11 February 1984: Daily Star

The Golden Age of Diana

Dick Turpin used to pop in to Stamford's famous George Inn to quaff the odd flagon of ale.

The Duke of Cumberland popped in to celebrate sorting out the Scots at Culloden, in 1745.

But I bet neither of them ever created the sort of stir in the York Bar that greeted the arrival of that elegant actress Diana Rigg.

With her crisp white blouse, tight black trousers and stylish manner, dishy Diana's appearance spilt drinks all over the place.

She is on location at stately Burghley House, in Lincolnshire, working on the show that signals her return to regular television - two decades after she found international stardom as the leather-clad Emma Peel in The Avengers.

And it's certainly a very different Diana - decked out in corsets and crinolines - in a new BBC adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic Bleak House, which will be screened in October.

After a hard day portraying the formidable Lady Dedlock, Diana lowers herself slowly into an armchair and orders a glass of red wine.

And with that famous fierce independence shining brightly in her deep brown eyes, she looks a good 10 years younger than the 45 she certainly is.

For Diana is clearly enjoying a new Golden Age on screen and off.

Her chequered, and once unhappy, private life has been transformed... by marriage, motherhood and maturity.

And as the flames flicker in the gaunt fireplace of the ancient oak-paneled bar, she confides, "This is a very happy time for me.

"My daughter Rachael is six now... and she's my best production ever. Impossible to follow.

"But before she was born I had no maternal feelings at all.

"I was very surprised when it all came tumbling out, as it were. I'm not one of those mothers who love babies.

"I loved Rachael. But I found those early days very boring - all sandpits and parks.

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

The other major reason why Diana is so much more happy and content these days, is her marriage to businessman Archie Stirling.

They met at a dinner party, following the break-up of Diana's disastrous and short-lived first marriage Israeli artist Menachem Gueffen.

Diana admits: "Once you've been through an experience like that, it takes you a long time recover. You are very chary of getting married again."

So she and Archie lived together for seven years before finally tying the knot.

Diana recalls: "I said yes the very first time he proposed. We were married in New York City Hall, on a quickie licence costing 2.75.

My best friend fainted, and the paramedics arrived with screaming sirens and took her away.

"But I don't really think it was the shock of me marrying. We had to climb an awful lot of stairs, too."

Diana, Archie and Rachael now divide their time between homes in London and Scotland where Diana has become well and truly hooked on salmon fishing.

"We have our own stretch of river on our place in Stirling," she explains. "And I just love it - standing out there with my waders right up to my thighs.

"I love the times up there, with just the family.

"It's so peaceful when we're up in Scotland. They just treat me as a local housewife."

All this domesticity is certainly a far cry from the days when the Avengers shot Diana to international stardom - as a fantasy sex symbol.

Diana recalls: "I used to get lots of very strange letters, mainly from very young boys.

"My mother used to write back to them and say: 'My daughter is far too old for you. Take a run round the block.'"

She also won the adoration of an even less likely group... when an American homosexual organisation presented her with a scroll for being the woman "they would most likely go straight for."

Diana giggles at the memory: "I'm afraid I've lost it since," she says. "But it WAS a nice compliment."

When Bleak House begins in the autumn, Diana can confidently look forward to a lot more compliments.

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