Tate was born Catherine Ford on 12 May 1968 in Bloomsbury, where she was raised in the Brunswick Centre. Her mother, Josephine, was a florist. Tate has said that the character of Margaret in The Catherine Tate Show, who shrieks at the slightest of disturbances, is based largely on her mother. Tate never knew her father as he left very early on in her life and, consequently, she was brought up in a female-dominated environment, being cared for by her mother, grandmother, and godparents. As a child, Tate suffered from OCD and was obsessed with word association. For example, she was not able to leave a jumper on the floor because it might have brought misfortune to her mother, whose name began with the letter "J" like "jumper".
Tate attended St Joseph's Roman Catholic Primary School in Holborn, and Notre Dame High School, a convent secondary school for girls in Southwark. By the time she was a teenager, she knew she wanted a professional acting career; following the abolition of the sixth form at her secondary school, she was sent to a boys' Roman Catholic school, Salesian College in Battersea, at the age of 16 as it had the necessary facilities for drama. She left school without sitting her A levels. She then tried for four years to get a place in the Central School of Speech and Drama, succeeding on her fourth attempt. She studied there for three years. Prior to getting a place there, Tate went to the Sylvia Young Theatre School, but left after a week, later stating, "Even at that age, I realised I wasn't Bonnie Langford. It was very competitive." She was also a member of the National Youth Theatre.
Tate began her television acting career with roles in serial dramas such as The Bill and London's Burning. Tate started stand-up comedy in 1996, and has appeared in comedy series such as The Harry Hill Show, Barking, and That Peter Kay Thing. She played the part of Kate in the unaired pilot episode of sitcom Not Going Out. In 1998, she wrote and starred in Barking, a late night sketch show broadcast on Channel 4 and featuring a host of, back then, unknown stars such as David Walliams, Peter Kay and Mackenzie Crook.
Soon after, she became involved with Lee Mack's Perrier Comedy Award-nominated New Bits show at the Edinburgh Film Festival in 2000. In 2001, she returned to the festival with her own sell-out one-woman show, which was followed by roles in Big Train, Attention Scum and TVGoHome. After being spotted at Edinburgh, she was given the role of Angela in the comedy, Wild West, with Dawn French, who commented "Catherine Tate is far too talented and she must be destroyed."
Tate has also performed with the Royal Shakespeare Company, and at the National Theatre. She acted the role of Smeraldina in a 2000 RSC production of A Servant to Two Masters, and another role in The Way of the World at the National Theatre.
Tate was approached at a post-show party at the Edinburgh Festival by then-BBC controller of comedy Geoffrey Perkins, who encouraged Tate to develop her character ideas, especially to push the boundaries with teenager Lauren Cooper. Undertaking Perkins' advice, after a live show Tate found the audience walking out of the show repeating the character's catchphrase Am I bovvered?
Produced by Perkins at Tiger Aspect, Tate was given her own programme on BBC Two in 2004, which she co-wrote and starred in with Derren Litten, entitled The Catherine Tate Show, which ran for three series. Two of the show's well-known characters are teenager Lauren Cooper and Joannie "Nan" Taylor, the cockney grandmother. Tate's inspiration for the cockney grandmother came from visits to old people's homes when she was at drama college. Tate won a British Comedy Award for Best Comedy Newcomer for her work on the first series of The Catherine Tate Show, and with the first series becoming a success, in March 2005, Tate made a guest appearance during the BBC's Comic Relief as the character of Lauren from The Catherine Tate Show, alongside boy-band McFly, which gained her further exposure.
In November 2005, Tate appeared in another charity sketch as part of the BBC's annual Children in Need telethon. The segment was a crossover between EastEnders and The Catherine Tate Show, featuring Eastenders characters Peggy Mitchell, Little Mo Mitchell and Stacey Slater, whilst Tate appeared as Lauren. Also at that time, she was a guest star at the 77th Royal Variety Performance and appeared again in the guise of Lauren Cooper. During the sketch, Tate looked up at the Royal Box and asked The Queen, "Is one bovvered? Is one's face bovvered?". During the sketch, co-star Niky Wardley (in character as Liese) remarked: "That old man sitting next to her has fallen asleep." Prince Philip then reportedly complained to the show's executive producer, saying he had been insulted. Tate later won a British Comedy Award for Best British Comedy Actress for her work in the second series of The Catherine Tate Show. At the end of 2005, she appeared in the BBC television adaptation of Bleak House.
