Hermione Eyre

Richard E. Grant’s tribute to his wife leaves us shattered for his loss

In a heartbreaking memoir he recalls their long, happy marriage – and the jokes and banter they still kept up during her terminal illness

Richard E. Grant and his wife Joan at a book launch in 2008. [Alamy]

Richard E. Grant pulls off a feat here. The title is twee but the content isn’t. With unselfpitying dash the actor-writer recounts caring for his wife, the dialect coach Joan Washington, through lung cancer last year (‘Living grief. Raw. Savage.’). He thoughtfully interleaves the heartbreak with glitzy showbiz recollections which help keep our peckers up, so we ricochet through time, from the Golden Globes to the Royal Marsden, from sedative injections to Star Wars. It’s an unusual structure, but it works – so, to use one of the author’s expressions, ‘Why bloody notsky?’

Grant’s daily diary-keeping is what makes the book. The quotes are verbatim, the chronology precise and studded with the details one otherwise forgets, or blanks out: Joan, very unwell, speaking German out of the blue; or the shock when the nurse delivering an intravenous radiation drug asks them to ‘lie still and not talk’ for an hour. What? ‘Yakety-yakking is the modus operandi of our marriage.’ They gaze at each other for a bit instead, then get the giggles.

Nigella Lawson sends over taxis bearing Tuscan bean soup, risottos and cakes. Rupert Everett brings home-grown flowers and freshly laid eggs. Cate Blanchett, gardenias. Carole Bamford, a giant, white-flowered crucifix at the end. Gabriel Byrne helps lug a rented hospital bed up the stairs. Lynda La Plante arrives full of good cheer and malapropisms, looking around their house packed with objets they’ve collected at antiques markets over the years and saying: ‘You must have this house recorded on film, for prosperity!’

Their love letters are ecstatic: ‘Mirror, mirror on the wall, we are the luckiest of them all’

The King, then Prince of Wales, became a friend after asking them to Highgrove 20 years earlier, and visits bringing a bag of mangoes and a bunch of sweetly scented roses from his garden.

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