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11 February 1984: Daily Express

Diana's Strait-Laced Comeback

It seemed fitting that Diana Rigg's television comeback should be in crinolines and lace amid the polished mahogany and porcelain of Bleak House.

She has chosen the Charles Dickens classic to be serialised by BBC in eight parts this autumn as the re-entry to our screens nearly 20 years after her explosive performances as leather clad, high kicking Emma Peel in The Avengers.

"I don't regret a thing about that old image," she reflected, during filming in Stamford, Lines. "It was marvellous for me and even when I watch the repeats the series has not dated much.

"But the years have gone on with enormous changes in my life and attitudes. Bleak House seems to match them perfectly."

And Diana, whose private feelings are usually as trussed up as the corsets she wears for her part as Lady Dedlock, talked openly of early insecurities.

"I used to be tongue-tied and awkward every time I met someone of the opposite sex.

"Everyone was saying that I was out on the town with various men, but nine out of ten were simply friends and it never went any further than that."

Today she lives happily with between homes in London and Scotland with businessman husband Archie Stirling and six-year-old daughter Rachael, who was born when Rachael was 38.

She blames her private girls school in Leeds for earlier attitudes. "Boyfriends were actively discouraged," she said.

"I still cannot understand why girls should be made to look like boys from the waist up, as we were, and be strictly regimented.

"The result was that I had no boyfriends while I was at school and the indoctrination affected me even after I left.

"During my time at drama school - where relationships were free and easy - I still never had a boyfriend.

"In fact, none of my love affairs after that really worked out."

Those included a short-lived marriage to Israeli artist Menachem Gueffen. "It was a disaster," said Diana. "Once you have had one marriage like that, it takes a long time to recover."

She was 35 when she met archie at a private dinner party. "Something special clicked and, very slowly, I was drawn into a real relationship at last.

"We lived together but even then I was desperately reluctant to commit myself to marriage again.

"Yet when Archie proposed for the first time (when daughter Rachael was four) I said 'Yes' and we were married right away," she smiled.

They took out an instant 2.75 marriage licence in New York city hall. "My best friend was so shocked she fainted," said Diana. "The paramedics arrived with sirens screaming and she was carried out."

On Rachael she said: "She was my best production ever. But before she was born I had no maternal feelings at all.

"I was very surprised when those feelings came tumbling out, because I am not the sort of mother who loves babies.

"I love Rachael, of course, but I found the early days deeply boring - all sandpits and parks.

"Now, as she is growing and learning all the time, it's wonderful being a mother."

Of her former Avengers co-star Patrick Macnee, who now lives in Palm Springs, Diana says: "We remain close friends and talk regularly on the telephone.

"He has had some unhappy phases and I have helped nurse him through them, particularly when his second marriage broke up.

"But he looks marvellous now and has never been happier."

For Diana - who is fond of salmon fishing in her private river in Scotland during time off - these are also happy times.

I take parts I consider are best for me," she said.

"It is the same with Bleak House - it's great to be working back in British television."


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