If you see Sheila Hancock out and about, a small bow wouldn’t go amiss. For the ever-popular actor and author is now a Dame.
Elevated in the recent New Year Honours for her services to the arts and charity work, the Hammersmith resident admits she’s finding it slightly hard to adjust to the title.
“It just doesn’t happen to people like me,” she said. “I’ve never felt myself this sort of person. I feel I may be lowering the tone! I feel slightly miscast, let’s put it that way.”
Return to Hammersmith
Nearing 88, this publican’s daughter – who recently moved back to H&F after living further along King Street in Chiswick – has been made Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire for her services to drama and charity.
She is a patron and supporter of the London HIV charity The Food Chain, a past winner of The Queen’s award for volunteer organisation of the year, and is also on the board of St Christopher’s Hospice in south east London.
A film maker, Radio 2 DJ and panellist (she was on Just A Minute for nearly half a century, and delighted TV viewers as one of the Grumpy Old Woman), she branched out into writing in 2014 with publication of her debut novel, Miss Carter’s War, charting the social upheaval of the post-war decades through the eyes of a teacher.
She had already written about her life with John Thaw, and about the challenges of coping after his death. She still has 20 box files of letters at home, written by people inspired and comforted by her words on bereavement.
She has a huge affection for W6, having set down her roots in Hammersmith… thanks to the nagging of her window cleaner!
“Hammersmith Council gave me my first mortgage,” she said, proudly. “I was living in a basement flat in St Peter’s Square with my first daughter, hanging the nappies up to dry, and Charlie Jackson, the window cleaner, knocked at my window and said a house nearby in Black Lion Lane was coming up for sale. He said I should buy it.
“I didn’t know what a mortgage was, but Charlie took me along to the council and I got a mortgage and a building grant too, as it had an outside loo. I owe everything to dear Charlie; he got me on the housing ladder.
“I paid £3,000 for the house, and eventually paid off the mortgage. We sold it at a profit, and I was off! I love the river, and the diversity of the area, and the fact that we have every single ethnic restaurant you can find.”
Links to the Lyric
Dame Sheila performed many times at the Lyric, Hammersmith, where her daughter then worked as a drama therapist, completing a neat family circle.
“I did several shows at the Lyric, including One To Another, with Beryl Reid, which had sketches by people like NF Simpson and Harold Pinter, who I’d done rep with,” she said.
Other Lyric performances down the years have included Prin (1989), The Way of the World (1992) and Then Again (1997), while she also directed The Soldier’s Fortune in Hammersmith in 1981.
Dame Sheila says she is still ‘endlessly curious’, adding: “If people ask me to do something I’ve never done before, I tend to do it.”
Having already taken part in BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing, she will shortly be seen in the Sky television series A Discovery of Witches.
She’s an urban fox at heart, despite (in normal times) spending part of the year living in a tiny hamlet in rural France. “I have to have London,” she said. “If I had to choose, I’d always live in London; it’s so full of surprises. I walk a lot, and I’m always finding something new.”
Don’t be alarmed if Dame Sheila gives you an intent stare if you happen to spot her in Ravenscourt Park. “I am an actor and I’m used to portraying people who are not like me,” she said. “As an actor I’m always looking at people!”
Former White City pupil honoured for musical success
A former pupil of Burlington Grammar School for Girls (now Burlington Danes Academy in White City) has been recognised in The Queen’s New Year Honours list with one of the highest-ranking awards.
Wasfi Kani, 64, was handed the CBE – or Commander of the Order of the British Empire – medal in the latest honours for her services to music.
Born in 1956 to parents who had fled India at Partition to take refuge in the UK, the family moved to west London and Wasfi attended Burlington Grammar School for Girls, where she excelled at music.
The talented violinist played for the National Youth Orchestra and went on to study music at St Hilda’s College, Oxford, before launching Grange Park Opera company in 1997.
The keen musician went on to create Theatre in the Woods, a 700-seat opera house in West Horsley, Surrey, which is the UK’s first new opera house to be built in the 21st century.
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