Family arrangements and constellations can sometimes take differing forms and perhaps today there is no such thing as a 'normal' family set up.

“What is normal?” I often ask people. “Do you know anyone who is normal?”

I was quite intrigued when I listened to this week’s Desert Island Discs programme on BBC Radio 4, with Oscar-winning actress Dame Judi Dench, now 80 years old, in the hot seat.   

The questions are always asked thoughtfully and sensitively by the excellent host of the programme, Kirsty Young.  Colleagues I have talked to agree with me that she would make an excellent therapist – she isn’t afraid to ask questions and she does so mostly with care and consideration.

What made me sit up in my sofa was hearing Dame Judi disclose that for about 12 years of her marriage to fellow actor Michael Williams, (he died in 2001) she and their daughter had not only Judi Dench's mother as part of their family - to live under the same roof.

An unusual arrangement, you might think, but Kirsty Young, when probing for more information about this, called it a “commendable idea”.

I am not quite sure that all married couples listening to the programme would agree with Kirsty on this one. Nevertheless, Dame Judi said it was all 'fantastically worthwhile' particularly since a 'family community' was something that she had always wanted.

They all lived outside Stratford on Avon. Dame Judi is the first to admit that 'it wasn’t easy sometimes.' She adds: “There was always something brewing – it was exciting and lively. It was a glorious time.”

She says the idea came originally from her late husband after her mother and his parents had been to visit one Easter lunch.  When all the guests had left he suggested the idea to Dame Judi and then it fell into place.  Michael said: “It would be rather wonderful to have everyone together…”

At one point Dame Judi admitted that she wanted to give up her acting career in order to 'be a proper mother' and be around, but she didn’t.  Daughter Tara, is also an actress known as Finty Williams.

Yet Dame Judi and Michael managed both their careers and their marriage - which both turned out to be successful.

“It was rare – I don’t know how we negotiated it.  But lucky and remarkable things happened,” Dame Judi explains.  She started her acting career at the Old Vic Theatre, near London’s Waterloo station and went on to win countless Baftas and other awards.

Perhaps if a Bafta or an Oscar existed for being a good mother and a successful spouse, Dame Judi would be among the first recipients of such an award.

Nevertheless, she admits that she has, over the years, had some wonderfully close and helpful friends and she tells Kirsty Young that after he husband died she worked continuously to help her get over her bereavement.

She names people like Kevin Spacey, Richard Eyre and Jim Broadbent as some of those who stood by her and were supportive of her during some difficult times.


 

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