Joanna Lumley


Joanna Lumley
From Teenage Model to National Treasure

I met Joanna Lumley over 15 years ago when she was asked to preside over a conference being held by Training for Women Network in the Waterfront Hall. She had stepped in for another celebrity who had had to change their plans at the last moment, so with less than 24 hours to prepare I wasn’t too sure that she would grasp all the necessary information to help the conference along.

2HWM5MW Actress Joanna Lumley pictured on the set of Coronation Street. 5th July 1973.

I was tasked to stay with her all day and help her navigate her way from one group of women and girls to another and while I was over the moon to meet her, I was concerned that she could do what was required: I needn’t to have worried. She was the consummate professional with a keen mind and quick wit.

That morning, before the conference began, she sat and grilled me on the organisation, the aim of the conference and what we needed for her to do. She already had a background in the people of Northern Ireland as her husband, Stephen Barlow, had been Artistic Director of Belfast Opera 1996-1999 but I was truly amazed at how quickly she devoured what I told her and how focused she was on doing what was required for a successful day.

I had always enjoyed watching her as an actor but from that day on I also admired her.
She was born in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir, British India (now part of India), where her father served in the British army until the family eventually returned to England for a short time. When she was just eight years old her parents returned to Asia, and she was placed in a boarding school along with her elder sister Aelene.

Lumley began her career as a model in the 1960s, working for high-profile brands such as Twiggy and the late Mary Quant. But in the 1970s, she turned her attention to acting, appearing in various stage productions before landing her breakthrough role as Purdy in the British television series “The New Avengers” in 1976. Who can forget that ‘Purdy’ haircut that we all had at one stage!

Despite her many roles on TV and screen, she was even a Bond girl in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, she will always be fondly remembered for one iconic role.

In the 1990s, she became a household name thanks to her portrayal of the character Patsy Stone in the hit comedy series “Absolutely Fabulous” alongside Jennifer Saunders and June Whitfield. The show became a cultural phenomenon and ran for several seasons, spawning spin-offs and a feature film.

2HXKRFB Joanna Lumley, actress who stars as Purdey in The New Avengers TV Series, poses with a likeness of herself, designed by Adele Rootstein, which will be appearing in an upcoming episode as a shop window dummy, pictured at Pinewood Studios, 9th June 1976.

I can remember being somewhat shocked when I first watched her in Ab Fab, her comedic timing and portrayal of such a larger-than-life character who in every way appeared to be the total opposite of what we had perceived her to be in real life, was mesmerising. It was an outrageous and show-stealing performance, which won her two British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) awards and 3 further nominations.

More recently she has become well-known for her in-depth travel shows under the title Joanna Lumley’s ……..Jewel in the Nile/Greek Odyssey/Trans-Siberian Adventure/India/Silk Road Adventure. She presents with such ease and her adventurous, and sometimes naughty, nature comes across so clearly which is why her shows are so popular. All these shows are currently available online.

In addition to her acting career, Lumley has been a vocal activist and humanitarian and every year gives of her time and celebrity to highlight such causes as Animal Free Research, The Born Free Foundation, Lend With Care, The Respite Association and the Disaster Emergency Committee to name only a few.
She is well-known for her work in campaigning for the rights of Gurkha soldiers who served in the British Army. Her father’s life was saved by a Gurkha while fighting in Burma (Myanmar) during World War 2, so it was quite a personal connection to the charity which successfully campaigned for them to be granted the right to settle in the UK.

In 1995 she was was awarded the OBE for her services to drama and charity and was later made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2016 by the late Queen Elizabeth II.

It’s an often-overused title but I think it’s fair to say that she well deserves being referred to as a ‘National Treasure’.

HDA931 ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS, Joanna Lumley, 1992-1996

~ Joanna Lumley: My Best Bits – In My Own Words is a first-person retrospective documentary of her most memorable screen roles and is available on Channel 5 catch-up or click this link to view.

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