On Monday the 18th and Tuesday the 19th of June 2018, I spent two days in a London recording studio with my all-time favourite actress, the magnificent Fenella Fielding OBE. She starred in one of my favourite films, Carry On Screaming, and now she was going to narrate my Christmas book, Angel Bright.
Sometimes the seemingly unattainable is actually quite simple. In my mind I had always imagined Fenella's voice narrating the story but I couldn't see how it was possible to ever have her reading it until a friend of mine said 'Why don't you just ask her?'.
A quick google and I saw that she was busy reading her recently released memoirs (Do you mind if I smoke?) at various venues around London, I booked a ticket and a couple of weeks later I was at the Cinema Museum in Lambeth (once an old workhouse where Charlie Chaplin spent a traumatic part of his life) watching the great lady herself from the front row of a packed auditorium.
She held the audience in the palm of her hand as she regaled them with stories from her childhood to present day, her wit and intelligence was sharp and she still had a sparkle in her eye and with a couple of very well chosen and unexpected swear words she brought the house down.
At the end of the evening she was incredibly busy signing copies of her book and so I spoke to the organiser of the event and asked if she might consider narrating my story, he suggested I send a copy for her to read and take it from there.
Two weeks later I got an email 'She loves it and can't wait to do it'.
Fist things first, I now had to get the money together to pay her fee, the hire of the recording studio, editing time, reproduction costs for a double cd and cover artwork as soon as possible!
I set about creating as many paintings as I could, I also had a number unsold in the studio and now I needed to sell them. I hired a local arts centre for four Saturday afternoon's over a period of eight months and advertised them as 'affordable art', and eventually sold the majority of them for almost the exact amount I needed.
Then came the first day of the recording sessions.
When she came into the studio on the first morning she seemed tiny and frail, but at aged almost 91 years old, she looked fabulous and still had more energy and spirit than most people half her age, and there was still that mischievous twinkle in her eye. I was completely awe-struck meeting her so I just gave her a quick hug, but truth be told I almost bowed! Once she was seated in front of the microphone there was an extraordinary moment when she spoke, and one of the most recognisable voices on the planet said, 'are we ready darling?'. This was going to be amazing. I wanted to give her a gift so I asked her good friend Simon what she might like, he suggested a mug and that she liked cats, tigers, spots and stripes so I designed a mug for her, she'd recently been awarded the OBE (Order of the British Empire) for her services to acting and charity so the image I had printed on the mug was a tiger looking at a black cat and the cat was saying 'I've got an OBE', thankfully she loved it.
We shared two days of laughs and fascinating stories, among other things I chatted to her about was the children's series from the 1990's called Uncle Jack, in which she played the evil villainess The Vixen, I mentioned the beautifully exquisite but very eccentric costumes she wore that were perfect for the character, her reply was 'Really darling, eccentric? they let us wear our own clothes.' !
I still feel honoured to have worked with such an incredible talent, a cult British acting icon and an intelligent, funny and remarkable lady.
Sadly she passed away on the 11th of September after suffering a severe stroke two weeks earlier.
Angel Bright was her final project.
Thank you Fenella x