Ullman was born Trace (no "Y at the end) Ullman in Slough, Buckinghamshire in the U.K.
When she was six, Ullman's father died of a heart attack while reading her a bedtime story. In an effort to cheer up her family, Tracey recounts putting on shows in her mother's bedroom, performing alongside her older sister, Patty. That first show was entitled The Patty Ullman Show. "I was a spin-off!" recalled Ullman. In her nightly performances she mimicked anyone and everyone, including neighbours, family members, friends, even celebrities.
At the age of 12, a headmaster saw Ullman's future potential, and recommended her to the Italia Conti Academy stage school. At the age of 16, Ullman began finding jobs as a dancer, and soon landed a role in Gigi in Berlin. After returning to England, she joined the "Second Generation" dance troupe. She also began appearing in variety shows.
Entering the competition, Ullman created the character Beverly, a born-again Christian chanteuse. The performance was a smash hit and she won the "Best Newcomer Award," drawing interest from the BBC. They offered her the chance to star in her own show.
In 1983, Ullman succeeded as a singer on the punk label Stiff Records, although her style was more comic romantic than punk. She had six songs in the UK Top 100 in less than two years.
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Follow-up singles included a cover of Doris Day's "Move Over Darling," which reached #8 in the UK, and Madness' "My Girl," which Ullman changed to "My Guy's Mad At Me."
Ullman's songs were over-the-top, described as "retro before retro was cool," as a reviewer wrote in 2002. Her career received another boost when the video for "They Don't Know" featured a cameo from Paul McCartney. At the time Ullman was filming a minor role in McCartney's film Give My Regards To Broad Street.
Ullman released her second and last album, You Caught Me Out, in 1984. Her final hit, "Sunglasses," featured comedian Adrian Edmondson in its music video. During this time, she also appeared as a guest VJ on MTV in the U.S.
In her HBO stand-up special, Tracey Ullman: Live and Exposed, Ullman recreated her music career, recounting how she entered the business, and why she left it.
Along with her stint in the music world, Ullman began working in television. Between 1981 and 1984 she starred in sketch comedies A Kick Up the Eighties and Three of a Kind for the BBC. In 1985, she donned a blond wig and took the role of a promiscuous gold digger named "Candice Valentine" on the ITV sitcom Girls On Top. She left after one season to give birth to her first child.
By then, U.S. television beckoned, and renowned television producer James L. Brooks came calling. The two had discussed working together previously, but it wasn't until 1987 that they created The Tracey Ullman Show. Ullman played a variety of characters, completely unrecognizable with the help of makeup, prosthetics, and padding. The show was the first commercial hit for then unknown Fox channel.
Ullman returned to television in 1993, but this time in cable television. Two specials were created allowing Ullman to bring life to a host of new characters. Tracey Ullman: A Class Act the second, Tracey Ullman Takes On New York. Both specials drew praise and awards. HBO became interested in doing a Tracey Takes On ... series, and Ullman and her husband, Allan McKeown, set up production in Los Angeles in 1995.
Tracey returned to HBO in the summer of 2005, with her autobiographical one-woman stage show, Tracey Ullman: Live and Exposed. The show garnered another Emmy nomination.