Joanna Lumley attracted a large crowd at Cheltenham this weekend as she talked about her new autobiography
Regaling her legion of fans with stories from the 60s, when Lumley started her modeling career after leaving her convent school, through her 70s TV career in The Avengers (she revealed her producers “hated” her iconic short hair and said if they didn’t like it on-screen she would have to pay for a wig), all the way through Ab Fab to now, when she is most known for her relentless campaigning for the Gurkhas.
“I knew that at the end of my long journey in life I’d do something worthwhile,” Lumley told the audience. “There’s always a door open. You might try 20 and not get anywhere, but you’ll always find the latch that works eventually.”
Lumley spoke about the recent unrest about the Gurkhas living in Aldershot, where they now make up ten per cent of the population, much to the residents' outrage, saying she “wrote straight away to the Deputy Prime Minister and the Prime Minister.” She said she was “glad” about the Facebook hate campaign against her; “as much as it hurts”, as it raises awareness.
"Sometimes something running the world loses touch with the world. The divide is getting greater, not smaller.” She admitted the proverbial latch she is still trying to find is greater equality: “The only way there is education. If you give everybody a chance, every single human being, only then will the playing field be leveled. Those who learn Latin and Greek and listen to opera will never be equal to those who have no books in their house.” She provoked a passionate burst of applause from the audience; her humanitarian qualities seem to be overriding the beehive and dangling cigarette look that was her defining moment in Absolutely Fabulous.
“I didn’t care about anything but making Jennifer (Saunders) laugh,” she said of her Ab Fab days. “But Patsy wasn’t funny.” Recalling meeting Saunders, Lumley asked Jennifer: "Can I call you Jen? She said no.”
One audience member asked her for advice on how to break into the acting industry. “Darling,” she began, as she did with every reply to a question. “If you must act, act. If you can do anything else, don’t.”
Lumley can certainly do all of the above, and at 65 shows no sign of stopping.
Absolutely by Joanna Lumley is out now, published by W&N.