In yesterday’s Mail on Sunday, Richard E. Grant recalled the kindness shown by Charles and Camilla to his wife after her devastating cancer diagnosis. Today, he remembers her pride in his first Oscar nomination, and how he has come to terms with life after loss.
Our car glides into Claridge’s hotel for the European press junket for my movie Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Oddly exotic feeling staying in a fabulous hotel on your home turf. My wife Joan joins me for dinner and a Claridge’s sleepover, and holds my face in both her hands and says, ‘I’m very proud of you, Swaz! You deserve it all.’ Choked me up. Joan’s ironclad belief in me is something I will never forget.
A fellow guest tells me he is sure I am going to be nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Joan squeezes my leg under the table. Being able to share all of this with her is what makes everything worthwhile.
TUESDAY, JANUARY 22, 2019
Special bond: Richard E Grant hugs his beloved wife Joan Washington
Oscar nominations will be announced at 1.20pm in London. My mind see-saws between the conviction that my name will not make it on to the list of five nominees, and all predictions to the contrary. Wonder if all the other contenders are going through the same emotional jangle.
Pick our daughter Oilly up and drive to our regular restaurant in Notting Hill. We ‘will it/won’t it/will it’ happen, between mouthfuls of pasta.
She positions her iPhone against a salt cellar, and hands over one of her headphones to watch the live feed from Los Angeles.
Within no time, they’re naming names, which appear in alphabetical order on the screen behind them.
Mahershala Ali. Adam Driver. Sam Elliott . . . Richard E. Grant. Sam Rockwell.
We look at one another and simultaneously burst into tears. Nothing prepared us for what this would actually feel like. Rather than the room just turning upside down, it felt like it’d revolved a full 360 degrees.
Phoned Joan. ‘Oh, my Swaaaaaaz, I’m so proud and pleased for you!’
People I’ve not heard from in 45 years have found a way to send congratulations. ‘You so deserve this’ repeats and repeats.
Am utterly, butterly over the moon. As Tom Hanks pointed out: ‘You’ll always be an Academy Award nominee, to the end of your days.’
Feb 4, 2019: OSCAR NOMINEES’ LUNCH
Richard E. Grant with his daughter Olivia at the 91st Academy Awards in Hollywood
Everything has been planned like a military manoeuvre, to process 212 nominees into the ballroom of the Beverly Hills Hilton. Everyone is smartly dressed and guided to pose in front of a backdrop of miniature Oscars, then herded into the ballroom for a drink and to mingle. Brazenly ask whomever I’m speaking to for a selfie.
Got to meet Shirley MacLaine, the twinkly-eyed ‘broad’ of yore, who has metamorphosed from gamine to gravelly grandma. No disguising my delight when she crinkles her eyes up and recognises me.
WEDNESDAY FEBRUARY 20
Joan says: ‘I’ve got something serious I need to discuss with you, Swaz. Please don’t get cross. I know how much this means to you, but I don’t want to go to the Oscars. Hear me out. I’m 5 ft 3 in and those American women tower over me, and it’s an absolute trial being shunted around like a piece of furniture. I know that you’ll have a much better time with Oilly.’
‘But it’s the one and only time we’ll ever go to the Oscars.’
She hugs me: ‘Please forgive me. But I really don’t want to go. Try to understand.’
Call Oilly, who is Kofi Annan-calm but says ‘you know in your heart of hearts, Pops, that Mum is right’.
Oilly and I fly to LA at 10.35am and take sleeping pills to prep for the weekend of all weekends ahead.
SUNDAY FEBRUARY 24 2019: OSCAR DAY
Richard E Grant with Melisa McCarthy and Barbra Streisandan at the awards ceremony
Roads are closed and policemen whistle and gesticulate where to turn and twiddle. Jam of limos queuing up on Hollywood Boulevard, offloading their starry cargo.
Ushered/herded into the auditorium for the 5pm kick-off. We’re seated just left of centre, a few rows from the stage, with my co-star Melissa McCarthy and her husband Ben to my right, and Oilly to my left. Daniel Craig and Charlize Theron read out the nominees in my category.
All of us are on our feet to reward Mahershala Ali with an ovation for winning his second Oscar in three years.
Almost every winner follows the set-in-stone pathway of previous awards. With one exception. Glenn Close has been nominated for the seventh time, is the bookies’ favourite to win, wearing an Oscar gold dress with a long train, and seated in the middle of the front row.
