Sheila Hancock talks to Retiremove about her new film Edie and why she has no intention of retiring at 85
BY JANE SLADE
Sheila Hancock is quite matter of fact about getting old. “I think it’s good to keep the stairs as it means I have to keep moving,” says the actress. “At my age the more I sit around the less I can move – when I am writing I have to stand up and go for a walk otherwise I seize up.”
Ms Hancock is still working full time and just made a charming and moving film called Edie in which she plays an old woman who climbs a mountain soon after her husband dies. The theme of the film has provoked quite a reaction from her older fans. “So many people found Edie inspirational, not because it made them want to climb a mountain but do something with their lives,” she says.
In some ways Ms Hancock is not too different from the feisty character she plays in her new film, although it took her rather longer to pick up the threads of her life after the death of her second husband, the actor John Thaw.
She was so beset with grief that she wondered if she would recover. But, she did and now, 16 years later, believes that she has a duty to make something of the rest of her life.
“You have to make up your mind that you are either going to fall apart or think ‘I have a life and it is my duty to use it’,” she argues.
“I decided I wanted to construct a new life.”
Ms Hancock underwent a brutal fitness regime for her role – she really did climb the mountain in Scotland for the film! But admits her exercise routine has relapsed and she couldn’t do it now.
Instead she is looking ahead and thinking she will install a lift in her three-storey home in Hammersmith, West London if she can’t make the stairs. And if she shows signs of dementia she will check into a Quaker-run nursing home in York.
Fortunately she is walking distance from an M&S and close to the theatres and restaurants of central London which she loves.
She still travels to her home in France though, the rustic farmhouse she bought with John Thaw over 20 years ago. She drives from Marseille Airport to the tiny hamlet up in the Luberon Hills where she retreats to her simple home ‘with no pool and no central heating’ to write.
However, she realises that once she is no longer able to drive her life will have to change – quite radically. Even so she doesn’t want to be a burden to her children.
Sheila has two daughters: Melanie, from her first marriage, Joanna from her 29-year marriage to actor John Thaw, and stepdaughter Abigail Thaw.
“I don’t want to be a burden to my daughters and having nursed two husbands and my mother, which nearly killed me; I know how stressful being a carer can be.
“I’ve already thought that the top-floor room in my London house, which I use as a study, could be for a carer if I needed one.”
She loves the area of Hammersmith because it’s also near one of London’s historic pubs, The Dove, where poet James Thomson wrote Rule Britannia and Charles II romanced his mistress Nell Gwynne.
“I grew up near pubs and I like the sound of people in pubs,” she says. “But I hate music – so I always ask them to turn it off when I go in and if they don’t – I leave!”
While she can’t quite imagine moving to a small apartment she has attempted to declutter.
“Things do not mean a lot to me,” she says. Yet, she admits there is a still a room of John’s things she has not yet tackled.
“I want to do it with the girls,” she says. “I have his watch, and the paintings we bought together mean a lot and still give me great joy; I would find them hard to get rid of. The rest is for the girls.
“John and I were both from working class backgrounds with no money so buying paintings was very grown up. Then we bought a place in France which was ‘wow’.”
When John died she wrote about her marriage in her best seller The Two of Us and then wrote another book about coming to terms with widowhood in Just Me.
Ms Hancock is an inspiration. Having suffered the loss of two husbands she has proved that you can still enjoy a rich and fulfilled life – and even climb a mountain.
To buy tickets for Edie click here
An official companion booklet has been published to go with the film. Too access it click here