Per­haps l still have one to come!’


As Dame Judi Dench cel­e­brates 60 years in show­busi­ness by step­ping back into the shoes of Queen Vic­to­ria, she talks about find­ing love again and mak­ing the most of ev­ery day. Just don’t call her a na­tional trea­sure...

She reigns over the Bri­tish act­ing world, hav­ing played Queen El­iz­a­beth I and Queen Vic­to­ria to crit­i­cal ac­claim. But there is noth­ing im­pe­ri­ous about Dame Judi Dench when you meet her in per­son. She has a twin­kling glint in her eye, an in­fec­tious laugh and fre­quently breaks into fits of gig­gles. Now 82 and cel­e­brat­ing a ca­reer in act­ing that spans 60 years, she shows no in­cli­na­tion to slow down. Even fail­ing eye­sight – she suf­fers from mac­u­lar de­gen­er­a­tion – doesn’t stop her tak­ing on more roles. In her lat­est re­lease, Vic­to­ria & Ab­dul, she steps back into Queen Vic­to­ria’s royal shoes two decades af­ter her fa­mous role in Mrs Brown op­po­site Billy Con­nolly. The new film fo­cuses on Vic­to­ria’s lit­tle-known friend­ship with a young In­dian Mus­lim clerk who she met in her fi­nal years. It caused con­ster­na­tion among Vic­to­ria’s fam­ily at the time.

Away from the cam­eras, Judi is very close to her daugh­ter, Finty, who is also an ac­tress, and grand­son, Sam, who is 20. She had a very happy mar­riage to fel­low ac­tor Michael Wil­liams, who died of lung can­cer in 2001 a few weeks be­fore their 30th wed­ding an­niver­sary. Hav­ing said that she didn’t ex­pect to meet any­one else, love has flour­ished in the past five years with con­ser­va­tion­ist David Mills. She talks to GH about the im­por­tance of laugh­ter in her new re­la­tion­ship, kiss­ing on screen, and what wor­ries her the most...

Con­grat­u­la­tions, you’ve just cel­e­brated 60 years as an ac­tress, and are one of our best-loved na­tional trea­sures.

I wish there was an­other word for it. It’s hor­ri­ble. A work­ing, job­bing ac­tor is bet­ter.

Is that how you still see your­self?

Yes, be­cause you don’t know where the next job is com­ing from! The the­atre di­rec­tor Trevor Nunn once asked me why I al­ways cried on the first night of a pro­duc­tion. I said be­cause I al­ways think it’s go­ing to be the last one. It’s quite good for us to have that real in­se­cu­rity.

How did it feel to be tak­ing on the role of Queen Vic­to­ria again?

I’d never in­tended to go back and play her. But even though I’d done a lot of home­work on Vic­to­ria, I didn’t know about this re­la­tion­ship. It was all new to me. It is a con­tin­u­a­tion and an eye-opener about her. We un­der­stood about her mar­riage with Al­bert and her re­la­tion­ship with John Brown. I sup­pose it was just hav­ing some­body that she felt she could re­lax with, and talk to. As in this case I think, a son. She learnt Urdu from him [Ab­dul] and how to write it. He taught her some­thing new. It was an ex­tra­or­di­nary friend­ship. She felt alive.

What have you learnt about love and re­la­tion­ships over the years?

Hav­ing had a mar­riage that lasted nearly 30 years, pretty lucky! And lovely. I have a jolly nice friend now. I don’t know what the word is be­cause I don’t like the word part­ner. Part­ner is some­thing to do with danc­ing. Part­ner – hor­ri­ble word. Friend? No. Boyfriend? No. Chap? Will chap do? There hasn’t been a word in­vented yet. Some­body who makes you laugh and who you can go to things with and en­joy things with and have a lovely time.

If David pro­posed, would you say yes?

He’s not go­ing to pro­pose. No, no, no, no, no! Let’s all just pull our­selves to­gether and be our age!

Are you a ro­man­tic?

Yes. One hot night dur­ing the sum­mer, we swam and then had a glass of Cham­pagne in the gar­den and I said, this is so fan­tas­tic! But per­haps if I was a ro­man­tic, I’d have been cool and calm about it. I get a bit overex­cited about things. I love hav­ing a good laugh. I don’t want any lack of hu­mour be­cause that would be ter­ri­ble. I re­mem­ber Mikey and I once driv­ing on the mo­tor­way and lis­ten­ing to a pro­gramme on the ra­dio and we were laugh­ing so much we had to pull over on to the hard shoul­der. We were ac­tu­ally cry­ing with laugh­ter. That’s ro­man­tic. It’s lit­tle things that make you laugh or that you ob­serve in some­thing and you both laugh about it. I think that’s ro­man­tic. A sense of hu­mour is the most at­trac­tive thing of all. It’s es­sen­tial.

