Born to Scottish Lowlands aristocracy, Tilda Swinton could easily have settled into a privileged life in high society as a lady of leisure. Instead she chose to enter the notoriously fickle world of acting, notching up an impressive CV by eschewing conventional leading lady parts in favour of quirky character roles.
Born on November 6, 1960, Katherine Matilda Swinton was the third child - and only daughter - of Sir John Swinton of Kimmerghame and his Australian wife Judith Balfour, an ancient Anglo-Scottish family which traces its lineage back to the ninth century.
Aged ten, Tilda was sent to board at West Heath Girls School where fellow pupils included the future Princess of Wales, Lady Diana Spencer. She excelled at her studies and took four A Levels before going on to complete a degree in English literature at Cambridge.
After starting out treading the boards with the Royal Shakespeare Company, Tilda made the transition to film in the mid Eighties, and was transformed into an art house icon after becoming the muse of British independent film director Derek Jarman. Early roles included a gender-blending performance in Orlando
, the tale of a nobleman who becomes a woman.
In 1985 she met the man who would eventually become her long-term partner, painter and playwright John Byrne, when he designed the set of a London production in which she was appearing. Five years later the pair fell in love and moved to the north of Scotland, becoming parents to twins, son Xavier and daughter Honor, in 1997.
Before her children turned school age Tilda worked on low budget films such as Love Is The Devil
and Conceiving Ada
, while exploring other unusual projects. She even spent a horse-racing season trying to become a professional gambler, before realising it was not for her.
A speculative tour of Los Angeles acting agents in 2000 led to the role that earned her global attention, that of the matriarch of a new-age traveller community in The Beach
. She has since gone on to share the big screen with some of the biggest names in Hollywood, including Keanu Reeves in Constantine
, Tom Cruise in Vanilla Sky
and George Clooney in Michael Clayton
, the film which brought her an Oscar in 2008.
Despite her phenomenal success, the actress remains resolutely down-to-earth and largely unaffected by her film star status. Her brother Willie maintains "she would rather be back home in Scotland in her wellies, out in the garden" than attend a red carpet event. A comment which Tilda echoed in 2008 when she revealed that thinking about her career "makes me want to run off and farm pigs".