Early in her 44-year career, the actress, writer and TV presenter fell in love with Europe. It loved her right back. As told by Di Webster.
1982: When my 1981 movie, Monkey Grip, was included in the competition at Cannes Film Festival, I traded in my first-class airfare for economy flights that would take me to Italy, Paris and London as well.On my way to Florence, somebody said, “You must go to Fiesole.” I’d never heard of it. I was by myself and didn’t know how to get public transport so I just said “Fiesole” to a taxi driver and away we went! I didn’t even know how far away it was. The taxi dropped me off at a beautiful village, 10 kilometres away, that had panoramic views over Florence. It was spring so the trees were in blossom. I wandered through the magnificent Convent of Saint Francis and behind it was a Roman amphitheatre, completely deserted. It was a magical introduction to life in Italy outside the cities. To have that experience – so meditative and quiet – was very special.
1982: Because Monkey Grip was competing at the festival, we got to stay at the iconic Carlton Hotel for a week. The festival’s artistic director, Gilles Jacob, was calling me the new Jeanne Moreau. It was all very heady and lovely. When the week was up, I really wanted to stay on – I’d met a nice Frenchman! – but there was no accommodation. I begged the concierge. He insisted there was nothing then mused about a room in the servants’ quarters. “No, you wouldn’t want that.” You bet I wanted it!So for $30 a night – a basic room was probably $300 or $400 – I stayed in this monastic little room above the kitchens, with an iron bed, a phone on the wall with a big dial you had to turn to reach the operator and a basin and jug for washing. But I was at the Carlton! I met people I wouldn’t have otherwise met and I got to enjoy some of the movies. It was fantastic.
Lake District, England
1983: I was doing a cabaret in the West End and at the end of the run, theatre reviewer Diana Simmonds took me to the Lake District – home of Beatrix Potter and all that romance. We stayed in a 17th-century house with really dark beams and tiny little doorways; I’m sure it was haunted. Diana made what seemed like an incredibly exotic meal of rabbit stew with prunes. I’ve never forgotten it! You know when you go away with someone and you ask, “What are we having?” and they say, “Rabbit stew with prunes”? Excellent! The Lake District was incredible. Australians always come home and say they’ve missed the sky and the quality of the light but the light there was so soft and shimmery. You can see how it has inspired poets, writers and artists. It was late autumn – as John Keats wrote, the “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness!”
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