No Room For Secrets

By Joanna Lumley

A while ago I came across one of those things one is forever seeing on the internet; a suggestion that by listing the people (real or fictional) that you admire, you might gain some insight into what is important to you, and how you would like to be.

I was surprised at how many I could list, and among them was Joanna Lumley. As she is almost 10 years older than me, perhaps I could use her as a role model? I like how she is slim and well-kept, and yet not afraid to be seen without her make-up and hair-do. She is nicely spoken and polite, has enthusiasm and a sense of humour, believes strongly in certain things and is not afraid to stand up and be counted. Her TV programme about a trip to see the Northern Lights is excellent.

But beyond that, I wondered how much I really know about JL, and so I borrowed this book from the library. In it she uses a tour of her London home, with its many rooms full of art and memorabilia, to recount her background and life story, and to share her interests.

From a rather exotic background, with grandparents and parents moving around India and the far East, she went to boarding school in England from about 11. Travel is important to her, it seems to hold no fear or anxiety. Her tips on packing for a trip are something that everyone should know – quite minimalist! We learn a lot about her experiences at school, which she enjoyed, and her days as a penniless model and single parent, not through stories of hardship and woe, it was just the way things were.

I learned a lot about JL that I didn’t know before. Her home must be extremely cluttered; no hint of minimalism there. Every room is full of items handed down from her grandparents or parents, given by friends or relatives; things brought back from her extensive travels; pictures and photos of places she’s been; diaries from every stage of her life. The woman never seems to discard anything! Everywhere she looks she encounters memories.

DIY came as a bit of a surprise to me. Curtains she made herself, floorboards she mended, walls painted, tiles grouted. All highly imperfect (as described) but she doesn’t seem to mind. Second home in Scotland sounds idyllic too. And the garden, similarly haphazard and crammed with plants, including fruit and vegetables and a fishpond.

Diet – weight loss is touched on. Several old-style model diets are described, such as the toast diet! JL says one way is to eat only really bland food so you don’t particularly enjoy it and so you don’t eat so much. Sounds dull to me. She is a vegetarian, and is quite insistent on the evils of modern farming, but with several misunderstandings about the way agriculture works. For example, the price of outdoor-reared pork is too expensive, so no wonder people buy imported meat. No hint of understanding of the cost of rearing animals and the need for the farmer to make a living, nor of the possibility that the foreign farmers might be more heavily subsidised than we are. No discussion about the relative levels of animal welfare required by law in different countries. On balance I am not in agreement with her on food matters, but neither am I so slim and healthy-looking, so who is the winner?

On manners, she admits to being “old-fashioned”, preferring gently courtesy and good manners, and not liking modern ways, the way people always want to know such personal things about others. I’m with her on that.

On balance, I think I still admire Joanna Lumley. With her background, I could never be like her, and I’m not at all convinced by her vegetarianism and sentimentality about animals. But I suppose everyone is allowed a few blind spots here and there.

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