07 8 / 2014
The actress Penelope Wilton, 61, grew up in London and trained at the Drama Centre. She is best known for the 1980s TV sitcom Ever Decreasing Circles; her next role is in the drama Half Broken Things (ITV1, today). Her cinema appearances include Cry Freedom, Calendar Girls and Shaun of the Dead. She has been married twice, to actors Daniel Massey and Ian Holm. Now divorced, she lives in west London, and has a daughter, Alice
WHEN I was in my twenties and thirties, I went to the Greek islands because it was cheap and I just wanted to be brown. But now I’m beyond the age where I like sitting on beaches for any length of time. If you go to a country, you might as well find out about it. In small-town France and Italy particularly, people are not as closed off as we are. It’s partly to do with the weather. They meet and chat in cafes and squares, and I enjoy being part of that. In rural places, they know each other for ever. I find that very touching. It must be less lonely if you’re old.
I like graveyards. It’s not a ghoulish thing, it’s just that I like the architecture and reading the stories of the people. In Greece, they often have a little shrine with a glass front and, inside, a photograph and something that the person really liked. My sister Linda and I saw one containing Vim and a scrubbing brush. I said, “Gosh, she must have been very keen on housework.” But my sister explained it was just a convenient place for relatives to stick the materials for keeping the shrine clean.
In Montmartre, in Paris, you see the graves of interesting demimonde people such as La Goulue, the last great cancan dancer, who was painted by Toulouse-Lautrec. I’ve read a lot about that period and I’m glad she’s not too far from her old stamping ground.
I go to France a lot and each time I try to explore an area I haven’t been to before. Last year, we drove all round Burgundy, visiting chateaux, Cistercian abbeys and an architecturally ravishing 15th-century hopital de dieu -an infirmary that was run by nuns.
I love markets, too. In Arles, there’s one all round the town and it’s heaven. We buy tomatoes, bread and salami for lunch, and I come home with loads of herbs and lavender. When they have bullfights, the whole town is laid out for people coming in, and they serve enormous paellas -the smell is wonderful. I hate the bullfights, but the surrounding colour, where everyone gets dressed up, is very picturesque.
My last holiday was to Sardinia. I’ve been a few times because my uncle, Bill Travers, who was a charming man, designed a house by the sea there in the 1970s; it’s built right into the rocks, so it blends into the vegetation. He’s dead now, so my cousins look after it. It’s simple but lovely, with a big veranda. We shop, swim and read a lot. This time, we got the family together -my daughter, my sisters and nieces and boyfriends -which is very rare, so it was lovely to go to dinner and have barbecues together.
I go to galleries wherever I am. Great art is a life-changing experience every time you see it. When you go to see Michelangelo’s David, in Florence, there are other, unfinished sculptures either side of the corridor, including what is seemingly just a great block of stone, but with a bit where he has started to sculpt an arm. It’s as though this person has tried to escape and one day he’ll come out and be a whole person. I do cry in front of things like that.
I’m also drawn to the sea; I was born in Scarborough. The light and colour changes all the time. And to look far out to the horizon instead of having a building in front of you is so different from my life in London. I’ll never forget visiting a beach in Carbis Bay, in Cornwall, on an autumn afternoon when the setting sun turned the whole beach pink. It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.
I just stood and stared for 10 minutes.
I go walking with friends or with Linda, and sometimes by myself. Last spring, we went to Northumberland and walked down the northeast coast. From Bamburgh to Seahouses is ravishing -the sea a sparkling metallic grey and beaches that go on for ever.
The trip wasn’t too planned because that takes all the joy out of it, but we went along Hadrian’s Wall as well, so you have to make sure you take the right shoes - and sandwiches. I walk up to 10 miles in a day, which is not bad in my book. My daughter and I have talked about walking in the Himalayas and one day we will.
Penelope Wilton talked to Caroline Rees, Sunday Times (x)
06 7 / 2014
Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday by Jacques Tati is a perfect film by a master director. It’s the most wonderfully paced comedy, about a reticent man to whom life is a series of surprises.
Erroll Garner’s Concert by the Sea is a brilliant live recording of piano standards: you can hear the audience bristling with excitement in the background and the great man grunting over his keyboard as he plays.
Favourite TV programme
I was at home with a very small child at the time Kojak was on, and used to look forward to it for its comfort value. Telly Savalas, with his lollipop in his mouth and his hat pushed back on his head, was so good.
Best live event
Seeing Rostropovich conduct Shostakovich at the Barbican was one of the most thrilling moments of my life. The atmosphere was electric. At the end, Rostropovich turned round and kissed the score.
Rembrandt put paint on canvas so brilliantly, but he also took you to the very heart of the human condition. All these years later, looking at his self-portraits — that journey from youth to old age — is incredibly moving.
I’ve learnt an enormous amount about theatre from Harold Pinter. He is a great distiller of emotion, capable of capturing the essence of something profound in very few words.
Penelope Wilton is appearing in `The House of Bernarda Alba’ at the National Theatre, London SE1 (020 7452 3000), until June 18.
02 7 / 2014
"Well, nearly all; just Maggie Smith and Penelope Wilton are missing."