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Joanna Lumley: I've become less fearful with age

Joanna Lumley may be deemed acting royalty - but she still doubts her own work. The doting grandmother tells Gemma Dunn that she longs for a performance she's happy with

A recent visit from her granddaughter has got Joanna Lumley thinking. The famed actress - best known for her unforgettable portrayal of Patsy Stone in BBC's Absolutely Fabulous - is considering a change. A transition from glam to gran, if you will.

"My eldest granddaughter - she's 15 - came down to stay at the weekend with three friends. And it was absolute heaven," she begins.

"So I just thought, 'I'm going to be a little bit more of a granny', which involves eating a lot of cake and becoming quite big.

"I want to have one of those housecoat overalls," she declares, with a laugh. "A nice big one so I get a bit Demis Roussos about it."

While that sounds like a sight to behold, for now Lumley - whose two beloved granddaughters hail from her only son, Jamie - remains impossibly stylish.

Cooing over the London skyline when we meet, the 72-year-old runs rings around those decades younger than her: impeccably dressed, hair well-coiffed and, as always, as down-to-earth as they come.

"I rush about a bit," she says, excusing her age-defying looks. "And I live in a tall, thin house, so I don't go to the gym because it's five storeys high. Stairs, stairs, stairs, stairs, stairs..."

But the cake-scoffing granny era will have to wait its turn anyway. For Lumley has plenty in the pipeline - including another epic travelogue for ITV.

Joanna Lumley's Silk Road Adventure will see the British India-born star (whose grandfather was a diplomat and travelled along much of the same path) trail 7,000 miles across continents, deserts, mountains and steppe.

She's even dubbed the ancient trading route her "most adventurous and exotic journey yet".

"It was more than on the bucket list - it was stitched into the hem of my trousers," Lumley says of the voyage.

"It was eight countries; I'd been to two of them, I'd been to Venice and Turkey, but Uzbekistan, Kirghizstan, Azerbaijan, whoa?!

"How do you ever get there?" she questions. "Places like Uzbekistan, I just thought, 'What can it really be like?'

"It sounds as though it'd be a few old stones on a street and a dusty camel.

"But it's the most sophisticated place, with boulevards, tree-lined streets, opera houses, architecture. My preconceptions were dashed."

In fact, the four-part series covers a part of the world many of us - including her - are ignorant of, she notes.

"We're not sure where they border, we're not quite sure where the Black Sea is and where the Caspian Sea is, we're not sure about all of it," she reasons.

"But when you're travelling, then it all begins to click like a Rubik's Cube."

Do humbling experiences such as meeting local families, who happily exist with very little, leave her re-evaluating her life back in London?

"It does," she answers honestly. "Particularly when you're up in the mountains, you feel so well and the air is so clean, you go, 'God, we live a mad life'.

She follows: "But rather than leave it behind, I think it's good to escape from time to time.

"I've found a lot of people - and I am included in this - get so used to such speed that you miss it," she claims. "So after three months, you go, 'okay I'm feeling pretty good now, I'm looking forward to something'. It's just we tire out."

That said, Lumley - who's married to English conductor Stephen Barlow - does intend to halt her plans in favour of lying on a beach soon enough.

"I want to become completely mahogany," she suddenly announces. "I would like to be a scrawny old crow who's dark brown before I die," she says with a smile.

"Because the places we go to and what we do, we don't have time for sunbathing," she argues. "Plus we're usually in modest countries."

First, though, she has a 31-date, live tour to complete.

Kicking off in October, It's All About Me will see the legendary performer travel the UK and Ireland with an abundance of hilarious stories from her lengthy career -some of which have never been heard before.

Between this, acting work, travelogues and her avid charity work, is there anything else Lumley is keen to tick off? "Pretty much everything," she fires back. "It's like the more you know, the more you have to know.

2018-09-05_lif_43824135_I1.JPG
Joanna in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul while making her new television programme Joanna’s Lumley’s Silk Road Adventure

"But what I would really like to do is to just do one part - act one part - where I come back and go, 'Pretty good' instead of, 'Oh my God, will we get away with that?'

"We all think like that," she insists. "No actor is convinced that they're fabulous."

What she will say, however, is she's become "less fearful" with age.

"A lot of it is to do with your own life," she says, addressing past concerns.

"'Will I be wrongly dressed?' 'Will I say the wrong thing?' 'Can I make ends meet?' All of those sorts of things. But you say, 'Yes you can'.

"But there are some things you can't ever get rid of and I call them 'the nameless dread'," confides the Tony and Bafta award winner.

"It comes back out of the blue when you're completely happy, you've got enough money, everybody loves you," she adds. "You wake up in the middle of the night and it's worse than any horror film.

"Maybe it's a kind of hyper-anxiety, but I'm not really anxious. It's more than that."

She shares: "I think if you have it a lot, it becomes depression. I think that's when people wake up in the morning and their lives are pitch black, where a nameless dread flits in and out."

One constant force in Lumley's life, it seems, is cult hit comedy Ab Fab.

"Jennifer [Saunders] and I never have quite put the baton down," she says with glee. "We're always brewing something, always thinking of something.

"But we've always seen ourselves as very old women, so we know no matter what we look like, we'll hopefully never be quite as revolting as they are.

"And secondly we'll never die," she finishes with a smile. "So as long as we're alive, they're alive."

Joanna Lumley's Silk Road Adventure starts on ITV next Wednesday, 9pm. As part of her It's All About Me tour, she appears at the Waterfront Hall, Belfast, on October 6 at 7.30pm

Belfast Telegraph

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