Julia Nickson was born in Singapore. Her early years were spent in Wiltshire, England and the canyons of the Zambezi River in Africa. She returned to Singapore after her father's death when she was six. After her Chinese mother remarried an American, she attended the Singapore American School.
She competed in field hockey, track, and equestrian activities‒dressage, show-jumping, cross country, and polo. At 15 she got her license as an amateur jockey which entitled her to race at Pro Am Meets in Singapore and Malaysia. During her last two outs as a jockey, at 17, she placed and then won her final two races at the Singapore Turf Club.
Nickson left a modeling career in Singapore to attend the University of Hawaii. Intending to study Hotel Management, while passing the Drama Department, she gate-crashed an audition, and won a role in her first play, Shakespeare's, "Winter's Tale." Nickson's stage debut was followed with voice, dance and acting classes and attendant small roles in community theater.