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Absolutely Fabulous’ Joanna Lumley reveals her greatest regret with son Jamie

Life has only gotten better with age for Joanna Lumley, but in a revealing conversation with The Australian Women’s Weekly, she confides that she still has one regret that burns her to this day.
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When The Australian Women’s Weekly sat down with the luminous Joanna Lumley, the greeting the actress offered was everything you could hope for from one of the doyens of British entertainment.

Joanna leapt to her feet, pulled the journalist to her bosom and purred: “Darling, let’s really enjoy this chat, shall we?”

What followed was an intimate and revealing conversation about depression, family and why Joanna believes happiness increases with age.

“I was a happy child who became a fearful young woman and the older I’ve become I’ve returned to that spirit of the child I was who was happy and always on the move,” Joanna told The Weekly.

“Age is my friend.”

Joanna spoke in detail about her son, her marriage, a breakdown in 1971 that saw her retreat to her parents’ home in Kent, and how she overcome her fears.

Joanna regrets a decision she made over her son’s upbringing. (Image: Getty)

Once a scared young single mother who was turned away from the welfare office because she sounded too posh, Joanna is now an entertainment industry icon and good friend of Prince Charles’, who, she says, “will make a very good King.”

It’s hard to imagine Joanna 72, a two-time host of the BAFTAs, as anything other than the graceful force we know her to be.

But, as she tells The Weekly, her 20s, 30s and even her 40s were “ruled by fear”.

“Before Ab fab my career was either up or down and I had no way of having any sort of control over any of it. I learned to live on very little and be grateful when any money came in,” Joanna says.

At the tender age of 21 she became pregnant. She defied convention and raised her son, Jamie, as a single mother in a time when such a thing was unheard of.

“I had to cope,” she says.

With the support of her parents she was back at work within a couple of months of giving birth. Despite being in constant demand as a model she had very little money because the work paid so poorly.

“I worried all the time about money, work and what was going to happen to me,” she said. “It was fear. Pure fear. I lived under the cloud of it for decades.”

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And yet, she was determined to get by for the sake of her son.

“When I heard you could get child benefits, I went down to the offices but as soon as I opened my mouth I was told: ‘This isn’t for the likes of you.’ They assumed because of my voice I was wealthy. I was mortified. I’d felt embarrassed to ask in the first place and I just slunk away home, I’ve always felt it was up to me.”

“I never claimed any benefits, never looked to anyone else for money. I’ve always felt a shame in that, I’ve always felt it’s up to me to stand on my own two feet and if that meant eating toast and Marmite then that was it.”

Joanna was briefly married in 1970 to actor and TV writer Jeremy Lloyd but it wasn’t until she was 40 that she found the true love of her life.

She and conductor Stephen Barlow have been married 32 years, and spend their happiest days in their “tiny basic shepherd’s cottage” in a remote part of Scotland.

The secret to the success of their union, she says, is the fact that Stephen is used to her and her ways, and is perfectly content to go without “scratchy, patchy” mobile phone calls while Joanna is off working in far-flung parts of the planet.

Joanna was one of the top 10 successful models of her time. (Image: Getty)

As she reflects on a life that has gotten better with age, Joanna admits that there is one regret that “burns” her still, and that relates to a period of separation from her son.

When Joanna was cast as Purdy in The New Avengers she sent Jamie, then nine, to boarding school, but promised that if he hated it he could come home. Jamie wrote to his mother begging her to come and get him, but for some reason the letter never reached her.

“That knowledge of that burns me to this day,” Joanna says. “I love my son. He’s the pure gold in my life and to think he was miserable and believed I hadn’t fulfilled my promise. It just cuts me to the core.”

This incident aside, Joanna and Jamie remain close, and Jamie is proud of his mother.

“I am the champion of the second-raters,” Joanna says. “I’m an example of someone who was always overlooked and underrated and who got there in the end because I had to learn so many lessons along the way. The biggest lesson was to learn that you always have to keep on trying. Never give up.”

To read the full interview, pick up a copy of the latest issue of The Australian Women’s Weekly. On sale now.

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