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18 February 2006: The Times, Body&Soul

Not just anybody: Diana Rigg

INTERVIEW: AMBER COWAN

How the fit and fabulous stay that way. Actress Diana Rigg, 67, thrives on hard work and her only concession to health is low-tar cigarettes

Youíre treading the boards in Honour, in the West End. Ever think youíll put your feet up? Iím not really the pipe-and-slippers type. Most people scale down at my age; I have scaled up. I bought a house in France four years ago that Iím refurbishing, and doing this play. Iím busier than ever.

Is theatre more physically demanding in your sixties? If I have a performance, I am very aware of not doing too much during the day, to conserve energy. Iíll take my dog for a walk for some fresh air and eat at about 4pm, so that Iím slightly hungry by the time I go on stage.

You tore a vocal cord playing the title role in Medea on Broadway in 1994. Are health problems an occupational hazard? Yes. That experience was horrendous. I flew to New York with a cold and went straight into a dress rehearsal where I gave it my all and did the damage. It wasnít painful, but I couldnít perform to my optimum.

How did you treat it? I had cortisone injections in my throat. The real treatment was rest, though. I had to sit quietly in my hotel room during the day and go straight to bed after the show. I couldnít talk on the phone either because the timbre you use while speaking can be a terrible strain, for some reason.

Made any other physical sacrifices for your art? Loads. In Jumpers, in 1972, I had to pull a man who was supposed to be dead off the stage and I slipped a disc in my back. In Follies, in 1987, there was an 11-minute tap routine in high heels that permanently damaged my knees.

Still giving you gyp? All the time.

Green tea or your GP? I went to see a very good surgeon about my knees ten years ago. He took an X-ray and told me that heíd never seen such a bag of old rubbish in his life. But he said: ďYouíre functioning, youíre walking, Iím not going to do anything.Ē Iím touching wood that things donít change.

And your back? I have tried everything for that. I had faith healing, I had crystal healing, I even had one extraordinary woman who came to my house, cracked her fingers down my spine and then made a huge sneeze to ďexpel the badnessĒ.

Not a huge success? No. In the end the answer was conventional medicine. I had two hair-raising sessions where they inject steroids into your spine with what could almost be a horse syringe. It hasnít cured me, but I am much better than I was. There are still times when I know that I just have to take an anti-inflammatory and go and lie down.

Do you owe your husky voice to the smokes? Iím afraid I do. I smoke 20-25 a day. I choose low-tar cigarettes, though ó my one concession.

Ever tried to quit? I have given up a few times over the years, but I have always started again. I tried hypnosis, but it didnít work for me. I didnít even go under. The hypnotist told me to think about palm trees; all I could think about was what a dreary voice he had. I was giving him mental notes on his delivery.

What about the sauce? I like wine, but I hate getting drunk. And I donít like going to pubs.

Are you a gym bunny? Iím not. With my bad back and my knees, itís the perfect excuse.

Nipínítuck? I had my eyes done when I was 44. At the time I was in bad pain with my back and I had lost a lot of weight because of it. I suddenly looked like a very old woman, with terrible wrinkles around my eyes. It was too early to look 64, so I thought, time to get them done.

Did it give you a taste for self-improvement? Well, I havenít been back. Iím at the age now where I think I want to acknowledge how I have lived. I donít envy women who look half their age. I think itís wonderful that they do, but Iím not quite where they are at.

Did growing up in India influence how you look after yourself? I think that Ayurvedic medicine is wonderful. At Christmas, I went to a spa in the foothills of the Himalayas with my daughter, Rachel Stirling, and spent some time having treatments and massage. Iím not a great follower of anything to the letter, so I donít stick to an Ayurvedic diet. But the massages were amazing.

Say your prayers? I am a Christian and I like going to church. Quite often I will pass a church and just go in to say a prayer. I am interested in belief of all sorts, which is probably something to do with my vocation. People come to the theatre to believe.

In Honour, your characterís husband leaves her for another woman. Art appears to be imitating life, so have you drawn on your own experiences for the part? Well, my husband walked out on me in 1990. However, this was years ago, so Iím not using this as therapy or anything.

Youíre not the neurotic actor, then? Iím afraid that I am hopelessly un-neurotic, which is a shame because Iíd probably be a better actress if I was.

Dame Diana Rigg is in Honour is at Wyndhamís Theatre, London WC2, until May 6. For tickets, call the booking line on 0870 9500925


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