had an emergency hysterectomy in my 40s, before I was even perimenopausal. Tumours kept appearing, so I had surgery sharpish. I was cancer free, but was thrown deep into the menopause immediately. I’d find myself soaking wet or struggling to speak; mid-conversation I’d be struck with brain fog. When it happened on live TV, people jumped to all sorts of wrong conclusions. Nobody was really talking about it, so I decided I would.

We’ve found a good rhythm to family life now – I’m so proud of my sons – but at times two teenage boys is a handful. Learning as a parent you don’t have to get the last word helped me through, as did their hormones settling.

The final episode of Friends makes me cry every time. Just as they leave the apartment, I burst into tears. Ridiculously I’m choking up now even thinking about it.

Making the transition from child actor to teenage one was a lucky break, and then somehow I’ve continued to get work through my adulthood. Whatever might have happened, life feels good; I’m truly blessed and grateful.

Strength is a characteristic I’ve acquired with age. I used to worry so much about what people thought. Now, at 53 I think: if you don’t like me – or what you perceive me to be – I’m not bothered. I, if I could give a younger me advice, I’d say don’t care so much. That, and that you don’t have to marry all of your boyfriends.

The Pebble and the Boy will be in UK cinemas from 27 August