Born in Birmingham, Walter’s trained as a teacher at Manchester Polytechnic before making her stage debut in The Taming of the Shrew at the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool. Later, she made her film debut opposite Michael Caine in the film version of Educating Rita (1983), a performance that earned her BAFTA and Academy Award Best Actress nominations. After the success of Educating Rita, Walters rebuffed offers from Hollywood to remain a television and film character actress in the UK. She won the leading role as suburban madam Cynthia Payne in Personal Services (1987), and opposite Phil Collins in another fact-based comedy drama, Buster (1988). She came to worldwide attention once again with a critically acclaimed performance as the tough yet sympathetic dance teacher in Stephen Daldry's Billy Elliot (2000), earning a second Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. She followed this up a few years later with the comedy-drama Calendar Girls (2003), the true story of Rylstone And District branch of the Women's Institute stripping for charity. She was awarded an OBE in 1999.