Tate returned to the stage for the first time since working with the RSC, to play a role in the 2005 West End revival of Some Girl(s), alongside Sara Powell, Lesley Manville, Saffron Burrows and Friends star David Schwimmer. In an interview, Tate commented that she could not look Schwimmer in the eye during her time with him, leading to speculation that the pair did not get on. Tate immediately denied the rumours, explaining that she was joking about her attempts to act "cool" around Schwimmer, whom she described as "a very funny, personable man, and easy to get along with".
The third series of The Catherine Tate Show aired in 2006, going on to win the National Television Award for most popular comedy as voted for by the public, and Tate's catchphrase "bovvered", used by her character Lauren Cooper, became so influential in popular culture that it was named Word of the Year and was even poised to enter the Oxford English Dictionary. Tate also played the role of Donna Noble in Doctor Who, a woman in a wedding dress who suddenly appears in the TARDIS at the end of the episode "Doomsday". The following episode, the Christmas special entitled "The Runaway Bride", saw Tate's character in a major role, where she was temporarily the Doctor's companion. On her appearance in the series, Tate commented "I'm honoured and delighted to be joining David Tennant aboard the TARDIS. I was holding out for a summer season at Wigan rep but as a summer job, this'll do."
Tate had roles in three films in 2006, these included, Starter for 10, Sixty Six, and Scenes of a Sexual Nature. She later appeared in the films Mrs Ratcliffe's Revolution, in which she played the title character, and Love and Other Disasters.
In the 2007 television adaptation of the novel, The Bad Mother's Handbook, she played the lead role and co-starred with Anne Reid.
On 16 March 2007, Tate appeared for a second time on Comic Relief as some of her well-known characters from The Catherine Tate Show. She acted in sketches with David Tennant, Daniel Craig, Lenny Henry and the then Prime Minister Tony Blair, who used the show's famous catchphrase, "Am I bovvered?" Tate also appeared as Joannie "Nan" Taylor in an episode of Deal or No Deal, hosted by Noel Edmonds.
Tate became a Patron of the performing arts group Theatretrain.
Despite speculation that the third series of The Catherine Tate Show would be the last, Tate and the BBC have not ruled out further episodes. She later filmed a one-off special episode which aired on Christmas Day 2007. The episode was subject to criticism when 42 viewers complained about the amount of swearing, and accused Tate of bigotry over the depiction of a family from Northern Ireland as terrorists, whose Christmas presents included a balaclava and a pair of knuckle dusters, in reference to the Troubles. After the complaints were made, an Ofcom report later concluded that the show was not offensive and did not violate broadcasting regulations. An extract from the Ofcom report read "Overall this episode was typical of the Catherine Tate Show and would not have gone beyond the expectations of its usual audience. For those not familiar with the show, the information given at the start was adequate."
She has also been nominated for four BAFTA Awards for her work on The Catherine Tate Show to date, including Best Comedy Performance.
Tate returned to Doctor Who in 2008 to reprise the role of Donna Noble as the Doctor's companion throughout the fourth series, which was shown on BBC One starting on 5 April for a 13-week run. Producer Russell T Davies said, "We are delighted that one of Britain's greatest talents has agreed to join us for the fourth series." Tate added, "I am delighted to be returning to Doctor Who. I had a blast last Christmas and look forward to travelling again through time and space with that nice man from Gallifrey." At the TV Quick Awards 2008, Tate was voted best actress for her role in Doctor Who. She returned as Donna Noble in the two-part Doctor Who Christmas special "The End of Time" which was broadcast over Christmas 2009.
In 2008 Tate starred as Michelle, a promiscuous mathematics teacher, in David Eldridge's Under The Blue Sky at the Duke of York's Theatre, London, alongside Francesca Annis and Nigel Lindsay. Tate injured her ankle in rehearsal on 15 July. She performed preview shows with the aid of a crutch. On 11 April 2009, 26 December 2009 and 30 January 2010, Tate and David Tennant guest hosted Jonathan Ross' BBC Radio 2 show. In 2009 she created a one off special spin off to The Catherine Tate Show. Although this time the show only starred 'Nan'. In the show, Nan played Scrooge, and was visited by 3 ghosts, one of whom was played by David Tennant. The show was a one off Christmas special however was followed by three other episodes in 2014 and 2015 which are known collectively as Catherine Tate's Nan.
In 2010, Tate took part in Channel 4's Comedy Gala, a benefit show held in aid of Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital, filmed live at the O2 Arena in London on 30 March.
