It is hard to believe that Judi Dench turned 86 earlier this month. Appearing by Zoom video call (what else?) on a Q&A session to raise money for theatrical charity Acting for Others, she looks a good ten, maybe 15, years younger.
As talk comes round to the identity of the best on-screen or stage kisser she’s ever encountered, she sounds it, too.
“Hmm,” she muses. “Well, there have been some good ones — although not that many on-screen kisses, mostly stage. I’ll say Daniel Massey. He was a very good kisser!”
Judi and Daniel appeared on stage together in 1985. That’s 35 years ago — a long time for a “professional” lip-smacker to be remembered. Equally memorable — although for very different reasons — is the “kiss of life” she bestowed on the family goldfish some years ago!
“My grandson Sam won the fish at a fair 17 years ago,” Judi says. “It was tiny and one day, not long after we had it, I saw it floating on top of the water in the fish bowl. I thought, ‘Oh, dear!’ and went to empty the bowl. As I did so, I saw the fish’s tail moving slightly. I picked up, gently blew into its mouth and it survived! It had been called Scooby-Doo but was quickly renamed Lazarus. It went on to grow to six inches long and only died last year! So my advice is, ‘Never hesitate to blow into your goldfish’s mouth!’”
While on the subject of bringing things back to life, Judi stars as eccentric mystic Madame Arcati in the beautifully filmed remake of Noël Coward’s iconic comedy, Blithe Spirit. In the film she resurrects Elvira, the glamorous but infuriating first wife of writer Charles Condomine, played by Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens. Judi had a high old time making the movie — literally.
Speaking recently she said: “Madame Arcati certainly believes in herself and her powers, though she exaggerates one thing – that she can fly. She tries to fool an audience in the theatre. She’s supposed to be levitating. I was whisked around on pulleys in Richmond Theatre for filming. I felt like a Marvel superhero.”
When it comes to supernatural powers, Judi says she’d like to be able to time travel.
“I would love to go back to see what London was like in Shakespeare’s time. Also, what it was like after The Fire of London. Actually, if you had a time machine the choice would be endless. Just where would you start?”
Judi’s career spans more than 60 years. Her first professional stage performance was in September 1957 at the Royal Court Theatre in Liverpool, playing Ophelia in Hamlet but her first ever time treading the boards came almost 20 years earlier. “I was very small and at primary school,” she recalls. “A group of us were reciting the rhyme ‘Four and twenty tailors went to kill a snail’. I was the snail and my father had made the most incredible shell for me. I had to creep onto the stage, raise my head and then the others would run on.
“My parents were in the audience and I got on stage and stood up. All I can remember is the headmistress saying, ‘Judith! Get down!’ That was my first telling-off on stage!”
But it didn’t stop her in her tracks, or from having fun. As all of Judi’s co-stars will attest, she is an inveterate giggler, both on stage and set.
“I have a reputation for behaving quite badly,” she admits. “I don’t do it so much now, but I used to. I have played jokes on people, you know, very, very subtly, so the audience can’t see. I find it irresistible.”
But then laughter is very much part of Judi’s “raison d’etre”.
Back in March during the first lockdown, she appeared on Youtube wearing bunny ears and advising us to, “Just keep laughing — that’s all we can do.”
Well said, Dame Judi, and here’s to a much better 2021 for the arts world and all of us.
This article originally appeared on our sister site, Yours Magazine.