Penelope Wilton on the news that beats being a dame

Penelope Wilton on the news that beats being a dame

Actress Penelope Wilton became a Dame in the Queen’s birthday honours list recently and in a few weeks’ time we’ll see her play Her Majesty in a new Steven Spielberg film. But delighted though she undoubtedly is at being enobled, another recent event has made her even happier.

“On May 29, I became a grandmother again,” she beams as we chat at the launch of her new six-part ITV comedy drama Brief Encounters. “My new granddaughter, Ella Rose, is lovely, and is the little sister of my grandson Daniel (4).

"I am beyond excited about becoming a grandmother again and so delighted to be adding to my little family. Daniel and Ella Rose’s mother, Alice, is my only child. I would have loved more children but it wasn’t to be. I will be taking the rest of summer off to spend time with the family.”

Dame Penelope will, however, be very much centre-stage when it comes to this summer’s TV schedule. Set in Sheffield in 1982, Brief Encounters is the story of four ordinary women whose lives are turned around when they become Ann Summers party plan saleswomen.


Talking of royal appointments, though, Penelope will also be playing Her Majesty in the eagerly-awaited live action movie version of the Roald Dahl story, The BFG.

“That was obviously a very different role,” she says. “I watched lots of footage of the Queen and particularly wanted to see her in domestic situations rather than on formal occasions.

“But remember this is Roald Dahl and illustrator Quentin Blake’s Queen – Spielberg’s too – and in the film she spends a lot of time surrounded by Corgis. For the film I had Her Majesty’s own shoemaker, glove maker and bag maker making my accessories… wonderful.”

For a newly-made Dame of the British Empire we wouldn’t expect anything less!

The Dame on Downton Abbey

“Although Isobel Crawley had some decent lines, I always felt that, in Downton, Maggie Smith as Lady Violet trumped Isobel and had the final say.

"I used to say to the writer Julian Fellowes, ‘Can I not occasionally win? It’s not fair!’ But he would always say Isobel was a much nicer woman. I still thought
I should be allowed the last word from time to time – but I’m getting it now!”

  • Brief Encounters is on Mondays on ITV
  • The BFG is out in cinemas from July 22
  • For more star chat, pick up the latest copy of Yours magazine
  • Words and interview by Alison James

Did you know...?

  • Penelope was born in Scarborough, North Yorkshire the daughter of a businessman and a former tap dancer. Her grandparents owned theatres
  • Her television acting career began in 1972, playing Vivie Warren in Mrs. Warren's Profession opposite Robert Powell. She then had several major TV roles, including two of the BBC Television Shakespeare productions
  • She became a household name when she appeared with Richard Briers in the 1984 BBC situation comedy, Ever Decreasing Circles, which ran for five years
  • In 2005, Penelope guest starred as Harriet Jones for two episodes in the BBC's revival of the popular TV science-fiction series Doctor Who
  • Between 1975 and 1984, Penelope Wilton was married to the actor Daniel Massey. They had a daughter, Alice, born in 1977
  • In 1991, Penelope married Ian Holm and they appeared together as Pod and Homily in the BBC's 1993 adaptation of The Borrowers. They were divorced in 2001