DAME MAUREEN LIPMAN: I kept biggest secret of my life for two months
DAME MAUREEN LIPMAN: How I kept the biggest secret of my life for two painful months (Well, apart from letting it slip to my children, yoga teacher, her husband – and my favourite dress designer)
Frankly, I’m just so relieved it’s out and I can come out of the closet with my damehood aloft.
I’ve been nursing the secret under pain of disqualification for a couple of months and my performance of discretion has not been the finest of my 53 years on the boards.
My agent, Michelle, first told me the tidings. I relayed the news by letters to my two kids, with the headings altered to Dame.
It was mid-lockdown and Adam’s letter arrived but his sister Amy’s went missing – causing panic from me and sibling rivalry from her.
Frankly, I’m just so relieved it’s out and I can come out of the closet with my damehood aloft writes Dame Maureen Lipman (pictured)
It took two weeks for her letter to travel from Paddington the few miles to Hampstead, North-West London. I might as well have Sellotaped it to the dog.
Then I held my lips together through several weeks of filming Coronation Street, only letting the news slip once, to my yoga teacher, Bay, and her BBC clarinettist husband, over an alfresco Wagamama in the Media City piazza in Salford.
Just because the night was balmy and I’d had a few.
I screamed. They screamed. We all screamed. I swore them to secrecy on penalty of four broken wrists.
The very next day, I sent a nervous text to designer Tomasz Starzewski, who had dressed me, beautifully, in grey and white linen for my last visit to Buckingham Palace, some 20 years ago:
My late mother Zelma was with me on that day, I mused sadly, in houndstooth check and a hat, beaming through every second.
She did take issue with the Palace exit though, as she had to pick her way gingerly down a few steps into the courtyard.
I’ve been nursing the secret under pain of disqualification for a couple of months and my performance of discretion has not been the finest of my 53 years on the boards
And for the rest of the evening, I could hear her, phoning (pronounced ‘ferning’ in our native Hull-speak) from my Muswell Hill kitchen, to expectant friends back home.
‘Hello, Helen. Yes, we’ve been to the Palace. Lovely. Yes, she looked marvellous… only we never got a cup of tea! You can’t believe it, can you?’
‘Hello, Minnie. You’ll never guess, there was no banister coming down the steps… no, and we never got a cup of tea!’
‘Hello, Ruby. Can you believe it, you had to hold on to the wall coz there was no banister down the steps…?’
I told Tomasz: ‘Mum’s the word but… er… I might need something again – er… similar…ish for… er another… er… similar… thing…’ I told him the reason. He was discreetly delighted. ‘So, same again please,’ I whispered. ‘No mutton. No lamb.’
Afterwards, I spent many midnight hours on my iPad, taking coals to Newcastle, ie, designing suitable suits for myself.
They all looked as though the multiple-Oscar-winning dress designer Edith Head had just heard that Joan Crawford had been reincarnated and was back at Twentieth Century Fox needing help.
Then the thought struck me that, actually, I will only need a top because it’s bound to be a Zoom investiture, isn’t it?
Her Majesty dubbing me Dame from Windsor to a near-invisible picture of me, raising a double brandy from the studio set of the Rovers Return.
Beneath the table I could quite happily be wearing rumpled trackie bottoms and a pair of crumpled Uggs!
Boris Johnson’s Covid warnings had made me too nervous to book a hair appointment, so once again my assistant Nats sat me down on a stool and cut me a first-rate bob for the price of a cup of PG Tips and a slice of malt loaf instead of a hundred quid and a tip. Sorted.
Sleep went awry. I was popping Nytol in a way not exactly recommended on the side of the box.
One online page about insomnia suggested putting a bar of soap in my bed. Like I didn’t have enough soap in my life already… YES, of course I tried it… Nope, it didn’t work.
Meanwhile, listening to countless podcasts during the night made me over-familiar with the loony, lunar phases of American politics and the werewolf that is their President of Law and Ordure.
My late mother Zelma was with me on that day, I mused sadly, in houndstooth check and a hat, beaming through every second (pictured together)
At 4am I wrote a sardonic email to The Times letters page, suggesting Trump was fabricating his Covid diagnosis just to divert the circus from his absurdly small £750 tax bill.
The following morning I had a cryptic text from veteran showbiz agent Barry Burnett asking ‘Is it true?’, and I knew the black cat was out of the designer bag.
Social media had triumphed over social distancing and my fellow new dame, Mary Berry, and I had been outed – her for cake and me for what… Coronation chicken?
If I sound flippant, it is because I am over-excited. I don’t want to be pompous about what this honour means to me, but my father’s father came from Kovna in Russian Lithuania at the turn of the last century.
I don’t know whether he was fleeing a pogrom or was an economic migrant, or if he thought he was landing in New York and found himself in Hull, because I never knew him and no one ever asked.
Nor did I know my enchantingly dapper great-grandfather, who arrived half a century earlier and made shoes on Hull’s Hessle Road.
All I do know is that a generation later, their granddaughter had been given a full grant by Hull City Council to study drama at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, and today, 53 years later, Her Majesty thinks I have contributed enough to this country to be a Dame of the British Empire.
Then I held my lips together through several weeks of filming Coronation Street (pictured), only letting the news slip once, to my yoga teacher, Bay, and her BBC clarinettist husband
I’m English, from my crown to my toenails, but I do think this is an immigrant story and I’m optimistic enough to believe that immigrants should be kindly welcomed as bringers of good.
It is my honest hope that I can use this accolade to bring some light to illuminate the causes I champion and to keep my light-entertainment antennae alert for any help needed during Love In A Time Of Covid.
Meanwhile, my phone has been pinging like a lift in a 26-level tower block, saluting the good news from Aix to Ghent to Paddington.
School friends have reminded me that I made them fail biology because they were laughing so much; a headmistress from a school I never attended was proud of me; knights and dames – McKellen (Sir Ian), Nunn (Sir Trevor) and Plowright (Dame Joan) – gave me pats on my virtual back; and a beautiful bouquet of flowers arrived at 8.30pm accompanied by a young man shouting; ‘Flowers for Dam Maureen Lipton.’
Driving back to London yesterday through a deluge on the M1, I remembered the agony aunt of the Daily Mirror, the late Marje Proops, inviting me to lunch in London’s Soho in the 1980s.
I was playing an agony aunt myself in London Weekend’s comedy Agony and she wanted to do a profile on me.
I remember her remarking in the piece that ‘as Miss Lipman got out of a taxi, I noted that she has a small head but quite a broad-ish beam’.
I’m thinking perhaps that though lockdown has done nothing to help my beam, my Birthday Honour may have done something to big-up my head.
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