Dame Helen Mirren shared her five rules for a happy life in a speech to students at a US university - and top of her list was not being in a rush to get married.

The acclaimed actress, 71, wed her long-term partner, the director Taylor Hackford, on New Year's Eve 1997, when she was 52.

Dame Helen made her five rules the basis for her 2017 commencement address at Tulane University in Louisiana, then offered a host of additional life tips to the students, urging them not to confuse sex with love, to ignore anyone who judges the way they look, and to call their parents once a week.

The British actress told the audience: "I married Taylor a lot later in my life and it's worked out great.

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"And always give your partner the freedom and support to achieve their ambitions."

Dame Helen's second rule revolved around treating "people like people".

She revealed how, at the start of her career, she was in the back seat of a car with a fellow actress en route to a location when her co-star offered the driver a cigarette.

The actress said it taught her a lesson she's never forgotten.

"To her, he wasn't a 'driver person', but a 'person person' who might want a smoke."

She drew a laugh when she joked that today her friend "would probably be arrested for attempted murder" for offering around cigarettes.

"That's a lesson I never forgot, and I am grateful to my actress friend to this day," she said.

She elaborated further on rule two by encouraging everyone listening to define themselves as a feminist, adding that it had taken her a while.

Her third rule was to "ignore anyone who judges the way you look, especially if he or she is some anonymous creep lurking on the Internet".

"And if you are that person lurking on the Internet - stop it, just stop it, go outside and do something," the actress said.

Director Taylor Hackford and actress Helen Mirren. Photo / Getty Images
Director Taylor Hackford and actress Helen Mirren. Photo / Getty Images

The Oscar winner said her fourth rule was to always confront your fears, and her fifth was "don't over complicate things", a rule she followed up with a string of helpful dos and don'ts.

She advised her audience not to smoke, procrastinate, confuse sex with love, or put hot cups on waxed surfaces.

Her list of dos included remembering to call parents once a week, saying thank you, and opening your heart to love.