By Katharine Wootton
Today she lights up the screen and stage with her impish sense of humour, but behind that mischievous grin Miriam Margolyes still holds the sadness of losing her beloved mum.
It was one night in 1968 when Miriam’s family life was turned upside down when her mother, Ruth, suddenly started acting out of character. “She was walking around babbling, not making any sense,” says Miriam.
Ruth was taken to the hospital where it became clear that she’d had a stroke. At aged just 63, she was left unable to speak and semi-paralysed. Offered no therapy or rehabilitation – so little was known about strokes back then – her mother went on to suffer a second stroke six months later.
“It was devastating, almost like a death. Mum was physically there but in every other sense she was not.
“Before the stroke my mother was fantastic, she was the hot bed of the house, full of life and incredibly clever. We were everything to each other. I don’t think I’ve ever been as close to anyone as I was to my mother. But then she had her second stroke and she became basically a vegetable. It was awful.”
Miriam, then only in her late twenties, and her retired doctor father, Joseph, became Ruth’s main carers, providing 24 hour care to the woman they adored.
“I’m not a natural carer, I’m far too selfish for that. But the care we gave truly captured love,” says Miriam.
Seven and a half years later, Ruth sadly passed away. She would never see her daughter’s rise to fame or proudly watch her appearances in the likes of Little Dorrit and The Age of Innocence that made her a household name.
On the back of this experience, though, Miriam made it her mission to try and make a difference, using her fame to support issues that matter to her. Today she’s an ambassador for several dozen charities, one of which is the Stroke Association.
“In a way I think what happened with mum was good for me as it made me aware that there can be a dark side to life. Otherwise I think I could have become a rather trivial person. Instead, I had to focus on making a life and on doing things for other people. I wanted to give back.
“There was nothing like the Stroke Association when my mum had her stroke so I’m so thrilled to now be supporter of them as they give hope to people.”
Now older than her mum was when she had her stroke, today Miriam, 75, is careful to look after her own health, particularly as her high blood pressure puts her at increased risk of having a stroke herself.
“I have a 19 per cent chance of having a stroke which concerns me a lot. But I take a high blood pressure pill that reduces that risk, I swim everyday, I eat sensibly and always take care of myself. In fact it’s my resolution to try and lose weight now.
“Life is about trying to be better than you are and I think we’re here for such a short period of time, we can’t wait to do things. This is not the dress rehearsal.”
- Miriam is supporting the Stroke Association’s Lost For Words campaign. For more information, visit stroke.org.uk/lostforwords