Joanna Lumley

Joanna Lumley Discusses Life On and Off the Screen

“Don’t be afraid of getting older, because life gets better,” says Dame Joanna Lumley as she chats to Nicole Wood

It’s a very busy, very close to deadline Tuesday morning and I’m sitting in my home office preparing to interview the living legend that is Dame Joanna Lumley.

“Nicole, you’re probably wondering what’s happened here. As you can see, I’m a bit swollen after having a tooth removed yesterday,” she begins to explain.

While absolutely nothing about Joanna’s glowing appearance would indicate a dental procedure, we laugh and joke about the situation, and her down to earth, gentle manner instantly eases my pre-interview, (and huge fan!) nerves.

Getting To Kow Joanna Lumley

Dame Joanna Lamond Lumley DBE FRGS is a British actress, presenter, former model, author, television producer, activist, and the voice behind the adverts of the British independent furniture retailer, Barker and Stonehouse. With many strings to her bow, there’s not much Joanna isn’t adored for.

“There are lots of exciting projects I’m working on at the moment,” she tells me.

“I’ve just finished a very exciting travel project which will be aired this year. It was a huge journey across the world looking at how spices came to Europe from far away islands in Indonesia. It led me to some of the most remote places I’ve ever been to on earth – and that’s coming from somebody who’s been to Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan.

Joanna Lumley

“We went across India, Madagascar, Zanzibar, Jordan – it was a huge journey. We finished just before Christmas and, in fact, we were actually fitting in Barker and Stonehouse ads in between my travels.

“Amongst this, I’ve done another six episodes of Conversations From a Long Marriage with the great actor Roger Allam. It’s a great comedy series where we play a bickering married couple. I’m just about to start a huge Netflix series called Fool Me Once which we’re filming up in Manchester, but I can’t tell you too much about that at the moment as it’s under wraps.

“I also love doing my Barker and Stonehouse advert sections. I have such fun with my friends (I do think of them like that now as I’ve been working with the brand for so long!).

“We gallop through the voiceovers and laugh at how hopeless I am at remembering the figures. We get into hysterics about it and I love them all. It’ll be thrilling to come to the launch of their new store in Gateshead and meet everyone, the team and their customers, in person. I can’t wait,” says Joanna.

Barker And Stonehouse

The North East founded furniture retailer is well underway with its plans to transform the former Snow + Rock site on Gibside Way into a state-of-the-art flagship Barker and Stonehouse store, bringing together the very best in sustainable design, striking architecture and inspiring home interiors.

Investing more than £5m to double the size of its existing site, the new store combines 50,000 sq ft of impressive retail space across three floors. With plans for the grand opening to take place on Good Friday (7 April), fans of all things interiors should head down for a fun-filled day of Easter activities and a chance to meet, take selfies with, and chat to the Absolutely Fabulous star.

“I can’t wait to get my hands on a few Barker and Stonehouse pieces,” she says, as she explains her love for interiors.

“When it comes to my own decor, the truth is, you couldn’t fit another stick of furniture in this house, but I’ll always try and find a way.

“I’m a shameless maximalist! My home is stuffed with things and I wouldn’t have it any other way. In lockdown I fell in love with a colour called Green Smoke and painted anything that didn’t move in it from cupboards to chairs to give them a fresh and new lease of life.”

Joanna explains that, while the online market is great and bursting with inspiration, there’s nothing quite like getting to a store and experiencing it first hand.

“I’m delighted to be able to see the products in the flesh,” she starts.

“Screens are super, but there are downsides because it’s simply not the same as experiencing things in real life. Whether it’s clothing, food, people or furniture, it’s just not the same.

“I see screens as a halfway mark. To me, screens are like a secondhand kind of living. I don’t like that. I’m very out of touch. I think the only reason I have a mobile phone is because that’s the only way you can park your car in London!

“I would much prefer to look at the Mona Lisa rather than take a picture of myself in front of it, or arrange to meet up with friends rather than talk virtually. People say, ‘how can you live like that?’ – and it’s with the greatest ease that I do.”

Joanna Lumley’s Life

Joanna’s life is anything but quiet, but when she’s not too busy jetting off to film sets, attending launch events or recording podcasts, you can find her at home in South London, enjoying the tranquil surroundings of her much-loved garden.

“When it comes to downtime and spending time at home, I love to keep busy. I fill my days with gardening, reading, drawing, and generally doing things with my hands. Découpage is also something I love. Cutting something out, sticking it on a box (I adore boxes of things) and then painting the inside lacquer red like the Chinese would.

“One of the main reasons I love where we live is, although we’re in the city, we are surrounded by nature. We have all kinds of fruit trees, we have walnuts, hazelnuts, figs, lemons, plums, pears, apples, olives, you name it – and all planted by yours truly. We’re completely at one with nature, yet we’re close enough to the city to hear Big Ben ringing over the top of it all.

“I love being outside and truly believe in the power of nature. When I’m overwrought or have too much on my plate, the outdoors is a great place to gather my thoughts. Whether it’s just raking leaves or trimming things back, you find your equilibrium has been restored and the balance of everything gets better.”

Joanna is a delight to speak with – a breath of fresh air if you will. Every topic we turn to, there’s a fascinating anecdote to go with it. Totally inspiring in every way.

