Here at the Winter Gardens we’re stocking up on champagne ready to host one of TV’s best-loved fashionatas – the Absolutely Fabulous Joanna Lumley. What better way to toast the career of one of Britain’s most celebrated actresses as she stops off in Blackpool on a 31-date UK tour.
Telling stories covering four decades, including the New Avengers and her award-winning travel programmes, Joanna will treat audiences to some anecdotes which have never been heard in public before.
And much to her relief, she will be performing to a packed house. With a typically self-effacing grin, Joanna reveals: “When the tour was announced, my first concern was that I would have to pay people to come. I thought, ‘We will have to close the dress circle and pay people to sit in the stalls’.”
So it’s utterly thrilling, she says, that on the first day, the show was selling out across the country: “At first, I thought I was scared about this tour. But now I’m so excited. I think, ‘Yeah, how lovely!’”
It’s hardly surprising that audiences are flocking to see her. If anyone qualifies for the overused title of “national treasure”, it’s Joanna, not least because of that familiar self-deprecation. “I once played a theatre on the south coast when we were doing a tour of Private Lives,” she recalls. “The theatre shut the circle and the two side aisles of the stalls, so just the middle section was open. But there were still only two men, a dog and a mongoose. So I’m used to playing to sadly small audiences!”
It’s All About Me taps into Joanna’s strength for building a rapport with her fans.
“I travel around London on the Tube, and people are constantly talking to me as if I’m their friend. They’ll say to me, ‘What we really liked about India was this…’ Every theatre on this tour will be a room full of friends. Chatting to people is pretty much what I do anyway – I’m forever doing this at charity dos. I can’t wait!”
The actress, well known for her charity work, was awarded an OBE in 1995, and rated one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in the UK in 2013 by Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio Four. She reflects: “When I look back on all the things I’ve done, it’s an absolutely gasp-making list!”
Starting off as a model, Joanna’s big breakthrough came in 1976 when she beat 800 other actresses to the role of Purdey, the kick-boxing crime-fighter with the iconic bob in The New Avengers. She later made a move that took everyone by surprise, playing the dazzlingly degenerate fashion magazine editor Patsy Stone in Jennifer Saunders’ brilliant and still widely-adored sitcom, Absolutely Fabulous, which exploded onto our screens in 1992, winning Joanna two well-deserved BAFTA Awards.
In the live show, the performer will also talk about her acclaimed TV travel programmes, which have taken her to places as diverse as India, Egypt, Greece and The Northern Lights.
“People tell me they love being with me on these journeys and say they learn things they didn’t know beforehand. That’s very flattering.”
Joanna’s appealing ability not to take herself too seriously is undoubtedly a huge factor in her enduring popularity and career. According to the actress, “It’s great to be able to find fun in things. The ability to send yourself up helps you survive. If you don’t have that, you can get gloomy.”
There is absolutely no danger of anyone getting gloomy at It’s all About Me. Joanna says she hopes people leave saying: ‘Hurray, that was fun!’
“I want them to feel happy and that life is great and that getting old is great and that you can still have a go at anything.”
No wonder she looks two decades younger than her 72 years. Come and see Joanna being Absolutely Fabulous, at Blackpool Opera House.
From an interview with James Rampton