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

TV Times - - News - Sarah Sel­wood


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

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