Richard E Grant on grief, fame and life without a filter: ‘I 100% believe that secrets are toxic’

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FFive days after Richard E Grant’s wife of 35 years, Joan Washington, died of lung cancer in September 2021, he received a call from a number he did not recognize. Grant and his daughter Olivia, then 32, were walking around dealing with what they described as “the bureaucracy of death” in their new memoir: filling out government forms, lifting hymn sheets for funerals—all restrictions that came early. Come when you have lost the love of your life. After that the number flashed. Olivia advised him not to answer, as he was probably a cold-collar. But Grant replied that it could be with a death certificate.

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“Hi, this is Elton,” said the caller.

“Sorry, you’re on speakerphone because I’m driving and the line is bad. Please state your name again?” Respond Grant.


“its elton”, repeated the speaker.

“for example you know who!” writes Grant in A Pocketful of Happiness.

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It’s a classic Grant anecdote, a mixture of eminently relatable and unimaginatively stark, which he confronts with a lovable every kind of astonishment. Of course, given that Grant has been famous for the 35 years since her career-defining debut in Vinell & I, her phone call from Elton John didn’t come completely out of the blue; He writes in the next paragraph that, in fact, he was quite sociable with the singer for some time, before “getting out of touch in the fabric of showbusiness friendship” a few years ago. But since Grant published his first memoir, With Niels, in 1996, it was followed by The Wah Wah Dairies: The Making of a Film in 2006—both about his adventures in moviemaking and his satirical but wide-eyed tone. were written – that’s to make the public feel like we’re experiencing their extraordinary life with them, and to demonstrate the same enthusiasm about it as we would.

In January 2019, the day he learned that he had received the black comedy Can You Ever Forgive Me? Nominated for an Oscar for her supporting role in the film, she posted a video of herself in front of her first flat in London: “I’m absolutely overwhelmed. Thirty-six years ago I rented this bedsuit here and I can’t believe I stand here with an Oscar nomination now. Ha!” he rejoiced, cried out excitedly. It was a fascinating change from the usual detective insistence that praise meant nothing, and the video immediately went viral.

“Being uncool made me – very briefly – cool, which was weird, but cute. I was once deeply moved by what my great idol, Barbra Streisand, once said, that a most personal experience is what makes the most sense.” Reach out to people, because it’s likely they’ve experienced those feelings as well, and they’ll connect with them, Grant, 65, tells me.

We have arranged to meet at a photographer’s studio a few hundred yards from his home in London. It’s a scorching hot day, but he’s wearing a patterned shirt, a little shorter than most British ones, and wearing skinny black trousers, he’s looking fresh and sharp in a slightly lupine manner. Incidentally, he also smells delicious – soap and lemon. At first I assumed it was down to Grant’s effortless scenting qualities, but it turns out she’s wearing her own perfume, called Jack, which she launched in 2014.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? with Melissa McCarthy in 2018. Photograph: Everett Collection Inc./Alamy

Having your own scent with the personality of Grant takes a piece of being a slightly eccentric dandy, who is a drunk (can you ever forgive me?) (nails). He’s an outsider-inside man, someone who looks upper class, so he’s cast in period dramas like The Age of Innocence, but — of all the old Etonians and Harovians that dominate today’s British acting scene. On the contrary – it doesn’t seem to be a whole lot. He plays the servant (Gosford Park) and the country-house guest (Downton Abbey), and with equal ease between the hottie (Jack and Sarah) and the cringeworthy (The Player and – my favorite of his films – L.A. Story) Hopes done.

I ask if he thinks it’s because he grew up in Eswatini (then called Swaziland) before moving to London in his 20s, although he may have made his way into English society – even That even at the wedding of Prince Charles and Camilla – he always stands a little aside, trying to figure it out. He smiles mercifully at my chair’s analysis: “It’s always a little awkward to hear yourself defined by someone else, but it makes perfect sense. Yes absolutely.”