Where do you get your en­ergy from?

My mother and my fa­ther. They were al­ways at full tilt.

Do you ever re­lax?

Yes I do some­times. I paint a bit and I love be­ing with my fam­ily. I’ve no­ticed re­cently if I’ve had some very hec­tic days then I sud­denly think I’m al­lowed a day where I do noth­ing. I’ve never had that feel­ing be­fore. I think, please God, don’t let this be a sign of be­ing 80-odd. I don’t want to think I have earned a day of sit­ting with my feet up. I don’t want that. I like us­ing the time. Don’t waste the day!

How do you stay fit and healthy?

I don’t know! I swim in the sum­mer.

When you’re not work­ing, what are your favourite things to do?

There are al­ways peo­ple to see and catch up with, so I’m con­tin­u­ally catch­ing up and mak­ing lists. I make a list ev­ery day.

Are you an avid di­ary keeper?

No, be­cause I can’t see any more. I used to be. I can’t do any of that. I can’t read. I’m go­ing to start lis­ten­ing to au­dio­books. Finty has done lots of au­dio books and got lots of awards for them. It’s daft that I don’t lis­ten to them. I lis­ten to the ra­dio all the time and I love it.

How are you cop­ing with the mac­u­lar de­gen­er­a­tion?

Oh, just deal­ing with it. Get­ting on with it. Do­ing what I can do. I have to be care­ful if it’s too dark for me to see, I miss steps and things if I’m not told. My friends are won­der­ful and I don’t want it to be­come an is­sue. So I’m not giv­ing it any room!

On your 80th birth­day, you fa­mously had Carpe Diem tat­toed on your wrist.

It was Finty! We were out for my birth­day and she said, would you like a tat­too now. So I did! I love it!

Are you plan­ning more?

They’re ad­dic­tive! I don’t want any more. Har­vey We­in­stein [Hol­ly­wood film pro­ducer] thinks I have his name writ­ten on my bum. Only Har­vey and I know whether it is or not. So I can’t say whether this is the only one.

Ac­tresses are in­creas­ingly speak­ing about the in­equal­ity of pay be­tween men and women.

Salary, parts, you name it. It’s bet­ter now than it’s ever been, I think, but it will never be on a par­ity. Never. No mat­ter how much we speak out. We are put in our place.


What else have you been work­ing on?

Mur­der On The Ori­ent Ex­press with Ken­neth Branagh and Johnny Depp. It’s very larky and was won­der­ful af­ter the re­spon­si­bil­ity of Queen Vic­to­ria to play a dotty, bad-tem­pered Rus­sian woman who wore a lot of jew­ellery and had two nice dogs. Heaven! I also have a TV se­ries about trees that we are mak­ing at the mo­ment. I’ve al­ways had a real pas­sion about trees. I love all those pro­grammes like Coun­try­file.

What are your am­bi­tions now?

I still want to play some­thing that is dif­fer­ent – some­thing more along the lines of Notes On A Scan­dal (the psy­cho­log­i­cal thriller in which Judi played a teacher with


[con­tin­ued from pre­vi­ous page] a sin­is­ter, ob­ses­sional crush on a col­league). A woman who you don’t want to come round to tea.

When are you hap­pi­est?

When I am with my fam­ily or friends. And I love quizzes! We are go­ing on hol­i­day soon and I have asked ev­ery­one who is com­ing with us to bring a quiz.

What scares you?

Apart from worms? I sup­pose not be­ing around any more scares me. I don’t like that. The ac­tor Tim Pig­ott-smith, who is in Vic­to­ria & Ab­dul, was a great mate of mine. And then, quite sud­denly, you hear he is not there any more. That not only fright­ens me, but it also de­presses the hell out of me. I think that’s just ap­palling. It’s no bet­ter if it’s pre­ceded by some­body be­ing very ill. All that is too fright­en­ing to con­tem­plate.

Who has been your best on-screen kiss?

I’ve not kissed many peo­ple on screen. I think I’ve missed out. Maybe I still have one to come!

What have been the big­gest life lessons from be­ing a mother?

I wish I’d had lots more chil­dren. I had planned to have six. Eas­ily! The re­wards you get out of it. Finty and I are so close, and also Sammy.

How would you de­scribe your style?

Un­chang­ing. I just wear trousers and loose tops. I love things that don’t re­quire you to feel that you are dressed up. I’m not very good at wear­ing things that are down on one side and up on the other.

What is your mantra?

Carpe diem! Seize the day! Make the best of it and get what you can out of it. Just use it!

Judi plays Queen Vic­to­ria along­side Ali Fazal as Ab­dul

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