Q&A with Joanna Lumley

While you were filming Joanna Lumley’s Greek Odyssey, did you discover a side of Greece you didn’t know?
Nanjing Night Net

Greece has got something like 1400 islands. There is so much of Greece you can’t know even if you’re Greek. It’s sprinkled out all around the edge of the Aegean, all over the place. It’s already a secret place wherever you go, even if it’s somewhere huge like Athens or Corinth. The place enchanted me.

Why does Greece fascinate us?

To have gone to Delphi, to know people like Alexander the Great were there, where I was standing, making prayers at that sacred place, you can’t fail to be affected by that. But out on all these far-flung islands, not all of them were philosophers, some of them were absolute brigands, some were warring forever. There are places just fingerprinted with history and I think that is what is so attractive about it.

When you speak, you seem to articulate all five of your senses. Are you conscious of that?

No one’s ever said that to me. A lot of people think you’re rambling when you’re talking about the sound of the wind in the trees, the immediacy of the particular frame of film that brings it in front of your eyes. Maybe it’s an animal quality because they have to use them all, all the time, to keep from being killed. I think I’m lucky to have that. As it’s the only way I know how to see or perceive things, I’ve never thought of it.

So, tell me about the Greece you smell, taste, touch and hear.

It’s maritime and the Aegean isn’t all glassy gorgeous blue with turquoise edges. I’ve been in massive storms; it can be a dangerous place. And the mountains, they are massive, great high, scabby, rugged mountains with weird jagged tops where they believed steadfastly that the gods lived. I find that terribly moving, actually. One can become fanciful, but it did seem to contain enchanted places.

You championed the cause of Gurkha veterans who served in the British Army but were denied the right to settle in Britain. Why?

My father served with the Gurkhas, and Nepal was the only country which was not in the Commonwealth which fought and continues to fight for the British and for that very reason it slipped through the loop. The whole thing was ghastly and it was completely unfair. That’s why I love them, they’re part of my family and I wanted to do right by them because they’ve done right by us.

You were a single mum in the 1960s, not an easy time for an unmarried mother.

I’m thrilled to bits I was born into such a darling family and into such an environment which was full of actors, models and photographers and people who don’t give a hoot. It was such a Bohemian world. And my beloved family who are dearer to me than I can ever tell you, and I had the perfect son, what could be better? I don’t regret a bit of any of it.

You were also in The Satanic Rites of Dracula, the last proper Dracula film, which starred Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing.

To be in something as iconic as a Dracula film, and to be playing Jessica van Helsing, who would have been Dracula’s choice for a bride, through history and beyond the grave, was a thrill. Probably the acting wasn’t up to scratch, but that wasn’t the point, I got to fight with vampire women, I got to lie on an altar and nearly be bitten by Dracula. It was fabulous.

Absolutely Fabulous returned this year and there is one episode to come just before the Olympics. What can you tell us about it?

In the next one, Patsy is in pretty poor condition by now. It’s just heaven and it’s fantastic to be all of us together. Jennifer has rashly, or rather it’s the only way she can make herself work these days, announced on television she’s going to write a film for us next year and I’m going to keep her to that. I can’t wait.

Joanna Lumley’s Greek OdysseyTuesday, ABC1, 8.30pm

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