Interview With A Man: Richard E Grant - The Gloss Magazine

Interview With A Man: Richard E Grant

Actor and author Richard E Grant’s career has spanned four decades – he is currently starring in Saltburn, a psychological drama which also features Irish actor Barry Keoghan. Brought up in Swaziland, now Eswatini, Africa, he lives in London and has a daughter, Olivia. His wife, Joan Washington, died in 2021.

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR PARENTS? My father was charming, witty, provocative, incredibly well read and popular by day, but transformed into a violent, unrecognisable alcoholic after 9pm. He was the former director of education when Swaziland was a British Protectorate and died at the age of 53. My mother was emotionally unavailable, singular in pursuing her own interests and reluctant to praise or encourage, which proved to be a great motor for me to prove myself worthy of her attention.

DID YOU FEEL LOVED? By my father – unequivocally, but at arm’s length by my mother. I found maternal love from my piano teacher, Bunny Barnes, with whom I remained in very close contact until her death at 94. She gave me boundless love, encouragement and the courage to pursue becoming a professional actor. I have every letter and email she wrote over our half-century friendship. When I think of my true mother, it’s Bunny.

WHAT WAS YOUR CHILDHOOD LIKE? Fractured by my parents poisonously acrimonious divorce when I was ten years old. I inadvertently witnessed my mother bonking my father’s best friend on the front seat of a car, while I was supposedly asleep on the back seat. This prompted me to begin keeping a diary to keep sane. Growing up in the last gasp of Empire was enormously privileged and I had great friends, an excellent education and never wanted for anything materially.

DID YOU FEEL MORE AFRICAN OR ENGLISH? I was born and brought up in Swaziland, now Eswatini, in South East Africa and emigrated to London in 1982 when I was 25, so have lived in England far longer than I ever did in Africa, but it still exerts an enormous emotional pull, like a homing pigeon.

WHERE DID YOU GO TO SCHOOL AND HOW STRONG WAS ITS INFLUENCE ON YOU? St Mark’s school in Mbabane and then Waterford-Kamhlaba, for O and A-levels, alongside Nelson Mandela’s daughters, with whom I did school plays. Knowing that their father was imprisoned on Robben Island 1,000 miles away, left a lasting impression. The school was multi-racial and multi-faith, so we were all exposed to the influences of the 27 different nationalities that made up the student and staff body.

WHAT DID YOU THINK YOU’D GROW UP TO BE? An actor and writer, both of which I’ve succeeded in doing. No precedent within my family or friends and my father tried to warn me off wasting my time, worrying that I would end up ‘destitute, wearing tights and make-up and narrowly avoiding a buggery’!

“I am living proof that having grown up in the smallest country in the southern hemisphere, without TV and only one cinema and an amateur theatre club, it’s possible to pursue your dreams.”

WHAT HAVE BEEN THE IMPORTANT FEMALE RELATIONSHIPS IN YOUR LIFE? Bunny Barnes, my surrogate Scottish mother, who gave me piano lessons, a crash course in classical music education, life lessons – how to light a fart, listen to Wagner and Mozart with a critical ear, never to take anything or anyone too seriously, savour language, read exhaustively and to follow your instincts. My late wife, Joan Washington, with whom I shared 38 years together. A conversation that began in bed in January 1983 ended in bed holding each other’s hands, in September 2021. To be truly understood and seen by another human being, was her greatest gift to me. I loved her unequivocally and her love and support continue to inspire me after her death. Our daughter, Olivia, quips that she and I have ‘twin brain syndrome’. Reacting in exactly the same way to situations and people. She is our supreme and perfect being.

YOUR MALE FRIENDSHIPS ARE FOR THE MOST PART … Lifelong. I have kept the same friends I made when I was a boy and even though one of them lives in Perth, Australia, distance is of no consequence. The moment we meet up or meet online, it’s as if no time has passed whatsoever. I regularly play tennis with three other actors, which we’ve done for a quarter of a century. Loyalty and friendship are gold bullion to me.

HAVE YOUR FRIENDSHIPS CHANGED AS YOU HAVE GROWN OLDER? They have deepened and evolved in the best possible way. Inevitably there have been casualties along the way, usually caused by professional jealousy or rivalry.

“The casual sexism has vanished, productions are mindful of providing confidential lines for people to report inappropriate behaviour. Actors are required to fill in surveys to identify attitudes, choices or comments that could cause offence.”

HAS THE #METOO MOVEMENT CHANGED THE WORLD YOU WORK IN? Profoundly – the casual sexism has vanished, productions are mindful of providing confidential lines for people to report inappropriate behaviour. Actors are required to fill in surveys to identify attitudes, choices or comments that could cause offence.

