Actress, activist and presenter Joanna Lumley OBE is a name we all know and love and we're always first in line to watch anything Joanna appears in.
Following the release of one of her most latest projects, ITV drama Finding Alice, we find out more about Joanna and reminisce about her career so far.
How old is Joanna Lumley?
Joanna Lumley was born on 1 May 1946, Joanna is 75 years old.
Who is Joanna Lumley's husband?
Joanna was briefly married to actor Jeremy Lloyd in 1970. She then went on to marry conductor Stephen Barlow in 1986.
Joanna Lumley's son
The actress has one son, Jamie Lumley and two granddaughters, Alice and Emily. Joanna raised Jamie as a single parent and they are very close.
Who are Joanna's parents?
Joanna's father, Major James Rutherford Lumley served as an officer in the British Indian Army's 6th Queen Elizabeth's Own Gurkha Rifles in Burma during World War II, most notably at the Battle of Mogaung.
Her mother was Thyra Beatrice Rose. Thrya's grandfather Lieutenant Colonel Leslie Weir was born in Ghazipur and served as an army officer in Kashmir. Interestingly, he was a close friend to the 13th Dalai Lama.
Joanna Lumley young
Joanna spent three years as a model early on in her career. Although she did not receive any formal training, Joanna's acting career began in 1969 with an uncredited role in the film Some Girls Do as well as a Bond girl in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, in which she had two lines.
As well as appearing in Coronation Street as Elaine Perkins, Joanna also appeared as Jessica Van Helsing in The Satanic Rites of Dracula.
Joanna starred in not one but two Pink Panther films, Trail of the Pink Panther and Curse of the Pink Panther.
She also starred as Purdey, a spy working for British intelligence in the British TV series The New Avengers.
Joanna Lumley’s Great Cities of The World
Joanna’s new series, which begins on ITV on Thursday 17 March, see’s her traveling to three of the world’s most iconic cities – Paris, Rome and Berlin. She heads off the beaten track to explore the secret delights of these magnificent destinations, learn more about their history and cultural traditions, and revel in the hustle and bustle of the people who give each city such a unique identity.
“It was my aim to get under the skin of these three, great, constantly evolving capitals,” she says. “To get back out there exploring, to start being curious and also a bit brave, I think. The new series is different from my previous ones, in that cities are so different from countries to explore.
“For people who have never been to these cities, it will be an exciting introduction to them, because we show what you would expect to see of the city, the great landmarks and avenues. But for people who know these cities well, or have been there once or twice, it will be a lovely opening of a secret cupboard door, and looking into different and unseen parts of it. I hope it will make them want to go back again.”
Joanna on her love for the Queen and her new book
With a new book just out celebrating the Queen’s remarkable reign, Joanna Lumley tells of her deep feelings of love and respect for Her Majesty
When much loved actress and TV presenter Joanna Lumley was asked to collate and edit a book about Elizabeth II as a celebration of Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee next year, she was delighted.
“I think the world of our Queen,” Joanna reveals. “My devotion goes right back to receiving a double-decker wooden pencil box with a sliding top, a stencil of Her Majesty on it, and my name on the reverse, dating back to Coronation Day 1953. I was seven years old. I still have it, together with a tiny lead model of the Queen taking the salute at the Trooping of the Colour. I was also given a Coronation medal on a ribbon, which I pinned to my chest. Unfortunately, that’s lost or I would still be wearing it!”
Joanna, like the rest of us, feels Elizabeth II is – and continues to be – inspirational.
“She knew what was ahead of her once her Uncle David had abdicated in 1937. She was only ten years old at the time. On her 21st birthday she made a vow
‘It will be so wonderful to be in a congregation at a Christmas service again’ to devote her whole life – ‘whether it be long or short’ – to the service of us, her people, and she’s never reneged on that vow.
Imagine having to make that kind of commitment at such a young age! At 21, I was only concerned with having fun as I raced around Swinging Sixties London wearing my mini skirt! Our Queen hasn’t put a foot wrong and at 95, she continues to devote herself to our country. I see her as a figurehead for the nation, someone we instinctively turn to when the going gets rough.”
How did Joanna go about putting the book together?
“So much has been written about the Queen already and being neither a biographer nor a historian, I wanted it to be a discovery of her through the eyes of other people,” she says. “All different kinds of people who have met her – from the likes of Winston Churchill who paid tribute to her as a very young queen, to heads of state and showbiz royalty, through to young children who encountered her as they waved their flags and presented bouquets.
Actually, the book is rather like a bouquet to present to her. And yes, I have sent her a copy!”
Joanna has been lucky enough to meet the Queen on several occasions – most memorably when she received her OBE in 1995.
“I was so nervous. No matter how many well-known people you may have met, Her Majesty is in a class all of her own. She’s so familiar to us – she’s on our stamps, coins, banknotes... she’s the most photographed woman of all time. My heart was banging so much and I was tongue-tied. The Queen did say something to me but I have no idea what it was!”
