23 October 1993: Daily Telegraph

The Determination of Diana

Happily for the suffering journalist, she would talk about her career and non-family life, so the gap hunting began in earnest. Diana Rigg was born in Doncaster 55 years ago. Her father, an engineer, took a job in India building railways during the last days of the Raj. Here Diana spent her early years. She had an ayah (nanny) and spoke Hindi. Apart from the exotic ambience, her two main recollections of the period are 'not having lots of friends' and seeing no theatre whatsoever. At seven she was pitched off to St Christopher's, a now defunct boarding school in Buckinghamshire. Her keen sense of parental rejection was made worse by the dreadful conditions. "The window in the dorm was left open all winter. I had a suppurated chap on my ear and woke up one morning with it sticking to the pillow. One day, lice fell on to my book during prep, but I didn't like to tell anyone."

Eventually her parents moved back to Leeds, whereupon the young girl was gratefully transferred to Fulneck School, Pudsey, where Mrs Sylvia Greenwood took charge of her future. The Riggs were not a theatrical family. Her brother became a pilot and her parents played bridge while Diana listened to Saturday Night Theatre on the radio. They did not take her to the theatre until she was 12, and then only to see a pantomime. When they eventually took her into Leeds to see Shakespeare's Henry VIII their daughter was enraptured and asked to go again. Fulneck was a Moravian school - 'Like the Quakers, but they trekked to England from Czechosolvakia. They were very strict.' In this world the theatre-loving Mrs Greenwood provided an oasis. Now she is 82 and the nation's leading expert on Riggiana, having discovered the girl at the age of nine, suggested acting as a career and convinced her anxious parents that she should go to Rada. She has subsequently attended almost every first night of Diana Rigg's career.

Mrs. Greenwood disagrees with the Telegraph's theatre critic. 'Diana Rigg announced her arrival in the first rank in the Sixties when she played Cordelia opposite Paul Scofield in Peter Brook's production of King Lear. Normally she likes to play strong, lively women. But there was a wonderful gentleness about this performance. I think Diana is a better actress than Vanessa Redgrave because she is more honest.' As with Olivier, we are aware with Redgrave, Mrs Greenwood argues, of watching a self-conscious 'performance'. But not with Diana. 'She is Medea. You're not going to repeat this are you?'

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