JOANNA Lumley should add another string to her bow, besides acting, writing, modelling, fundraising and campaigning for human rights. She should also be a personal therapist. Spending 20 minutes with the Absolutely Fabulous star is enough to feel cleansed, motivated and come out with a new sense of direction in life.
She has also just been awarded a lifetime achievement gong at the British National TV awards.
Within five minutes of meeting each other, we are talking generally about life, work, the pressures that society can place on you, the inner strength anyone can find to help them through and how to be yourself in a crazy world that pushes and pulls you in different directions.
Therapy indeed. With Joanna Lumley, darling. Surely this is the next TV show for the much-loved actress.
Of course, the real reason I am meeting Lumley has nothing to do with this.
She is “serving the tills, darling” at the Marble Arch Marks & Spencers today, in aid of her latest charity campaign with the retailer, called “Shwopping”.
She tells me passionately about why she’s involved with a crusade to encourage people to donate old clothes every time they buy new ones at M&S. She wins me over immediately.
Job done, she says she’s happy to chat about “anything I like”.
When I ask her whether she’s ever struggled to keep up with the Joanna Lumley persona of calm, eloquence and elegance – she is involved in more than 70 charities, countless TV programmes and is a huge public personality – she looks at me, a little bewildered, and answers with a firm “no”.
She knows who she is and what she stands for, completely.
Where does she get her inner confidence from?
It’s not really confidence. It’s a fact.
For a start, you can’t be anybody else. And you can’t be mistaken for anybody else because we’re all completely different. So you may as well make the best of what you’ve got,” she says.
Lumley also baulks at the thought of having role models. “I don’t have role models. I’ve never copied anybody. Have you?
“I think you’ve got to be your own. You’ve got to make yourself somebody you would admire.”
The 66-year-old actress says her parents taught her how to behave and gave her the tools to think freely. The more every man and woman can embrace being themselves, without worrying about what other people might think, the better, she says.
“Take responsibility. Don’t pass the buck. I don’t like people who move in shoals.”
Perhaps this is why Lumley is so appalled by the seemingly increasing trend for young girls in Britain today to “behave badly”; to go out, get drunk and stumble around the streets late at night, following their peers without necessarily being themselves.
In particular, she criticises “laddish” young women who drink so much they end up being “sick in the gutter”, putting themselves at risk of being robbed or raped.
“Don’t look like trash, don’t get drunk, don’t be sick down your front, don’t break your heels and stagger about in the wrong clothes at midnight.
“This is bad. It’s not me being a snob about it. It’s not me being an old woman talking to young women. It is just standard practice for how our species should behave. Don’t behave badly.”
The words seem strange coming from a woman that has, in part, made her name playing the life of frequently drunk Patsy Stone who, in Absolutely Fabulous, became synonymous for falling out of taxis onto the pavement, blind drunk. “Patsy is a detestable character,” she says. “I loathe it.”
Asked about the concept of “having it all”, she agrees that, to an outsider, she may fit this bill. But it’s also about appreciation and attitude, she says. “In this country, we’re safe and we have free education. I’ve been taught to read, so whatever I don’t know about I can read about. I’ve been taught to put other people first, which makes you happy. If you don’t do that you’ll never be happy.”
Perhaps this is why Lumley is so heavily involved in charity work and human rights campaigns. Not only is she a British national treasure, she is now considered a national treasure of Nepal because of her support for the Gurkha Justice Campaign. – The Daily Telegraph