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A Queen for All Seasons: A Celebration of Queen Elizabeth II on her Platinum Jubilee
Buy Joanna's book all about our Queen, out now.
Joanna in Absolutely Fabulous
Joanna is well known for her portrayal of fashion director Patsy Stone, the companion to Jennifer Saunders' Edina Monsoon, in the BBC comedy series Absolutely Fabulous. The show ran on and off until 2012 and even had a film, Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie.
Joanna in Finding Alice
In 2021, Joanna appeared in ITV drama Finding Alice. The six-part drama focuses on Alice’s (played by actress and co-creator Keeley Hawes) honest, raw, blackly comic journey of grief, love and life after the death of her partner Harry.
Joanna plays Sarah, Alice's mother, alongside Nigel Havers as her husband Roger. We were excited to hear Finding Alice will be returning for a second series.
For more about the show and Joanna's reflections, have a read below...
What attracted you to Finding Alice and the role of Sarah?
“First of all it’s a lovely part. Secondly, Keeley Hawes, who I have admired for a long time and is such a good, accomplished and varied actress. And thirdly the writing. I thought the story was brilliant. You always read the story first because no matter how nice your own part is, if the writing isn’t there, if the story isn’t gripping to the audience, it’s not going to work.
“I thought Finding Alice was enthralling from the very beginning. Something completely different. Funny, but quite tragic without being self-pitying. Keeley was a big part of the creation of this along with Roger Goldby and Simon Nye, constructing a really complex central character. So all of the people linked to her - her daughter, parents, husband’s parents, the friends she makes - are all rounded people. Sometimes we’re bookmarks, ‘Tall woman with red hair or something.’ And you think, ‘That doesn’t really tell me much.’ But all of these characters seem to have reasons for why they behave as they do. It’s quite funny and it’s not dark....but with a sombre centre to it in a strange way.”
Who is Sarah?
“Sarah doesn’t hold back. I don’t think she has been a particularly good mother to Alice. She seems a bit of a cold fish. In the writing it says she had been a model. So she was obviously extremely beautiful when she married her husband Roger, played by Nigel Havers. Roger was an up and coming young, good looking lawyer and the feeling was he would become a QC and she would be a glamorous society hostess. And, of course, it didn’t work out like that.
“They have ended up in a small suburban house. Sarah is slightly aggrieved as she feels they should have done better. She feels antagonistic towards her daughter Alice. But she dotes on her grand-daughter Charlotte, played so beautifully by Isabella Pappas. In that she is interested in her in a way that quite often grandparents can leapfrog their own children and become obsessed with their grandchildren. I think she pours all the affection she ought to have shown to Alice into her grand-daughter, who she thinks she can change.
“I felt Sarah was completely believable. There are also other things going on in her life which we find out about as the story unfolds. I think she has a real affection for her husband deep down. But she has forgotten how to show it. With age those signs of love and affection atrophy if you don’t use them and do them. Now she snaps at her husband and is used to belittling him. In a way that happens in a lot of marriages. People get so accustomed to each other that they don’t think about what they are saying.
“There is a real, rounded story involving Sarah and Roger. This is the cleverness of really good writing. It’s that you feel everybody has got a complete story. With this story focusing on Alice as the centre, you feel if you wheeled off into Alice’s dead husband’s parents, Minnie and Gerry, played by Gemma Jones and Kenneth Cranham, they would have a complete tale to tell there along with their daughter Nicola, so gorgeously played by Sharon Rooney. Terribly touching and incredibly funny, with lots of hidden depths.
“Sarah is a terrific snob and looks down on Harry’s parents and sister. She thinks Alice could have done much better for herself. And I think secretly she might not be too sad that Harry has gone. Sarah is also pretty nonchalant. And says she is the only one who is being honest. Which is true. She is clear sighted. Sarah has a forensic mind and says things without any tact at all. I loved playing her.”
How would you describe Sarah’s relationship with her daughter Alice?
“There is a certain amount of friction between mother and daughter. That’s terribly realistic. I and my mother and my sister and my mother, we just all loved each other completely. But I’ve met so many people who don’t get along with their mothers. Or indeed have daughters who they find, for some reason, they can’t really communicate with.
“I think a mother-daughter relationship can be odd. A father-daughter relationship is always devoted, it seems. And a mother-son. But sometimes it’s mother-daughter and maybe father-son too. Sons who feel they never could earn the approval of their father. These relationships are very well observed in Finding Alice.”
Have you worked with Nigel Havers before?
“The first time I worked with him was terribly disconcerting. We were in a thing called A Perfect Hero. He was playing a young air ace, and I was playing a kind of soubrette singer during the Second World War, and they had an affair.
“I knew Nigel and his wife through friends. Suddenly, during filming, I was in bed with Nigel and had to have no clothes on. I can’t tell you how odd it is. It’s always odd being with no clothes on with an actor. But when it’s somebody you know quite well it’s very odd indeed.”
How does Finding Alice highlight the fact that even in death there is humour?
