Joanna Lumley: “I’ll always adore Abfab’s Patsy.”
When you were offered the role of Patsy in Absolutely Fabulous, is it true you asked your agent to get you out of it? Only because I thought [co-star and creator] Jennifer Saunders didn’t like me! She was very, very shy and wasn’t able to communicate the part at all ‒ completely monosyllabic and gloomy ‒ and I thought I better withdraw gracefully before she could sack me. But as soon as we started working and realised who this character was, it was glorious. Are you OK with the fact you will forever be Patsy to so many fans? I love her so much, and I’ll tell you why: she made people laugh and, since being entertaining is my number one goal in life, I was thrilled to be there. I’ll always adore her. Of course you are showered in awards and all those things, but it’s really about the people who take the DVD out of the library. That’s my reward. For a time, you were a single mother as well as an up-and-coming actor, neither of which is easy or glamorous. Do you remember some particularly lean times? My parents bought second-hand everything, with the £2 sticker still on it, and I think if you’re a snob and you’re anxious about what people think about you, you’re always going to be miserable. But if you haven’t got a jot and you don’t care, you simply get on with it. If you can only afford bread, you just eat bread. You were born in India, moved to Malaya and were sent to boarding school in England by the age of eight. Do you ever wonder how you survived? If every other eight-year-old is going to school, that’s what you do. You’re not being brave. I have always believed in children being independent. My parents were brilliant at letting us off the lead – if there was a lead at all. But I was homesick for Malaya. England was so cold and the food so chokingly different and to be in this foreign land, freezing, eating beetroot… I could cry now just thinking about the beetroot. Alone at age eight… it doesn’t seem way too young to you now? [It’s] much less odd to me than people photographing plates of food and showing other people what they are eating. Or photographing themselves in front of it. With a long stick, darling. It’s absolutely ghastly. You also went to the Lucie Clayton finishing school, where curriculum covered getting out of an E-type Jaguar without flashing your knickers. Has that turned out to be helpful in later life? It wasn’t so much a finishing school as a modelling school. There was no flower arranging or that sort of thing and actually, I don’t think I ever met anyone with an E-type Jaguar.
“If you’re anxious about what people think, you’re always going to be miserable. But if you don’t care, you simply get on with it” “Darling, this is awful, but I don’t know anything about the Kardashians”
Do you ever think those Kardashians could do with a spell at Lucie Clayton? Darling, this is so awful to say, but I’ve never seen them so it would be terrible to comment. I don’t know anything about them, except there’s so many and all starting with K. You once said you’ve always wanted to be older than you are. Now you’re 71, is there an urge to go backwards? Oh no, I’ve always wanted to do the next thing. When I was 12, I wanted to be 18 because then you get to drive a car and travel to Italy on your own, and as soon as you’re out of your 20s you can break the bounds of being a “pretty girl” and be a fascinating middle-aged woman instead. Then I was interested in being a brilliant, wise old crone. It’s nothing to do with age, I have just always wanted to be wiser. It would be such a shame to die not having lived this life to the full. What made you decide to squeeze travel shows into your schedule? As I get older I want to know more of the world and bring it back to audiences so they can savour and understand faraway countries – and realise what I have suspected all along, which is that we’re pretty much all the same. You have made an entire series about Japan. Name something about the country that caught you off guard. I don’t think anybody told me how beautiful it was. I always assumed those wonderful drawings of Mount Fuji and so on were [inventions], but when I was in that forest of ancient cedar trees and snow up to my chest I thought, “Blimey, this is it.” It was like being in Narnia. So did Japan turn out to be as rammed with Patsy fans as every other country in the world? There might have been a couple in Tokyo or Kyoto, but they import hardly any foreign programming. [And] the really interesting thing is, they’re so courteous and so disinterested in foreigners that in a strange way that protects them from riffraff like me. Joanna Lumley’s Japan premieres 9.40pm, November 23, on Foxtel’s UKTV.