17 October 1993: The Mail on Sunday

Diana Rigg On Men, Marriage, Children and Being Single Again

Her fingers are rubber squeaky clean. There is not a ring to be seen , not so much as a shadow of one, to show as a memorial to her two broken marriages. Everything has been wiped away and confined to the past.

If there were tears when Diana Rigg's last husband, Scottish landowner Archie Stirling, ran off with a younger model - it was Vanessa Redgrave's beautiful daughter, Joely Richardson, who turned his head - they have long dried.

Instead, at 55, and with her career still moving towards its peak, Diana is a single mother with a teenage daughter at boarding school, and with all the emotional upsets nicely put away with all the rings.

In the good old showbusiness tradition, she has picked herself up, dusted herself down, and is busy getting on with her life.

"I'm not going to play the grieving divorcee with a tear-stained face," she says. "It's not a particularly good part, it has lousy lines and absolutely no laughs. It's also a very boring role to play.

"It would also be totally inappropriate for me, because I don't feel that way. I haven't lost faith in life or love. I'm not some sad or lonely woman. Life for me is wonderful and I wouldn't want it any other way.

"It's rather irritating when people think that, because you're single, there must be something wrong, something missing in your life. I'm actually very happy and I thank God every night."

Words filled with defiance, perhaps, but uttered with a relaxed conviction. There is no self-pity. If there was anger, that, too, has been wiped away; in its place, a new strength. Diana Rigg has that assurance and steel so admired in a man but which is seen less comfortably in a woman. She dismisses suggestions that it might have been difficult being a single parent.

"That's something that might apply when you're 23, with a six-month-old baby, but, at 55, it's a ridiculous notion. I've never felt isolated or lonely. At a party, yes, but not as a mother. When you're older, these things are easier to deal with. Besides, Rachael is 16. She makes her own decisions.

"I agree with all the talk of trying to get back to family values, but you can't legislate for it, can you? No one gets married planning to get divorced. Of course, I wanted my marriage to be for life."

She had waited until she was 38 before having Rachael. It was the perfect time, she insists. She had given 100 percent to her carreer, "so there would be no looking over my shoulder, thinking about what I was missing out on, no regrets."

She talked about having another child at the time, but dismissed it. "Somehow, one seemed enough," she recalls.

"Ten years later, much too late, I wished I'd had more children. I would have loved a larger family. When I go to other people's homes it makes me remember how much I loved family life; the chaos, noise, toys everywhere, even the smells. Having children re-opens your eyes, it makes you question everything again."

It was because of her family that she turned down what might have been the biggest break of her career. "I was offered the lead in Paint Your Wagon. The choice was to spend 18 weeks filming in Oregon or with my father, who had cancer."

She turned it down. "Of course, I said no to the role, because there are other things in life that are far more important than your career. I've never regretted that decision for one moment, because I had some wonderfully happy times with my father.

"I'd spent three months in Hollywood. I saw the way people sacrificed their family life and friendships for their career: that didn't appeal to me." Her last film, Evil Under the Sun, was some 12 years ago. Since then she has worked steadily in the theatre.

"The stage is the place for me," she says, a statement backed up by the fact that she was earning 165 a week appearing in Liverpool, while her hotel room was costing more than 40 a day.

"Television helps subsidise that sort of thing," she says.

Her most notable small screen performance came with Mother Love, for which she received a BAFTA award, playing a vengeful mother.

"That was one of the few times when I found myself taking the part home. I had to take a long shower each day to wash her off. If you're playing someone psychotic 12 hours a day, it rubs off."

The full range of Diana's work will be on show over the next month. She opens in the West End this week as Euipides' Medea, the powerful woman from Greek myth with the blood of her children on her hands.

Videos of her performances as Emma Peel in The Avengers almost 30 years ago, are to be released. Then, in early November, she will be seen at the London Film Festival in Genghis Cohn.

For all the expanse of her work, from the Royal Shakespeare Company to baring all in Abelard and Heloise, she says: "I've never really had a career plan. I've just ricocheted from one job to another."

She is still most fondly and best remembered for The Avengers. Whether it was the knee-high leather boots, the skin-tight catsuit, or the long, cool looks, she somehow seemed to embody the Sixties.

"I always found in strange that I was painted as some Sixties swinger, because I never lived up to it. I was useless with hash, because I just fell asleep. I was working too hard. I did have a number of boyfriends, and I was very comfortable with casual relationships. But, apart from that, I really don't remember it being a particularly wild time."

Nevertheless, the sensual image that she cast over those years has lived on. Her name has always been synonymous with desirability, a rare constant in the fickle world of sex appeal.

"The idea of me being a sex symbol has always made me laugh," she says, with not a hint of coquettishness. "To be a sex symbol, you have to take yourself seriously.

"I have a very low self esteem about my looks. When I was a teenager, I dressed like a middleaged woman. Even now, if someone says I look sexy, I look over my shoulder to see who they're talking to. I don't take compliments very well.

"A lot of it goes back to my childhood. I was brought up to only glance in the mirror. If my mother caught me gazing into it, she would tell me not to be so vain.

"She was a no-nonsense Yorkshire woman, who believed that children should be seen and not heard. Compliments were very thin on the ground.

"I must admit that I found the mass lust that surrounded me during and after The Avengers very hard to cope with, particularly when there was absolutely nothing about my body that I liked."

And she adds: "Even now, I seldom more than glance in the mirror. I'm ready to go out in less than ten minutes; a little bit of mascara and I'm done.

"To be honest, calling me a sex symbol at 55 is rather ridiculous. I clearly am not."

Perhaps she is right. But despite the lines she makes no effort to hide, there is no denying that she is a most striking looking woman.

Whether those scrubbed fingers will ever carry another ring remains to be seen. "Getting married is purely hypothetical as far as I'm concerned," she says. "I live for the moment."

One thing is for sure, it will be one role that she will not play out on stage for the world to see.

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