Olivia Colman, seated much further back, is announced the winner, and seems genuinely discombobulated that it’s her, and not Glenn.
My greatest surprise and reward is when my lifelong idol Barbra Streisand comes on to introduce the Best Picture nomination and is given a standing ovation just for being here.
After the awards, there’s a celebrity cattle-crush to get into the ballroom, to finally eat something.
Unbeknownst to me, Oilly spots the sequined black beret that Streisand is wearing, some distance ahead, alerts Melissa, who then grabs my arm.
Richard’s daughter, who he affectionately calls Oilly, attended the ceremony with him instead of his wife
‘Barbra, meet Richard.’
Well, Swaziboy, you didn’t win that little gold guy tonight, but this is the golden moment to top all of your goldens. My iPhone aloft and flashing before I’ve even secured her actual permission.
As we chat along with others, she notices that the large art deco, lozenge-shaped brooch strategically placed in the middle of her chest has come unfixed and she is now futzing to get it reattached. ‘Need my glasses.’
‘May I help?’
Swaziboy is now on his knees, leaning in and taking his sweet time to get his fingers dexterously around that rogue pin, and making sure it’s reattached. Veeeeeeeery. S l o w l y.
‘Thanks. You’re very polite.’
Stay another ten minutes, then excuse myself to find Oilly, who shakes her head and says, ‘Just as well Mum’s not here!’
Olivia Colman whispers up and says, ‘Amy Adams and I are having a lock-up later. Please come.’ Try stopping me!
Olivia’s Oscar is passed around and posed with. Amy Adams is doing karaoke and there’s a cram of us queuing to make fools of ourselves.
Mic in my hand and belting out Bowie’s Life On Mars? with abandon, I clock that Oilly has her head in her hands. Dawn by the time we crawl back into the hotel.
WEDNESDAY SEPTEMBER 1, 2021
Richard and Joan at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2019 held at the Royal Hospital Chelsea in London
The doctor who visits Joan tells me he has rarely come across such levels of determination. ‘Do you mind my asking if your wife is a very strong-willed person?’ he says.
‘That’s an understatement!’ I reply. As he’s leaving, the district nurse notices that Joan’s breathing has become much shallower and ‘closer to the end. She might die tonight’.
‘What do I do?’
‘Call the out-of-hours district nurse, and one of the team will come out to certify that she has died, then it’s your call to get in touch with a funeral director.’
She manages to tell me all of this in a simultaneously pragmatic and compassionate tone. As she drives away, I start shaking uncontrollably. It’s one thing to be grown up and practical when a stranger is giving you instructions, but another feeling entirely when the impact of what they’re advising hits you with such meteoric force.
Return to Joan’s bedside and hold her hand with my left, while scrolling through local funeral directors on my iPhone with my right.
Truly feel that my Joan has left us in spirit already, and it’s only her body that is struggling on beside me.
THURSDAY SEPTEMBER 2
Joan doesn’t wake properly, apart from the odd eye flicker. Sit stroking her hand and talking softly about some of the daft things we’ve done.
At 7pm, her breathing slows quite suddenly. Keep repeating: ‘It’s all okay, my angel. Don’t hold on. We all love you so. So, so much.’
After each intake of breath, the gap until the next inhalation gets longer. At 7.25, I thought that her hand felt like it was cooling in mine.
Richard sadly lost his beloved wife Joan on September 2 last year
Was I just imagining this?
No, it is getting colder.
Do I let go of her hand and call Oilly to come?
Can’t let go now.
Then another breath, and count the seconds before the next one.
She died at 7.30pm.
Let go of her hand and call out for Oilly to come quickly. Feels like my heart is going to explode out of my chest, such is the intensity of this grief.
Even though we had warning that this was imminent.
Even though we knew that her time was terminally measured out in months, weeks and days.
Even though we knew all of this.
NOTHING can properly prepare us for this moment.
FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 3
Moment my eyes opened, was hit by a tsunami of grief. So overwhelming, I felt like I would drown.
Her handbag is next to our bed. As is her tapestry kit, with the needle and thread waiting for her next move.
Make-up on the chest of drawers with a lipstick that’s no longer needed. Her pile of bedside books. Her handwriting in her book of crossword puzzles.
All hers and yet no her here any more.
Condolences come in from everywhere. Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates call from New York — ‘We’ve only just heard. How can this be?’ — joining the chorus of disbelief from people we haven’t heard from or seen for ages.
