She put the sex back into New York City and became the fashion icon of a generation as the Manolo Blahnik-loving Manhattanite Carrie Bradshaw, but Sarah Jessica Parker hasn't always led a 'designer' life. As a youngster she grew up wearing 99 cent dresses and sharing clothes with her seven siblings. And while these days her image is New Yorker through and through thanks to hit series Sex And The City, it wasn't in the Big Apple that the aspiring actress started out.
She was born on March 25, 1965, in Nelsonville Ohio to parents Stephen, an aspiring writer, and nursery school teacher Barbara. The couple divorced while Sarah was a baby and she and her three siblings were brought up by their mum. When Sarah was three Barbara married for the second time, to the man SJP now calls her father - lorry driver Paul Forste - and four half-siblings followed.
By the age of eight Sarah, who had trained in singing and ballet, was already bringing home the pay cheques after making her TV debut in The Little Match Girl. She went on to appear in a Broadway production of The Innocents alongside her brother Toby, and, after the family - who had been living in Cincinnati - moved to New York to encourage her career, she immediately began picking up work.
Financially times were hard, but while her childhood was materially straightened it was culturally rich. "We didn't have much money, but my mother was really industrious and intrepid about finding out what was available. So we went early to the theatre and the ballet and the opera, because it was either free for children or very affordable," she recalls.
During her teens she attended the Professional Children's School in Manhattan and the American Ballet Theatre School, going on to tour with four of her siblings in The Sound Of Music before being picked for the title role in Annie alongside Bob Hope in 1979. She won another big break in 1982 when she was cast as one of the leads in the high school-set sitcom Square Pegs.
Effortlessly making the often difficult leap from child star to adult performer, she won several supporting roles in movies such as bratpack hit Footloose followed by the main part in Girls Just Want To Have Fun in 1985 - the same year she began seeing Robert Downey Jr. The couple went on to live together until 1991 and remain good friends.
While she was making a name for herself on the silver screen in the early Nineties with LA Story alongside Steve Martin and Honeymoon In Vegas opposite Nicholas Cage, she was also picking up rave reviews for her theatre work in the off-Broadway production Sylvia and the Tony award-nominated Once Upon A Mattress. But it was the small screen that was to make her a household name the world over.
In 1997 she was sent a script for a new series - Sex And The City - based on the novel by Candace Bushnell about the friendship and sex lives of four single, working women in New York. The show's producer Darren Star was determined to cast Sarah, and despite her initial reservations - she admits to being uncomfortable with on-screen nudity and hates swear words the actress finally agreed, with a strict no-nudity clause in her contract.
The role of the couture and shoe-obsessed Carrie propelled her to fame. Her outfits, put together by Patricia Field, inspired thousands of column inches of their own and she became a Vogue cover-girl. She is even credited for making shoe maestro Manolo Blahnik famous in America.
Sex And The City, which began in 1998, finally ended its run in 2004, earning its lead four Golden Globes, three Screen Actors Guild awards and an Emmy in the process. "I wouldn't change those seven years for anything in the whole world," she says. After relationships with John Kennedy Jr and singer-songwriter Joshua Kadison, she settled down with actor Matthew Broderick, to whom she was introduced by her brother Timothy Parker. The New York-based couple married on May 19, 1997, and have a son together, James Wilkie, who arrived in October 2002.
Despite all her success, Sarah has remained a down-to-earth figure to those who know her. "She's a pretty famous person, but when you're around her you don't feel that," says Philip Seymour Hoffman, who worked with her on State And Main. "Her priorities are in order. Friends and family and her husband - those things mean a lot to her."
Since leaving her hit series, Sarah - a celebrity ambassador for children's charity UNICEF - has been as busy as ever with back-to-back movie projects including Failure To Launch and The Family Stone. She also launched a signature fragrance, Lovely, in 2005, and in 2007 revealed plans for her own fashion range entitled Bitten.
Yet Sarah admits that as a little girl she couldn't even have imagined the 'rags to riches' storyline her life would follow. "I didn"t know this life existed," she says, "I wouldn't have dared to dream this. I am the definition of contentment."