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Richard E. Grant on the woman who was like a surrogate mother to him, his relationship with his first love and his daughter


Richard E. Grant is the actor best known for playing Whitnail Withnail & I. The 65-year-old talks about the woman who was like a surrogate mother to him, rekindling his relationship with his first love and his daughter.

“I underwent psychoanalysis at the age of 40, and it led me to understand why my mother did what she did.”credit:Trunk Archive/Snapper Images

My mother and father had a sharp split when I was 10. She got up and left. Mom was very athletic – she played a lot of tennis and golf – and was 24 when she gave birth to me. If she had her life over again, maybe she wouldn’t have had a baby so early.

My father soon remarried, and my stepmother Anna-Maria was a very good woman. I owe her for taking on someone else’s 11-year-old child.

I saw my mother intermittently over the years, but she moved from Swaziland, where we lived, to another country. I underwent psychoanalysis at age 40 and it led me to understand why she did what she did. She still lives in Africa and I Skype with her once a week.

My earliest memory one of the women I really liked and remained friends with until she died aged 92 was Polly Barnes, a Scot who was my English and French teacher at school in Swaziland. She taught me the piano and became a surrogate mother, in a way the person whose opinion I valued the most. She was hilarious and taught me everything I knew about classical music.


I had a mad crush to an American girl named Betsy Clapp in 1969 when I was 12. I tried to make perfume for her birthday because I couldn’t afford to buy it. I boiled gardenias and rose petals in sugar water to impress her. I kissed her. Neil Armstrong had just landed on the moon, so everything American was exotic to me in Swaziland.

In 2018 I went on a chat show to promote the film Will you ever be able to forgive me? and talked about Betsy. Half an hour later, thanks to social networks, we got in touch. It was unusual.

A woman My biggest inspiration was Barbra Streisand, who was my first celebrity. I’ve had this one-sided love affair since 1969, although I’ve met her many times since then. Everyone was telling Barbara that she couldn’t make it, and that got me interested. She and Donald Sutherland didn’t look like ordinary stars, and if these two could pull it off, why not try.


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