Friday, 20 March 2015

HAPPY 98TH BIRTHDAY, DAME VERA LYNN, AND SORRY ABOUT THE SOUP

Not a lot of people know that I nearly killed Dame Vera Lynn with a saucepan of soup.
Not many can say that they've washed a Dame's kitchen floor, either. Not that it wasn't spotless when I arrived.
Paul Gambaccini, producer Clare Bramley, a camera crew, a jolly make-up lady and I trekked to her home in Ditchling, Sussex, to film a television special. When came the time to make tea, I volunteered, Girl Guide-ly, to wash the cups. Just as she was digging out the Fairy from under the sink, in through the back door, smack-adjacent to the draining board, came DVL's daughter Virginia (who lives next-door) with said saucepan of soup for Mother's lunch. Startled by the flung-open door, I jumped, knocking the pan flying and its steaming contents all over everyone present. At least I caught the brunt of it. I spent the rest of the day looking as though I had vomited down myself.
Our hostess chortled like a drain, not turning a snowy hair. I understood why as I listened to her talking about trips to Burma during the Second World War, when she endured long, arduous journeys by seaplane and on foot to bring a little bit of home to our far-flung, homesick troops.
'I slept on a stretcher between two chairs,' she confided. ''There wasn't always water to drink, let alone wash with, and dinner was very often a bowl of rice with a spoonful of jam. It didn't bother me. Those were the conditions our boys were putting up with. Who was I to demand better? They were the ones who were risking their lives, not me.'
She was 93 at the time of our interview. Her face was beautiful still. She looked almost childlike. There was a most poignant moment in her bedroom, while she was dressing for the shoot, when she couldn't bend down to do up her shoes. She asked me whether I'd mind doing it. To this day I can barely believe that I knelt at the feet of, and buckled the shoes of, one of the most influential figures of the 20th Century.
Divas take note. All those backstage demands, all those far-fetched contract riders - piles of fluffy white towels, Smarties with the orange ones taken out, crates of perfectly-chilled Bollinger, yes you, Madonna - you're having a laugh. The game Dame, even then a legend and an entire nation's sweetheart, left her toddler daughter at home and suffered extreme hardship in order to entertain servicemen offering their lives in the name of liberty. Truly, there ain't nothing like a Dame.
There'll Always Be an England. We'll Meet Again. Happy 98th Birthday, dear DVL.

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