This is certainly a useful quality as a diarist. Grant has been keeping a diary since the age of 10, “after waking up in the back seat of a car to see my mother strapped to my father’s best friend in the front seat”, he writes in A Pocketful of Happiness. Huh. The 2005 film Wah-Wah, which Grant wrote and directed, was about his dysfunctional childhood in Swaziland. (“Wow wow” is how his stepmother imitated the tight-jawed, posh Swaziland accent.) But as a child, he couldn’t tell anyone what he saw, so he reported it in his diary, and he The habit has always been continued ever since.

“I find it very, very useful, because it creates something that seems unreal. It is surprising to me that I, who started in one of the smallest countries in the Southern Hemisphere, should have this life So if I write it all down, it really happened,” he says.

Was there a temptation not to keep a diary during his wife’s illness so that it didn’t look real?

“No, I thought the best way would be to keep a very accurate record to try to understand what was happening,” he says quietly. His voice today is a little hoarse and flatter than usual, as if the events of last year had hollowed out the stuff inside him.

Like her previous books, A Pocketful of Happiness is based on her diaries and filled with the kind of stories that celebrities usually keep with them. But while the earlier books were about his meetings with other celebrities, Pocketfull is about his wife.

“Martin Amis once wrote that the act of writing is the act of love, and that’s what I write about Joan. By far the best response I’ve got to the book is people saying they feel like they should. Found out who Joan is-was,” he corrects himself.

Something else I figured: Washington is sick of most books, so he’s essentially a bit of a shadowy figure. But by the end I felt that I really knew their marriage. “I didn’t want it to be one of them: ‘Oh, she was amazing and we had a lovely time and everything was awesome,’ because that’s not how life is. All this stuff is in between,” He says.

Grant is very good at in-between stuff, such as the joy of comparing stories with his partner after the party — “delicious as Boxing Day leftovers” — and the tales he shares about his premature daughter, Tiffany. In very short but heartfelt writings, who died soon after his birth, when Grant was making Withnell and I. He and Washington eventually had their “miracle child”, Olivia, whom they nicknamed Oily, and the three were a close family. When they went to the movies together, Oily and Grant were always in tears, “while Joan interrupted: ‘What’s wrong with the two of you? Pulling yourself together!’ She was very little – how to put it? – emotionally raw from us,” he says. Grant and his daughter talk on the phone “at least once a day. As a teenager she recognized that her And I have twin brains,” he says with a smile.

Richard E. Grant in a pink shirt in a garden
‘A diary makes something that seems unreal seem real. If I write all this down, it really happened.’ Photograph: Sophia Spring/The Guardian

He describes in great detail what it was like to care for Washington during his illness. Anyone who has ever cared for a sick person will know what he means when he describes his “lemon irritability” on a bad day, and I particularly like his description of Washington’s mood. Liked “Among the cast of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Dopey, Grumpy, Sleepy, Happy, Bashful, and Visit the Doctor”.

“Initially, when I decided to write this book, I thought I wouldn’t write anything about the sick part of Joan’s life,” he says. “But then I remembered some of Bruce’s advice [Robinson, writer and director of Withnail and I] Told me about script writing. He said: ‘Write down what happened today that never happened before’ and nothing was more life-changing for us than Joan’s diagnosis.

Washington worked in the film business, but behind the camera. She was a dialect coach, helping actors like Cate Blanchett and Ralph Fiennes find the right tone for their roles. The final chapter of the book is a collection of testimonials from her famous students, describing her as “one of the great anonymous heroines of the British entertainment business” (Richard Eyre) and “simply the best, hands down” (Liv Tyler). has gone. The book skips about chronologically, although it begins with Washington’s diagnosis and ends with his death, giving us a more complete picture of her and Grant’s nearly 40-year relationship. They met in 1982 when he moved from Africa to London and asked her to teach him privately to “correct my colonial accent”. “Boiler-friendly, kicker-booted and sporting a Laurie Anderson edgy haircut, a charismatic and formidable presence”, she writes, and she was quickly smitten.

He took a little longer. The first time they went to bed together, he said to her: “You are thin as a stick!” “A passion killer if ever there was one,” he writes. The passion was not dead long: one of the more…


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