COVER Joanna Lumley
With a new TV travel show just started and her first one-woman tour due to begin next month, Joanna Lumley reveals why she’ll always live life to the full
If it were possible to bottle the essence of joie de vivre that Joanna Lumley exudes and we could all have a spritz from time to time, the world would be a better place. It’s a given that Ms Lumley is easy on the eye, but her beauty is far more than skin deep. She radiates such an aura of positivity, enthusiasm and all-round good humour that sitting next to her feels a bit like being bathed in sunlight!
Our tete-a-tete is in order to chat about her new ITV four-part travel show, Joanna Lumley’s Silk Road. It’s her most ambitious and challenging TV journey to date as she follows the path from Venice to Iran, a route taken by traders and merchants for hundreds of years as they brought goods from the East to the West – and vice versa. It’s the kind of trip that many 71-year-olds would shy away from but, if anything, Joanna seems to get more adventurous with age.
“I feel it’s so important to make every single minute count,” she says. “We all only have a certain time on Earth. The first 20 or so years are taken up with growing up, then there’s work and possibly raising
a family. That doesn’t leave an awful lot of time. That’s why you’ve got to explore while you can. Be curious and also a bit brave. Meet different kinds of people. It beggars belief what you end up discovering and this can only enrich your life. The kindness of the people I met took my breath away. You could send a four-year-old out to the countries I visited and I honestly believe they would be looked after.”
Making this series really was a dream come true for Joanna. “It was my idea – and one I’d had for years,” she says. “In fact, it became something of a minor obsession! Many years ago, my maternal grandparents travelled along the Silk Road as my grandfather was a diplomat. I wanted to follow in their footsteps. We took in eight countries – including Italy, Albania, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. That’s the most we’ve ever done. We were supposed to be going from Venice to China, but then China refused to let us in. I don’t know why as we don’t make political programmes, however they pulled the plug. But Iran said yes. Finally – after three years of us trying to get there.”
Did the country formerly known as Persia live up to expectations? “Absolutely,” she replies. “We were interested in the people not the politics and observing how they live. The way the more daring girls, for instance, throw a scarf over their hair rather than cover up their heads. That’s very brave when you consider that letting the scarf slip off may mean imprisonment.
“The history of that part of the world is the history of how we came to be. It is the cradle of civilisation. They were being sophisticated and elegant and ahead of their time while we, in the West, were still painting our faces.”
As a vegetarian, Joanna was a little concerned about what she would be able to eat on the trip.
‘I had visions of being served up lots of boiled goat, but I was offered some of the best salads I’ve ever tasted – the cucumbers and tomatoes they grow are simply delicious, plus I discovered that veggie dishes such as houmous, aubergines pastes and tzatziki are eaten more than meat. The breads were wonderful and bunches of fresh herbs were always there to munch between courses to cleanse your palette.”
Away from the Silk Road, Joanna’s about to embark on another adventure closer to home. “For the first time, I’m about to embark on a 30-date one-woman show around the UK,” she enthuses. “It’s called It’s All About Me. I’m so excited by it.”
The first show kicks off at Belfast’s Waterfront on Saturday, October 6 and finishes at Northampton’s Royal & Derngate on Friday, November 9. In between, there are shows in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Manchester, and at London’s Palladium.
“I’ve done the odd An Evening With… type of event for charity before, but nothing like this,” Joanna adds. It was actually the idea of the producer of our travel programmes, Clive Tulloh. He said, ‘You never stop talking – why don’t you do something with it?’“So, what will she be talking about? “Everything!” she laughs. “I’ve been in this business for 50 years. I modelled in the Sixties, I’ve done Dracula, Pink Panther and Bond movies, the Two Ronnies, Morecambe and Wise, Sapphire and Steele, The New Avengers and Absolutely Fabulous, of course. I’ve written books and made travel programmes. I’ve even been in Coronation Street.”
Indeed! We recall her playing Elaine Perkins, the posh girl who nearly married Ken Barlow in the Seventies!
“I love you!” she beams. “You remember my character’s name! And how odd is it that I actually ended up marrying a Barlow in real life – my husband, Stephen? During the first half of the show, I will be joined on stage by the lovely Clive Tulloh who will be asking me questions and there will also be footage of some of the stuff I’ve done. In the second half, I’ll be answering questions from the audience. I can’t wait!”
Neither can we!
■ Joanna Lumley’s silk road, starts on Itv, on Wednesday september 12. For more details about her uk tour, visit www. maidwellmarketing.com/ productions/joanna-lumley--itsall-about-me
above, Joanna pictured during a brief spell in Corrie in 1973, left, in the New avengers and below left with Jennifer saunders in ab Fab