IS FAME WHAT YOU IMAGINED IT WOULD BE AND HOW DO YOU MANAGE IT? I have been around some incredibly famous people and observed how most of them do everything not to draw attention to themselves, in contrast to others lower down the pecking order, who pose and preen at any and every opportunity. I’ve mercifully never had the level of fame where your every move is monitored. Being approached by people who like your work is always a pleasure.

DO YOU STILL LOVE WHAT YOU DO? I feel as excited now as I did when I got my first acting role four decades ago. There are always new people to meet and work with, new talent is very attractive and you never stop learning.

YOUR ADVICE TO YOUNG ACTORS? Never give up. I am living proof that having grown up in the smallest country in the southern hemisphere, without TV and only one cinema and an amateur theatre club, it’s possible to pursue your dreams. No matter the obstacles. WHERE

IS YOUR “HAPPY PLACE”? Home with my family. Much as I love travelling and filming on location, there is nothing like sleeping in your own bed, cooking, mowing the lawn, having your friends over for dinner and shutting the door on the world beyond.

WHAT ARE THE THINGS YOU DO THAT KEEP YOU SANE? I listen to music every waking hour of the day. It has sustained and supported me through everything. I think it’s the greatest and most mysterious art form of all and cannot imagine living without it.

A BOOK YOU RECENTLY READ? My name is Barbra – Streisand’s long-awaited 900-page autobiography. As a lifelong fan, it is everything you could hope for, as she is a detail obsessive.

WHAT HAVE YOU RECENTLY LISTENED TO OR WATCHED? I have watched all three series of Succession thrice over; it’s the best writing, actingand directing of any TV series I’ve ever seen. Unequalled.

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST EXPERIENCE OF GRIEF? My father’s death at the age of 53. He contracted lung and brain cancer and witnessing his decline and fear, over nine months in 1981, was utterly devastating.

WHAT HAS GIVEN YOU SOLACE SINCE LOSING YOUR WIFE? Four days before she died, she urged my daughter and I to try and find a pocketful of happiness in each day, which has been the mantra by which we have tried to navigate the abyss of grief since she died. Implicit within her advice, is not to feel guilty at finding joy again, or making the best of everything. Very wise and generous.

DOES TIME REALLY HEAL OR IS THAT JUST WHAT WE SAY TO CONSOLE OURSELVES? I don’t think of it that way. The wound of death never heals, you just have to try and come to terms with something that I don’t think I am ever capable of comprehending. Acceptance is the only choice, otherwise you’d go mad.

YOUR MOST PHYSICALLY ATTRACTIVE FEATURE, IN YOUR OPINION … Energy. It propels me through the day and keeps me insatiably curious and engaged with everything. I truly wish I could get by on two hours sleep, so that I could do all the things I’d still like to do!

YOUR FAVOURITE SHOES / BAG / COAT / WATCH / FRAGRANCE? My father gave me his watch as a dying gift and have worn it ever since; an alpaca grey winter coat from Richard James in Savile Row; JACK unisex perfume, which I created and launched in 2014, with top notes of lime, marijuana and mandarin.

YOUR EXERCISE ROUTINE? I run four miles every morning in Richmond Park – it sets me up for the day in the best possible way.

CAN YOU SPEAK A FOREIGN LANGUAGE? French in the present tense and enough Siswati to communicate when I go back to Eswatini.

DO YOU EVER THINK ABOUT RETIREMENT? At 66, I am now the oldest person on most jobs I do, but don’t feel any different than I did when I was 19, so am clearly emotionally ‘arrested’! So no, I don’t ever think of retiring. There always sees to be parts for old blokes! Here’s hoping.

WHERE WILL YOU HOLIDAY NOW YOU HAVE SOLD YOUR LOVELY HOUSE IN FRANCE? My daughter’s fiancé is Austrian so we visit his family, and still like to flee to the Caribbean midwinter to escape the glooms. Work decides where I go in the summer and I have just spent two months filming in Budapest with Paul Rudd and Jenna Ortega.

YOUR SIGNATURE DISH TO COOK IS … Crab linguini, homemade mayonnaise, Caesar salad and freshly squeezed orange juice.

WHAT YOU DO WHEN YOU SAY YOU DO NOTHING … That never happens. I was born with ants in my pants and am always doing something. The most still I ever get is getting lost in a book.

THE PERFECT WEEKEND INCLUDES … Eating as much Italian food as it’s physically possible to do and swimming in the sea for as long as my lungs can hold out.

IN THREE WORDS, HOW WOULD YOU LIKE PEOPLE TO REGARD YOU? Loyal, loyal, loyal. @richard.e.grant

Richard E Grant’s Book A Pocket Full of Happiness published by Gallery UK is available in all good book stores. 


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