January 29, 2007 12:00 PM

Four octaves, clear as a bell, and unforgettable. From London music halls to Broadway to Hollywood, Dame Julie Andrews’s voice made her a superstar. But in 1997 botched minor throat surgery put the music to an end. “I was in denial, thinking it was going to get better,” says Andrews, 71, whose singing ability never returned. “There was anger at myself for going under the knife.” Still, the star of Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music bounced back in trademark fashion: chin up. “I never have been busier,” says Andrews, who will receive a Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award Jan. 28. “It’s wonderful.”

And hectic. There are the children’s books she writes with daughter Emma Walton Hamilton—two of which are being adapted into musicals—speaking tours and roles in Shrek 2 and the Princess Diaries movies. But the thing she’s proudest of is her 37-year marriage to writer-director Blake Edwards. And that voice, while never the same, still has some of its old magic. In 2004 Andrews talk-sang through a ditty in Princess Diaries 2, her first performance since the surgery, bringing its cast and crew to tears. “For me,” she recalls, it was “wonderful affirmation.”

Expect the applause to continue. “I have been tremendously lucky,” Andrews said while looking over old photos with PEOPLE’s Michael Fleeman. “And yes, thank you for the Life Achievement Award, but it seems to still be going. And I’m loving it.”


“Hopefully, I brought people a certain joy,” says Julie Andrews (here at 30, while shooting the movie Hawaii). “That would be a wonderful legacy.”


Andrews got her start in showbiz after wowing her mother and stepfather—both vaudevillians—with her crystalline soprano. “I played the girl next door,” she says of a London radio show she performed with famed dummy Archie Andrews, “and came on once a week and sang my aria and just belted it out.”


Just 25, Andrews had already conquered Broadway in My Fair Lady when she was photographed by Lord Snowdon for Vogue. “I’d been handed this wonderful role and I was very green,” she says.


“That’s my Emma!” Andrews says of her first child (swiping a slipper at home). “We’re both very bossy people! But if anybody had said to me then that one day I would be meeting her as an equal and writing books together, it would have seemed impossible. It’s such a gift.”


“Do you know how long we’ve been married?” Andrews says of Blake Edwards, 84, whom she wed in 1969. “Thirty-seven years. That’s staggering to me. Where did it all go? I cannot stress enough what a fine director he is—and not just because I’m married to him!”


“We were great friends,” says Andrews of Audrey Hepburn, who was controversially cast as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, a part Andrews had immortalized onstage. But she beat out Hepburn as Oscar’s Best Actress for Mary Poppins. “She said, ‘Julie, you should have done it, but I didn’t have the guts to turn it down.’ And it was perfectly okay. She was a very nice lady.”


“Such great joy working on this film,” says Andrews, who rehearsed The Sound of Music’s famous Austrian mountain meadow number “umpteen times” for director Robert Wise. “The kids are great. We still get in touch. We get together for anniversaries, we send Christmas cards. They’re all grown up now and have their own kids.”


“I’m well aware of the [squeaky clean Mary Poppins] image. I haven’t really pushed to change it because I’ve been lucky enough to play in many sandboxes.”


“It’s been like a bookend to my career,” says Andrews of the Princess Diaries movies. “Kids now relate more to that than Mary Poppins or The Sound of Music.”


“Fun, great fun,” says Andrews of providing the queen’s voice in Shrek 2 and the upcoming Shrek the Third. “You don’t work with anybody else but yourself. You can’t bounce off another actor.”

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