The Oldie

On the Road: Diana Rigg Louise Flind

Diana Rigg tells Louise Flind about life as a Bond girl and an Avenger – and the magic of paper smalls


Anything you can’t leave home without? My paper knickers. I first discovered them when I had a baby – they’re soft, they don’t rustle and your luggage gets lighter as you go along.

Do you travel light? Yes, I do. I’m not Elizabeth Taylor.

Favourite destinatio­n? India – the far south; the far north. I was brought up there [as the daughter of a railway executive] and I just love it.

Do you still speak Hindi? In New York recently I gave a cab driver a really good tip but he got out and demanded more money. From way back I found myself saying, ‘ Tum bhouth badmash,’ which means ‘You’re a very naughty person.’

Earliest childhood holiday memories? Cornwall. You didn’t go on holiday in India; you just went up to the hills in the hot season. When we came back to England, we used to go to Bude.

You were born in Yorkshire. What are your favourite parts of the county? It’s an absolutely ravishing county. I’m going back to do some filming around Skipton. Last year, we were filming again in Yorkshire for Victoria [Rigg plays the Duchess of Buccleuch] because it’s got these wonderful stately homes.

Theatrical touring? If you got a list of good theatrical digs, you were quids in. There used to be a code among actors and actresses. If the place was absolutely terrible, they would write in the visitors’ book, ‘Quoth the Raven’ – a quote from Edgar Allan Poe’s poem The Raven, where the raven cries, ‘Nevermore.’ And if the landlady was obliging, as in selling sexual favours, they would write, ‘Charged for cut flowers’.

Where did you travel as a Bond girl in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)? We went to Portugal and Switzerlan­d.

Did you travel for The Avengers? No – only occasional­ly in the countrysid­e.

Film locations? I’ve been to China, the Great Wall, Slovenia, South Africa – I am an avid traveller. I’ve been to the Galapagos, Bhutan, all across South-east Asia.

Hollywood? Well, no…

Where in Scotland did you live when you were married to Archie Stirling? What is your favourite part of Scotland? We lived in Stirling – I was chancellor of their university for ten years. Loch Morar would be my favourite part.

Then didn’t you take New York by storm in 1971, 1994 and 2018? I spent ten months in New York in 2018, playing Mrs Higgins in My Fair Lady. We did three performanc­es in 24 hours and it was a very long show. So I didn’t get to dig deep into New York. I’d just swing my legs out of bed with a groan and totter across to the theatre, deliver and totter back. I had my 80th-birthday party there.

Are you a traveller? I’ve always been one. I was in Chichen Itza, the Mayan ruins, in the early ’60s. It’s now been fully explored, but when I was there it was still half jungle. Islands I particular­ly love, because they’re a sort of mini-cosmos, a distillati­on of culture.

Do you work on a plane/train – learn your lines? Well, no, because you look stupid muttering to yourself and gesticulat­ing.

Do you like being/working away from home? I love it. I discussed this with my brother: we were brought up in India; then we were sent home to school and didn’t see our parents for a while. So you become very independen­t.

Hotel or apartment? A hotel – I’m very fond of a cocktail.

Are you brave with different food abroad? I’m very lucky. I’ve got a pretty iron stomach.

Strangest thing you’ve ever eaten? Bull’s balls in Greece – they were spongy.

Do you have a go at the local language? I speak French, a muttering of restaurant Spanish and Hindi in a crisis.

Biggest headache? When you’re lied to about the length of a journey and they say it’s only 10 minutes by taxi and it turns out to be half a day.

Strangest place you’ve ever slept in? Sleeping upright in a train is not much fun. My father was a railway engineer and built the railway for the Maharajah in India. So I’m a railway child and love railways.

Do you like coming home? No, I loathe it. I’ve got one suitcase that’s still not unpacked from when I came back from New York over a year ago.

Top travelling tips? Always have a comprehens­ive medical kit. I travel with antibiotic­s, and also have pills for three degrees of pain: slight, worse and really bad. For scratches and bites, there’s a wonderful thing called Mercurochr­ome, which is a very old-fashioned recipe.

Finally, is there anything you’d like to plug? Yes: wherever I go, I plug the English language. If you have a guide or a translator, they’re longing to learn the language – so I’ll give them a lesson.

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