Joanna Lumley’s India
Joanna Lumley on meeting the dalai Lama and discovering the true meaning of home on a return trip to her birth country
WEDNESDAY / ITV
Our favourite travelogue presenter returns to explore the country of her birth. She tells us it was a challenge capturing its essence in a three-hour series, and that she wanted to avoid the usual tourist hotspots. So expect a fresh look at India, with some personal stories along the way.
I gave the Dalai Lama a drone!
Joanna Lumley’s India wednesday / ITV / 9.00Pm
If we ever had the chance to pick a celebrity travel companion, actress Joanna Lumley would definitely be our first choice.
Her genuine taste for adventure and her ability to gain off-thebeaten-track access ensure her television travelogues are always an absolute joy. In the flesh, Joanna’s always just as charming and full of anecdotes, so we’re certain that holidaying with her would be absolutely fabulous!
Today, we meet at ITV’S London HQ, and Joanna, 71, is on top form as she talks to TV Times about her return to India, the country of her birth, for an epic new three-part documentary series…
First things first, Joanna: congratulations on your recent BAFTA Fellowship Award...
Thank you so much! When I got the letter, I honestly thought they had sent it to the wrong person. The Fellowship starts with Hitchcock and goes through to people like Kubrick. It was unbelievable. I’ve practically had a hat made with my award, but it’s too heavy – otherwise I’d be wearing it for you now!
You’ve also been busy this year filming your latest travelogue, Joanna Lumley’s India. What was the starting point for the trip?
I’ve been back to India for various things over the years. It’s as immense and as complex as Europe with what used to be princely states that have no connection with each other. There are around 225 official languages but it’s one democracy which means it’s complicated beyond
words. So approaching it with
the idea of making three hour-long programmes, we just had to pick things that we hoped weren’t very touristy or famous like the Taj Mahal, so that anybody who has been wouldn’t find it a bore.
You were born in Srinagar, Kashmir, in 1946 to english parents, as your dad was serving in the 6th gurkha rifles, a regiment of the
British Indian Army. Tell us more about your links to India… For several generations on both sides of my family, India was home. It was where we worked as soldiers, doctors, and diplomats. Although I left before my first birthday all the family memories have India in them. So I don’t have a place in England that we can call home because nobody lived here;
India was more home than here.
Your previous travelogues have also had personal themes How does this compare?
I didn’t want to come to India at first because I felt that my connections are so complex and so sprinkled. For example, half of my family were born in what is now Pakistan, and you can’t mention Pakistan in an India programme. So I said if we do have my relatives in it, I want it to be incidental, I’m not going to follow in their footsteps, mainly because I’d have to leave out so many. We also couldn’t make it a partition-of-india programme because that’s too dark for ITV at 9.00pm.
We see you visit The residency in Sikkim where your mother grew up. What was that like?
It was lovely in Sikkim because I’d seen photographs of her there and there’s something very touching about where your parents have been before. We weren’t allowed to film there but that doesn’t matter. They were only there as tenants but it was nice just to be somewhere that she called home. You also lived in Hong
Kong and Malaya during your childhood. do you think experiencing so many different places and cultures has shaped the person you are today? Probably. Maybe that’s why I don’t feel xenophobic about belonging to a particular country. As a child you’re usually welcomed, and so wherever I went I just loved it. I would love people to come to this country and feel welcomed. I love this country but I’ve realised home is actually where the people you love are rather than an actual house.
In episode one, you also got to observe wild elephants….
In Africa, wild elephants roam on the plains so if you’ve got field glasses you can spot a herd. But in India, wild elephants stay in the jungle so you can’t do that. Then suddenly, when they started coming out of the forest, it was utterly thrilling!
Later in the series you meet the dalai Lama. You’ve met him before – what’s he like? Fantastic. He’s now 81, and travels and works non-stop. He’s as kind and as wise as can be and is full of joy and compassion. We gave him a drone!
Yes. I phoned the Office of Tibet and asked, ‘What should I take his holiness?’ They suggested biscuits as he has them for his last meal of the day with some tea. I said, ‘Really?’. I told our gang that we wanted to give him something sensational, and I know he’s always loved gadgets, as he’s very mechanicalminded, so I suggested a drone as we always use one on our trips to get aerial shots. When we put it on the table he went, ‘Ooohhhh!’ We taught a young monk how to fly it. What a funky Dalai Lama, travelling with a drone!
So what does the rest of
2017 have in store for you?
A very short programme for the BBC, not a travel piece, with Ms Saunders [Joanna’s Absolutely Fabulous co-star Jennifer Saunders] for Boxing Day. Then I’m doing a film in Italy, and then for ITV maybe a one-off travelogue and then three separate episodes on a giant of a place. I’m not going to tell you what in case we don’t get permission – but fingers crossed!
Joanna Lumley relaxes in the udai bilas palace, dungarpur, rajasthan
getting the hump:
Joanna with the raika camel herders of rajasthan trunk call: india’s wild jungle elephants Joanna’s first audience with the dalai Lama
in may, 2004
dome and away: Joanna admires the architecture