The Daily Telegraph (LONDON)
May 31, 2008 Saturday
MY PERFECT WEEKEND Country gatherings and card games are a winning hand for actress Jemma Redgrave
BYLINE: Interview by Yvonne Swann
A perfect weekend for me would be reminiscent of the weekends of my childhood. It would be just like the recent bank holiday when I stayed with friends in Norfolk with my husband [barrister Tim Owen] and our sons Gabriel, 14, and Alfie, eight. No weekend could be perfect if the children and my Labrador weren’t part of it.
The sun was shining and the Norfolk light in the mornings was magical, glowing on the views over the salt marshes towards the sea.
It was idyllic. There was a little boat and we sailed out on the ocean waves and watched the seals and wild birds at Blakeney Point. We went for long walks, read the papers and the dads played football with the boys.
That really is my ideal weekend: lots of children and games. As well as table tennis, card games with good friends is brilliant. You laugh so much, but it’s also seriously competitive.
We also like to play “First Lines” with the children. We find a book, read the blurb off the back jacket and everybody has to write down what they think the first line might be. You win if you pick the real first line out of everyone’s efforts and you win if your invented first line gets the most votes. It’s ridiculous fun and the sort of communal living among friends that I love.
We live in London and don’t get away to the country much at weekends, because my sons have a busy social and sporting life in the city. They love their football and cricket. Country breaks are very special to me.
As a child, I have very fond memories of being with my maternal grandparents, who lived in Shepperton, right on the Thames, in the grounds of a big house. There was always a dinghy nearby. My grandfather had been in the Navy and was a great sailor. I remember boating with him and in my mind it seems to have been forever summer there. We had a lot of freedom. We’d go off by ourselves and fish for pike. I also remember a lot of croquet in the grounds of the big house on summer evenings. It was lovely.
My paternal grandmother [actress Rachel Kempson, Lady Redgrave] had a cottage in Hampshire and I used to stay with her regularly. It was different again. She had a dog, which I adored, and those memories seem to be autumnal -all about bonfires and beautiful woods.
My mother [Deirdre Hamilton-Hill] had a vintage clothes stall in an antiques market in the King’s Road in London and took a stall in the Portobello Road to sell the leftovers. I used to go with her to the markets on Saturdays and was sometimes left in charge of the stall. As I had no idea what I was doing, I sold wonderful things for a pittance. At the time, I didn’t like the old clothes at all. Like most children, I was quite conservative and wanted a conventional life. I yearned for Marks & Spencer, not Victorian gowns. I’d love to have the whole stall now.
When I was little, I saw a Play for Today on the BBC about a Jacobean village. Clothes arrived in the village full of plague-carrying fleas. The play marked me. I was absolutely convinced that some terrible disease was going to be shipped in with the old clothes when they arrived at our house. I’d skirt the walls in terror.
In later years, I grew close to my paternal grandfather, the actor Michael Redgrave, who was divorced from my Hampshire grandmother. He taught me to play canasta, which is where my love of cards comes from. My father [actor Corin Redgrave] taught me poker when I was 10 and I still like to play it at weekends.
My recent Norfolk weekend was entirely wonderful because it was closely linked to my childhood memories and to the days when my parents were still together. We’d all gather for heavenly weekends with lots of friends, grandparents and children. Could anything be better than that? I don’t think so.
Jemma Redgave is starring in the play The Cherry Orchard, by Anton Chekhov, at Chichester Festival Theatre until next Saturday.