Joanna Lumley

Joanna Lumley is Absolutely Fabulous

Joanna Lumley has been wowing audiences with her one-woman show. She talks to Ting Dalton about It’s All About Me, being patron of Polka Theatre and what she loves about Christmas in London… 

There are many descriptions of Joanna Lumley. ‘National treasure’ is perhaps the most popular… She is also known to be extremely self-deprecating – and when I speak to Joanna, I instantly feel at ease. She is exactly that person – friendly, chatty, intelligent and extremely likeable. Which is why her status of a much-loved and respected actress and presenter has won her a legion of adoring fans, some of which have been packing out venues up and down the UK to see her talk about herself and her extraordinary career.

“The tour was sensational and I had a wonderful time going down memory lane and interacting with the audiences – we had such warm responses,” she says. “The first half focuses on my professional career from my time as a model, to the Bond films, Dracula, Pink Panther and The Avengers all the way through to Absolutely Fabulous and my travel programmes.

“The second half is when I take questions from the audience, which we love because they’re different every night and they ask about all sorts of different things. Sometimes I get five questions about what face cream I use, but then sometimes I get: ‘What was the most unusual thing that I ever did on my travels.’ It was so fantastic.”

“My two tryout shows were in Epsom,” she excitedly tells me. “As a child I lived there for two years while my father was working in the war office so it was a great thrill to be able to go to Epsom and actually say: ‘Epsom you’re my home!’ I have the closest bonds with Surrey and I love it there.”

Local projects also strike a chord with her. Joanna tells me she supports her library and community centres around her home in Lambeth and is also a patron at the Polka Theatre in Wimbledon. Like many local residents, Polka is a venue that is close to her heart and a place where Joanna has built fond family memories.

“I adore the Polka Theatre – and when my granddaughter was tiny and living in London, it was a blissful place to take her,” she smiles. “They’re the audience that the writers are expecting and hoping for and just to get children into the habit of going to live performances is very important.”

Though It’s All About Me finished last month, Joanna is doing a one-off at Grange Park Opera at West Horsley Place before Christmas. “The show at Grange Park Opera is a complete special,” Joanna explains. “Because I’m a trustee there, Wasfi [Kani, GPO’s founder] said let’s have this show on 15 December, which will not only be great fun to do but a lovely fundraiser. It will also give people who haven’t been down to see how beautiful it is at West Horsley Place, the chance to say: ‘Oh, my god, it’s so fabulous I’m going to come back next year.’”

“I adore the Polka Theatre – and when my granddaughter was tiny and living in London, it was a blissful place to take her.”

It was actually Joanna and her conductor husband Stephen Barlow who first went to West Horsley Place to scope it out as a potential new site and meet with owner Bamber Gascoigne. And in the two years since, Joanna is proud of what the GPO team has achieved.

“It’s been like a phoenix. The Theatre in the Woods was ready in 11 months which is literally unheard of and such an achievement – the building is really beautiful. There’s such an easy and welcoming feeling to the place. I love it, I really love it.” she enthuses. “It will mean the world to me to perform on stage there, rather than sitting in the audience.”

Joanna is a keen activist who cares deeply about many causes and issues – one being the amount of plastic that is polluting our seas. Which is why next March, she will be flying to Australia to present several live concerts of Blue Planet II.

“There’s going to be a symphony orchestra playing live with clips from Blue Planet II and it’s just so important because I’m passionate about keeping the seas and oceans clean from plastic. It’s just a tremendous honour to be able to do this and to visit Australia which is a sensational country.

What strikes me throughout our conversation is how down-to-earth Joanna is. For someone so famous, she admits she is a regular on the tube and still gets the bus into town. Meanwhile, her favourite haunts close to home include Little Portugal, where she says you can get tapas to die for. It really is no wonder her show was a complete sell-out. Joanna is just herself – and that’s why so many people are drawn to her.

After such a busy few months, will she be spending Christmas in London this year?

“We’ve got all my husband’s family coming and my son and his family will be staying a week beforehand. Then afterwards we go up to Scotland where we have a cottage. So it’s all family time and I can’t wait,” she replies.

Is there anything else that she loves about the festive season? “When I’m in London, what I love most of all is all the carol singing concerts which are held for charities. All knowing that these generous people have come to these services and supporting a particular cause, it’s so touching,” Joanna says. “There is so much bad at the moment, so it is so important to focus on the good. I hope all of us feel our hearts lifted when things are happy, forward-looking and generous.”