Much-loved actress Alison Steadman tells how she has never forgotten the support of Marie Curie Nurses when her family faced cancer
Although it’s 23 years since Alison Steadman’s beloved mum Marjorie passed away from pancreatic cancer, she’s never forgotten the help and support her and her family received from the Marie Curie nurses. And it’s something she will always be grateful for. “Pancreatic cancer is one of the worst cancers as it’s very hard to diagnose because it often doesn’t show itself until it’s too late – this was the case with Mum,” says Alison. “It’s hard
to manage and the sister in charge at the hospital where Mum was being treated recommended that Marie Curie nurses be called in. The sister said she would get the best possible care from them – and she did. They took care of her in hospital and at home but she also spent a lot of time in a Marie Curie hospice. That was an amazing place and the atmosphere was very different to hospital. So, I know from experience the positive difference Marie Curie nurses can make.
“Mum told me that they had helped her to live even though she was dying. They did more than look after her, they took away her fear, managed her pain and their kindness and gentleness were just what she needed. They were such a calming influence and looked after the whole family. I’ll never be able to thank them enough.”
Being something of a national treasure, Alison must get approached by many charities. How does she choose which to support?
“You have to prioritise,” she says. “If I said yes to everything, I wouldn’t be able to do anything else – and I have a lot of work to do. It depends what’s important to you – and bodies like Marie Curie are important to us all. Cancer is so prevalent these days. I’m not a doctor or scientist but I have my own theories as to why this may be. It seems to me that as human beings we use and ingest more chemicals – in our food, in our homes, in the environment. People with cancer need specific help; Marie Curie nurses can provide this at home, in hospital and at their wonderful hospices.” When it comes to work, her very funny sitcom, Hold the Sunset, co-starring John Cleese, has just finished on BBC1 and she’s currently filming the new ITV drama, Butterfly, which goes out later this year. At 71, she seems busier than ever. “When my agent rings with something new, I think, ‘Ooh, what’s that?’ she smiles. “I’m still excited about work, still enthusiastic. Apart from the TV I’ve been doing, I recently did a short film. It wasn’t well paid but I wanted to do it because I thought it would be an interesting experience – and it was. I was playing a woman in her 80s and had to age up, and it’s always a challenge to get that right. I also wanted to do it because my son, Leo, makes short films and I know how difficult it can be to get them off the ground.
“I think acting helps keep you young; I have an actress friend who’s 82 and she can never wait for her next job. Then there’s the incredible June Whitfield. A few years ago, I worked with her on the TV comedy Boomers and I remember asking her where she’d bought her jeans because they were absolutely gorgeous. How often do you say something like that to a 90-yearold? June’s a real example to us all.” As well as acting, Alison would love to write another children’s book. Her first one, Spider, was published last autumn. “I’m hoping it will happen,” she says. “I actually had a very funny experience with Spider. My niece is a teaching assistant in Swindon and she asked me to come and sign some books, chat to the kids and read some of the story to them. There were about 70 children, aged between four and seven, all sitting cross legged on the floor and staring at me. It was quite scary! I said, ‘Hello, I’m Alison Steadman and I’ve written a book called Spider. Now how many of you are scared of spiders?’ About 70 per cent put their hands up so I started talking to them about spiders and how we shouldn’t be frightened of them. Suddenly this little girl sitting in the front row pipes up, ‘When are you going to read the book? I’m bored! I thought you were here to read the book!’ I replied, ‘You know, I think I’ll do just that!’”
Alison has her own little person in her life – her seven-month-old grandson, Freddie. “I get to see quite a lot of him as he only lives about a 20-minute drive away,” she beams. “It’s lovely – just the best thing to have this little person on your shoulder. We were at a family wedding recently and when the baby got a bit tired, I took him up to my room. My son Toby, Freddie’s dad, later told me that Freddie had loads of my makeup over his baby-gro because I’d been kissing and hugging him – and it being a wedding, I had more make-up on than usual! Toby said, ‘Obviously it’s lovely you’re cuddling him, Mum, but can you try not to rub make-up on him!’ I replied, ‘Oh never mind, it’ll come out in the wash!’”
‘I know from experience the positive difference that Marie Curie nurses can make’
Alison with mum Marjorie, who was cared for by Marie Curie nurses
alison with marie Curie nurse Paula, one of more than 2,000 dedicated nurses who work for the charity