Julie Fernandez (born April 20, 1974) is a British actress, best known as Brenda, her award-winning role on the BBC comedy The Office. She is also a model.
Fernandez was born with osteogenesis imperfecta and requires the use of a wheelchair.
I once broke my ankle simply from putting on a sock. I was born 10 weeks early with osteogenesis imperfecta – brittle bone disease – and my parents were told I wouldn't live longer than two years and that they would have to carry me around on a pillow. I've had about 70 operations and broken 100 bones. Life has improved since I have been taking this fantastic drug, pamidronate, which increases your bone density.
I attended a day school for disabled students, called Ethel Davis, in Ilford, Essex. I don't know what it's like now, but the teaching was terrible. At 11, I was learning "5 plus 3 equals 8". My mother knew I had a bit of savvy and found out about the top boarding-school for disabled students, Lord Mayor Treloar School and College in Hampshire. It costs a minimum of £45,000 a year but my mother calculated that, assuming I lived to 50, it would be cheaper for the local education authority to pay the fees than for me to live on benefits afterwards. Going to Treloar would enable me to work and pay tax. She pushed and pushed, and eventually she cracked it.
My GCSE class were the first disabled students to take the drama GCSE. We all got Bs, which infuriated Mrs Thomas, my teacher, who believed we should have got As.
I got seven or eight GCSEs. During my A-levels, I applied to a number of polytechnics, but they said their buildings were not accessible. Then BBC casting agents contacted Mrs Thomas to say: "We're looking for a young lady to play a wheelchair user in Eldorado." We all flew to Spain for filming. During my A-levels, I spent Monday and Tuesday filming, flew back on Wednesday, exam on Thursday: yes, it was hectic. I got both A-levels, in English and German. Poor grades, mind you, but I got them.
She starred as Vanessa Lockhead in the short-lived BBC soap opera Eldorado. She went on to play Sean Maguire's girlfriend in BBC1 drama Dangerfield before landing the role of Brenda in The Office.
Fernandez is a prominent disability rights activist in the United Kingdom and has supported campaigns for the Disability Rights Commission. She set up The Disability Foundation, a British pan-disability charity boasting one of the largest disability information databases in the UK. In January 2003, she co-hosted the opening ceremony for the European Year of People with Disabilities in Athens.
In 2004, Fernandez formed a television production company called The Wheelie Good Company and spent the time since working on new programme ideas. The company was set up by Fernandez to improve the representation of disabled people in the media but no longer focus on disability-related material.