Joanna Lumley didn’t get her big break in acting until she was 29 years old.
She queued alongside thousands of others to audition for the role of Purdey in The New Avengers. Winning the part set her on the path to becoming Britain’s national treasure.
In her memoir, Absolutely, she recalls the moment: “It felt as if vast tectonic plates had suddenly slipped sideways and I knew my life was going to change forever. I stepped into a different way of being; where I would be paid regularly, where I would work with the cream of British actors, where I would make the equivalent of 13 feature films a year and become as fit as a flea… where I would become ‘famous’.”
Before that, life had its ups and downs for Lumley.
She was born in Kashmir in 1946 where her father was a Major in the 6th Gurkha Rifles, a regiment of the British Indian Army. She spent much of her childhood in Hong Kong and Malaysia, before the family returned to Kent in the UK, where Lumley was sent to boarding school.
After failing her Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts audition, she began working as a model for Jean Muir.
The work was steady. But then, after a brief relationship with photographer Michael Claydon, Lumley fell pregnant at 21. To be an unmarried mother was still a social taboo at the time, but she refused to be deterred.
Speaking to The Express, she said: "It was abnormal not to be married then. However, I had a tremendously supportive family and the world I lived and worked in was non-judgmental. Like any working parent, the difficulty is in both working and being a parent. It was a bloody juggle but everyone has that, not just single parents."