SATURDAY SEPTEMBER 4
Cannot quite compute the thousands of messages we’ve received and the plethora of flowers on every available surface and outside the front door. Oilly looks at me, then plaintively asks: ‘Can you ever run out of tears, Dadda?’
WEDNESDAY SEPTEMBER 8
The day before Joan’s funeral. Woke up at dawn to help with the delivery and storage of all the catering kit — tables, crockery, cutlery, glasses, teacups and urns — to feed and water 80 guests.
How can we be preparing a tea party in her honour and she’s not here to enjoy it all?
Mowed the lawn, then drove over to a florist in Cirencester and bought their entire stock of Joan’s favourite lilies to cover her casket. Back at the cottage, a huge bouquet has been delivered from the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall, with a four-page, deeply empathetic, handwritten letter from Prince Charles.
Oilly and I read it together sitting on a bench at a carwash. Somewhat different from where the future King composed his letter, at Birkhall, on the Balmoral Estate!
THURSDAY SEPTEMBER 9
The four minutes that follow the end of the funeral service are the most intensely pain-filled of my life. As the music crescendoed, I got up and stood beside her coffin, held on to it, then moved up to the head and wept my final farewell to the woman I have loved unequivocally and completely for almost four decades.
Despite the rain, everyone trooped back to our cottage, signed the condolence book, ate, drank, reminisced and celebrated her life.
It’s the sheer aloneness of being alone. Whoever and however many people you meet and play with, you return alone.
Sitting solo in the pub for Sunday lunch, knowing what Joan would have ordered, her murmured commentary on the clientele, identifying their accents, that person’s clothing and this person’s speed of eating.
All of this going through my mind. The absence of her feels blinding.
Back in London and going through her things, Oilly and I discover that Joan has kept everything — all of Oilly’s kindergarten drawings, school reports, prizes, photos and birthday cards, hidden in a wooden trunk. ‘She really is proud of me, Pops.’
MONDAY NOVEMBER 1, 2021
Posted a video on social media: ‘Today is our posthumous 35th wedding anniversary. What’s so incomprehensible is that we can never touch or talk to one another ever again. We just have to count on the feeling that the love goes on.’
Accompanied by this text: ‘I married Joan Washington 35 years ago today. Best decision I’ve ever made. We were together for 38 years and our daughter @oliviagranted is the lifelong gift of a Human that we are blessed with.’
Feels like a whole new world, navigating solo, but as Joan so wisely asked me: ‘Find a pocketful of happiness in each day’ Richard writes
Heartening to read the thousands of messages from people who have lost and loved or who long for love.
Returning to our country cottage, where we’d spent the past 18 months together, is bracing.
It’s utterly country-winter-night silent here. No distant urban hum. Just a kind of white noise in your ears.
No matter how many lunch and dinner arrangements are made, calls, texts or emails received, nothing can protect you from this silence.
How to get through it, after our 38-year conversation where nothing was too trivial to talk about: who said this and what do you think was meant by that and how much did this cost and can you believe what he did to her and why the hell did those two ever get married and why is it that, with some couples, you love one of them but loathe the other and did you see what he ate, has she had a stroke or is that Botox and do you reckon they still have sex?
Where shall we go tomorrow or shall we just stay at home, get a takeaway or have our beloved beans on toast, with Marmite instead of butter?
Us. We. Let’s. Now it’s solitary. Single. Solo. Alone.
In Gwyneth Paltrow-speak, we’ve now been de-coupled by death.
Missing the steering-wheel talk on the way home, where you cross-hatch about where you’ve just been. Now it’s return home by myself. Key in the door. Outside light to switch off. Curtains closed. Keys hung. The sound of every habitual action is amplified.
Footsteps. Mine. Light switch. Click on. Teeth brushed. Click off. Clothes off. Climb into a cold bed. Reach out and touch. Amputated.
How long will this last?
In the spring of this year I travelled to Australia to film. Posted the following text/video message, walking along a beach on the Gold Coast: ‘Beautiful as this beach is, I feel and look like an old turtle without my shell, trying to navigate the world on my own, having lost my loving “compass”.’
Feels like a whole new world, navigating solo, but as Joan so wisely asked me: ‘Find a pocketful of happiness in each day.’
I’ll try my best.
Adapted from A Pocketful Of Happiness by Richard E. Grant, to be published by Gallery on September 29 at £20. © Richard E. Grant 2022. To order a copy for £17 (offer valid to September 24, 2022; UK P&P free on orders over £20), visitmailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3176 2937.