“We all know there is a terrifying edge of absurdity sometimes which makes you want to laugh at funerals. The smallest thing. Because your sensibilities are so heightened. Words come out, things you didn’t mean to say or do happen because of this extreme sense of heightened awareness, responsibility and anxiety.
“Finding Alice has some very funny lines. Why shouldn’t Alice bury her husband in the garden? I think people around the country will go, ‘Good for her.’ It’s fascinating on so many levels. It did make me wonder what is wrong with the idea of being buried in the garden at home? I think we’d all love to be in our own sweet land. No matter how small or humble it is. We’d love to know that granny is in the back garden.
“It also made me think about the amount of money people spend on expensive coffins which are then burned at cremations. It is such a waste of money and wood. They could have one end of the coffin that flops open and you could shoot out the beloved body to be cremated and then the coffin could be used again.
“People are terribly over sensitive about death. In the old days it was so familiar to us because people lived in houses where, horrifyingly, children died, grannies died, people died. Death was ever present all around. And now it’s something that only happens behind closed doors or in distant rooms and is always considered a great failure.
“I think we have become unrealistic about it and so we dress it up. The money people spend on funerals seems to me as odd as the money people spend on weddings. There’s something quite disproportionate about it. I hope Finding Alice prompts people to talk about death. Even if it is just about the practicalities. Get it all sorted before you go.
“Alice also encounters a bereavement group. So people might realise they can talk to somebody. I’m sure quite a lot of decisions or horrors are endured on your own because you don’t know who to turn to and you feel a fool not knowing how to do things.”
Alice places items in remembrance of her partner Harry on top of his coffin. What would best represent you?
“Rather than on top of the coffin I might ask for them to be put into my coffin. I collect, for some reason, wild and beautiful bird feathers so I’d like some feathers. Not an enormous amount. But I’d like my big vulture feather, my red kite feather and some of the others to go in. I wouldn’t mind some shells from my time on my desert island.
“I’d like some books in case I can read on the other side. I would like to take some kind of handwriting from those I love very dearly, obviously my husband and my son and my sister, people like that. Little notes they have scribbled or something. I wouldn’t mind taking a few works of the great Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore.
“The coffin’s obviously filling up now a bit. I might take some Buddhist flags. Actually, I might put those outside so they can catch the wind and blow. Would it be wrong to take a torch? Yes it would. A torch would be wrong. But I quite like the idea of going off equipped for the other side.”
What was it like working with Keeley Hawes?
“Keeley has that extraordinary quality of just becoming a different person. You can still tell it is her, but she doesn’t bring any mannerism or tried practices with her. She seems just to become the person and you can’t really see how it’s done. It’s the alchemy of acting.
“When she was Mrs Durrell she couldn’t have been more different. Line of Duty, Honour and all those sorts of things. She effortlessly appears to be that person. Well, of course, it was played by Keeley Hawes. Who else could have played it? But then you realise you have only said that because she appeared to have been that person. The prime minister or Mrs Durrell or a police officer or whatever. She is also incredibly nice. Wonderful to work with and very funny.”
How do you reflect back on your career?
“It’s extraordinary and it makes me love life more and more and more. One of the greatest, and smallest, recommendations one can make is, ‘When you talk to somebody, talk to them utterly. Concentrate on them utterly.’ Because then a five- minute conversation becomes fascinating no matter who you’re talking to. If you’re expecting people to be something, or you’re half-thinking or not really listening, or bent on being funny or dismissive, or you think they might be dull, just focus on people.
“Because everybody is like a jewel. Everybody is jewel bright. The stories we’ve all got inside us. If you can find that, with a lever, you can make people feel assured and then the oyster shell opens and out comes the pearls. You should never ignore anyone. They have all got a story and are all just as valuable and as important as you are.
“That’s quite a thing to take on board. You sit down and you think, ‘But there are so many of us?’ Yes. So, therefore, go slowly. Don’t throw your net so wide. Take care of those you do know. Make sure you understand.
“As ever and as Eric Idle said, ‘Always look on the bright side of life.’ Try to be happy. Try to savour things. Do things. Make that phone call. Be kind. Be consciously kind. Make a big effort to make things better. Every day just a few tiny things and the world will turn into a better place.”
Joanna Lumley’s Secret Cities
In a brand new three-part documentary series for ITV (date to be confirmed), Joanna will be heading off the beaten track to explore and capture the secret delights that Rome, Paris and Berlin have to offer.
She said: "I’m drawn to cities crammed with human life, trailing clouds of history and experience, harbouring secrets and flashing their achievements. Cities are magnets to every kind of person, including me - I’m going to lift the curtain on some of their strange and surprising secrets - join me and be amazed."
From going behind the scenes at the Moulin Rouge to touring Berlin on the back of a motorbike with an all-girl Biker group, Joanna will immerse herself with the rich and powerful, the alternative and bizarre as well as the less fortunate.
Joanna's charity work
Joanna is an advocate and human rights activist for Survival International and the Gurkha Justice Campaign. She also supports many charities and animal welfare groups including Compassion in World Farming and Vegetarians' International Voice for Animals.
She is also a patron for The Farm Animal Sanctuary.