01 July 1979: News of the World

"I'm repulsive on screen," says Diana Rigg.

Her body is long and slender. She has classic features and a luscious mouth. But Diana Rigg hates the sight of herself on screen.

She says: "I think I'm physically absolutely repulsive on film.

"I always think of myself in terms of intellect and emotion. They physical part of me is just a biological necessity.

"I think my fingerprint would be more interesting to me than a photograph of myself."

Diana rocketed to stardom almost overnight with her glamorous all-action role as the karate-chopping Mrs. Emma Peel in ITV's The Avengers.

She became one of James Bond's birds, but found fame distasteful and turned to the stage where she has become one of Britain's top actresses.

Diana has been the toast of the West End for her performances in the smash-hit play Night and Day, which has been running at the Phoenix Theatre since last November. Director Peter Wood says: "She can stand downstage and say nothing, but there's such an intensity about her the whole theatre falls silent."

And Douglas Fairbanks Jnr adds: "Anyone who doesn't find her devastatingly attractive must be an Outer Mongolian monk."

But Diana, 40, has paid a heavy price for the love of acting. Every night on stage at the Phoenix was in great pain with a pinched nerve in her back.

Before the play opened, doctors told her: "Choose between an operation or spending six months on your back."

She chose a hard day's night and relied on pain-****** drugs.

Diana was finally forced to quit the play. But she returned two weeks later, still in pain.

Wood says: "She would rather have the pain than not act. That's why she is who she is."

The men in Diana's love life has been as varied as her stage and screen roles.

She lived with director Philip Saville for eight years and then had a short-lived marriage in 1973 to Israeli artist Menachem Gueffen.

During their tempestuous relationship Diana once threatened to leave him after a quarrel at three o'clock in the morning.

As she started downstairs with her luggage, Gueffen said: "No, let me do it."

Then he picked up the cases, walked over to the window, held them out and let them drop seven floors to the street below.

Diana recalls: "I was absolutely amazed. Most of my shoes lost their heels when the cases hit the concrete."

The next morning, as they flew over the Greek island of Rhodes, on their way back to London, Gueffen showed Diana where the Israelis made peace with the Arabs, after the 1948 war.

There was a brief silence and Diana said: "Let's make peace too."

Then she asked Gueffen if his judgment was as good at 35,000ft as it was at sea level.

"Yes, why?" he answered. Diana replied: "Will you marry me?"

She became his fourth wife. Within a few months it was over, and Diana says: "Reviewing it is not particularly pleasurable for me."

Now she has settled down with businessman Archie Stirling, 37, the father of their two-year-old daughter, Rachael. But Diana is wary of marrying again.

"You are sort of chary the second time around - I suppose because I failed," she says.

Diana, daughter of a colonial official on the Imperial railways in India, was born in the Yorkshire mining town of Doncaster.

After spending eight years of her childhood in Jodhpur she returned to England and even then wanted to be an actress.

But she says: "In those days in Yorkshire, an actress was only one step up really from being a prostitute."

At 17 she was accepted by the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, where she had Glenda Jackson and Susannah York as classmates.

She studied hard and was never short of boyfriends.

Diana dated young military officers and her brother's friends in the R.A.F.

"I went through the armed forces in about three months," she jokes.

She got small parts for a small salary. Her biggest problem was not stage fright but high spirits.

Once a leading lady, Leslie Canon, told her acidly: "Think of something sad. Think of being fired."

By the mid-sixties she was restless and switched to television and The Avengers. It was her first big break.

Diana says: "Suddenly there were photographs of me everywhere. It was a shock and I feel very sympathetic towards anyone who has to go through it."

The series taught her a different kind of acting, in which speed at mastering up to 60 pages is dialogue is all important.

"You've got to be positive and slick," she says. "In the theatre you've got time to reach the depths."

Between The Avengers and an American TV series that flopped, Diana tried movies - all of them interesting, none of them milestones.

She made Theatre of Blood with Vincent Price, On Her Majesty's Secret Service with George Lazenby as 007, and The Hospital with George C. Scott. But Diana preferred live audiences. She says: "I find it more difficult to divulge to a machine. The camera doesn't draw out of me what people draw out."

She keeps no tapes of her ventures on screen and winced when she saw an Avengers rerun in New York recently.

"It was like an early Joan Crawford movie, it had dated so fast," she says.

Diana went back to straight acting as a member of the National Theatre in 1972. Her Lady Macbeth was venomous, it was also fun.

During rehearsal actor Denis Quilley, playing Macbeth, was directed to put his hand inside her bodice.

He recalls: "I had my hand down, fondling her bosom - as I was required to be doing, let me hasten to add - and Diana was murmuring: "Up a bit, left a bit, down a bit. Golden shot!""

Diana has now finished her run at the Phoenix Theatre and her role has been taken over by Oscar winning actress Maggie Smith.

She plans to rest for six months, writing a book about the stage and nursing herself back to health.

During the past eight months she has been going to bed in the early hours and getting up at 7 a.m. to see her daughter.

By 6:30 every night she had bathed Rachael, put her bed and sped off to the theatre.

She says: "I couldn't be starting at a lower ebb. And yet nightly this incredible thing happens to me.

"One looks a bit pale and tousled and tired, and in the space of half an hour, a glass of champagne, making up, talking to people, the adrenalin flows.

'Thank God it happens. I just look at my face in the mirror sometimes and marvel. I don't know where the energy comes from."

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