Tate took part in a series of short comedy films called 'Little Crackers'. Tate appeared as Queen Isabelle of Lilliput in the 2010 film adaptation of Gulliver's Travels. On 18 March 2011, the video for Take That's new single "Happy Now" was debuted on Comic Relief. The video shows comedians Catherine Tate, Alan Carr, James Corden, John Bishop and David Walliams audition to become Take That's ultimate tribute band, Fake That. Filming took place at Ealing Studios on 17 February 2011.'
Tate appeared alongside former co-star David Tennant in the Shakespeare comedy Much Ado About Nothing at London's Wyndham's Theatre from 16 May to September 2011. For her performance – as Beatrice – Catherine won the BroadwayWorld UK Award for Best Leading Actress in a Play. In the seventh-season finale of The Office, which aired on 19 May 2011, Tate guest starred as Nellie Bertram, a potential replacement for the departing Michael Scott (played by Steve Carell). On Saturday 17 December 2011, Tate presented the second episode of Channel 4's Laughing at the... series – entitled "Catherine Tate: Laughing at the Noughties" – in which she met Alan Carr, David Walliams, Noel Fielding, Rob Brydon and (her Doctor Who co-star) David Tennant to discuss the comedy highlights of the 2000s.
In January 2012, Tate returned to The Office for its eighth season. She reprised her role as Nellie, who was hired as a "misguided special projects manager". She returned as Nellie for the ninth and final season.
She starred alongside David Walliams and Philip Glenister in BBC One's situation comedy Big School in 2013. In November 2014 she was a guest on BBC One's The Graham Norton Show in which she revealed that her first stage appearance had been performing an impression of Gary Glitter in her school nativity play.
For Comic Relief 2015, Tate appeared as a nun in a sketch alongside with David Walliams as Lou Todd and Stephen Hawking in the Andy Pipkin role. Three further episodes of Catherine Tate's Nan aired in January 2014 and December 2015 on BBC One after Nan's Christmas Carol which aired on Christmas Day 2009.
In January 2016, Tate played the role of Sapphire in the one-off comedy show Billionaire Boy, written by David Walliams. She appeared in Bruce's Hall of Fame with Alexander Armstrong the following day.
In 2016, Tate appeared in the new musical comedy Miss Atomic Bomb at the St. James Theatre. The show ran from 7 March to 9 April. It received poor reviews, including a one star review from The Stage.
In late 2016, Tate began touring British theatres in The Catherine Tate Show Live, guest-starring Mathew Horne, Niky Wardley and Brett Goldstein. Tate's characters Nan, Nurse Bernie, Geordie Georgie, Sam and Paul and Lauren all featured in the show, linked by videos starring Nick Grimshaw and other celebrities interacting with the characters.
Tate's former partner is stage manager Twig Clark. They have a daughter named Erin, who was born at London's Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in January 2003 and was delivered following an emergency C-section. The family had a home in Richmond, London. They had a cat and a dog, the latter of which was given to her by Jonathan Ross. Tate and Clark split some time before summer 2011.
Tate is the patron for the Laura Crane Youth Cancer Trust, supporting the charity since August 2006. In 2011 she took part in the charity's 2011 Charity Calendar Tate also speaks fluent French.
Tate suffered from post-natal depression, from which she only recovered after the filming of the second series of The Catherine Tate Show. She also suffers from occasional panic attacks. Regarding her personal outlook, Tate has said, "I'm an incredibly negative person, so any form of success is only ever going to be a relief to me and set my default position back to neutral."
All for her work on The Catherine Tate Show unless otherwise stated:2004: British Comedy Award – Best Comedy Newcomer
2006: RTS Television Award – Best Comedy Performance
2006: British Comedy Award – Best TV Comedy Actress
2007: National Television Awards – Most Popular Comedy Programme
2008: TV Quick Award – Best Actress in a Drama Series (for Doctor Who)
2009: Constellation Awards –Best Female Performance in a Science Fiction Television Episode
2004: British Comedy Award – Best TV Comedy Actress
2005: British Comedy Award – Best TV Comedy Actress
2005: British Comedy Award – People's Choice Award (polled most votes but award not received)
2005: International Emmy – Best Performance by an Actress
2005: BAFTA TV Award – Best New Writer
2005: BAFTA TV Award – Comedy Programme or Series Award
2006: BAFTA TV Award – Best Comedy Performance
2007: BAFTA TV Award – Best Comedy Programme
2008: Nickelodeon's UK Kids Choice Awards 2008 – Funniest Person
2008: Nickelodeon's UK Kids Choice Awards 2008 – Best TV Actress (for Doctor Who)
2008: National Television Award – Outstanding Drama Performance (for Doctor Who)
2011: BAFTA TV Award – Catherine Tate's Little Cracker