“I don’t believe anybody’s been luckier than I have in life,” she says, with a smile.

“It’s an extraordinary privilege to have done the things I’ve done, travelled to the places I’ve been to and met such magnificent people.

“When I was younger, I originally wanted to be a brain surgeon, then I quickly shifted and thought I’d like to be Prime Minister. And that’s when I thought, well if I become an actress, I could act being both of those people and that would be the best of both worlds.

“I had always loved the idea of entertaining people, like making people laugh. Anything that entrances you as a human being I love. Literature, poetry and music were my favourite subjects at school.

“What I didn’t want to do was sit in an office every day. I wanted to do something that was daring – something that was changeable. I don’t gamble on anything, but the one thing I did gamble on was my life. When you’re an actress you never know if you’re going to be employed again.

“People often say to me (now I’m 112!), aren’t you going to retire?” she laughs.

“I say, ‘but how could I? This is my life’. It’s not a job I do, it’s how I am and how I live and I’m very happy with it.

“Every day for me is very different. My morning starts with a cup of coffee and a crossword puzzle before galloping on through the day – whether it’s sitting at my desk going through fan mail, out on a film shoot or working on one of my travel pieces. Whatever the day brings, I always ensure I make the best of it.”

Advice From Joanna Lumley

Living a life filled with adventure, challenges and success, Joanna isn’t short of advice to give. One piece of advice that stands out to me is: ‘don’t be afraid of getting older, because life gets better’.

In today’s society there’s a lot of pressure to achieve things before a certain period in your life. To be in the perfect job, to have bought your dream home, to be married to your soul mate… the list is endless. The more Joanna goes on to explain, the more I resonate with what she’s saying.

“It sounds really odd what I’m saying, but it’s true. You become wiser. Even in your mid 20s, you’re wiser than you were when you were a frightened 17-year-old and anxious about everything.

“There are a thousand different things we worry about at different stages in our lives, but as you get older, you realise the only thing that matters is loving the people you adore.

“Never give up on hope. Even if things are very bad, know that you can do something to make it better. So, every day, try to do something – even if it’s tiny – something that makes the world a better place. Stop looking inwards. Look outwards.

“We live in a world where, if we want to put the light on, we press the switch and the light comes on. We run the tap, we’ve got water. And when something doesn’t go our way, we don’t like it.

“I think we’ve got to level up and some of the most awful lessons in the world are being taught to us now. The tragedy of the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria and also the horrifying war going on in Ukraine – it teaches us that life is always unpredictable and you never know when you’re going to have to dig deep, bring out the best and do the best you can.

“Be resilient. Don’t let it hurt you. And that goes for words too. Social media is another one of my great animosities. Why read what people think about you? If it’s horrible, don’t read it. It’s like going to the dust bin and digging out the nastiest, smelliest thing you can find and putting it on your head and going, ‘oh, I smell’. Leave it aside. Don’t listen to all that, their opinion doesn’t matter.”

It has been a total joy speaking with Joanna. Her colourful career has taken her from stage to screen, presenting, travelling and activism. She is a true inspiration and an icon in her own right.


Your most treasured possession?

It’s almost impossible to choose, but I’ve got a very beautiful pencil drawing by an artist who I admired hugely called John Ward.

He did a wonderful portrait of my son Jamie when he was 12-years-old feeding some canaries in a bird cage. Jamie is 55 now and my granddaughters are taller than me, so when I look at that drawing I remember back to when Jamie was that little boy.

Who do you admire the most and why?

There are many people I admire in this world. One person in particular was our late Queen. Princess Anne too. She’s a royal princess, yet is the most compassionate and down to earth lady.

Her husband didn’t take a title, their children don’t have titles, they went to ordinary schools, they have jobs. I think she’s exceptional. She’s also very good at her duties, her loyalty and love for the huge number of charities she’s a patron of is inspiring.

The last book you read?

Most recently, I’ve read a proof copy of a book called The King is Dead Long Live the King. It’s a fabulous read. I would highly recommend it.

The last thing you listened to?

My husband and I have been doing a podcast called Joanna Lumley and The Maestro which has been fabulous. My husband is a musician and a composer and I ask him lots of questions that people would want to know.

It’s been going very well because it’s not completely over your head – it’s just stuff you would love to hear about music.

So the last thing I listened to was a piece of music that I particularly adore, which is the third movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. It’s magic.

The last thing you watched?

A little bit blushing here, but we never saw Peaky Blinders. We’ve just started watching it from series one. At first I didn’t know if it looked a bit too menacing for me and I didn’t know if I could face all of that dark horror, but it’s beautifully done and terribly gripping.

Another thing we’ve recently watched with the nation was Happy Valley. James Norton and I were in a play together where he played the role of my son. He’s fabulous, the show was magnificent.

And finally, your three luxe things in life?

Many years ago before these other shows were about, I was on a desert island – I was cast away and had virtually nothing – no food, just some rice for nine days and one thing I missed which I can’t do without is lettuce.

Bonfires are another. When we’re at our holiday home in Scotland, we make bonfires with the things we’ve cut from the garden – the beauty of the glow and smell of the smoke, it’s the best thing in the world. And finally, silence.