Jennifer Saunders shares the secret to four decades of marriage

Jennifer Saunders shares the secret to four decades of marriage


Jennifer Saunders, 64, talks about her latest film role in what she describes as a love letter to the NHS, as well as the reasons she’s been blessed with such long-lasting relationships, why you shouldn’t throw things away tomorrow if you can do it today and how she’s ended up with no nose lining…

Why should Metro readers go see the film Allelujah?

It’s a film based on a play by Alan Bennett. So there’s already a reason to see it. It’s directed by Richard Eyre. There’s another reason. Starring the likes of Judi Dench and Derek Jacobi – two more good reasons. And I’m in it. Meh!

It’s a sort of love letter to the NHS, really. It’s set in a rundown hospitalin a Yorkshire village and it’s a funny, heartwarming story about old age and how it’s going to happen to us all and we’ve somehow got to get through it. It has a twist that we’re not allowed to reveal…

Who do you play?

I play Sister Gilpin, a pragmatic nurse who runs a geriatric ward at this hospital that’s loved by the community, who are trying their best to save it because it’s a hospital that does actually care.

And Sister Gilpin cares but she’s frustrated by a broken system. She’s no Nurse Ratched [from One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest] but she wants everything to be run smoothly.

Did Alan Bennett visit the set? I imagine he’s a bit hypochondriac…

He’s also extremely old! Shooting in the middle of winter, in the wing of a freezing cold rundown ex-hospital wasn’t pleasant. It was during the pandemic, so we had to poke a bloody stick up our nose every single hour, it seemed to me. I’ve barely any nose lining left! But Alan Bennett did come and visit the set and it was like being visited by Shakespeare. It was like, ‘Oh my God, he’s here! He’s here!’ People bandy the term ‘national treasure’ about, but he is that. He’s so well-loved.

Had you and Dame Judi collaborated before? Dench & Saunders!

Hmm. I think last year in the Comic Relief skit of Repair Shop was the first time. But honestly my memory is so bad…

Speaking of Comic Relief, we can’t wait to see your spoof of Traitors.

That’s mainly Dawn French, I have to say. There’s quite a lot of heavy fringe. Richard Curtis wrote it with someone else. I’m just in it for a bit.

How do you think you’d do on Traitors?

Well, you’d like to think you’d do quite well. I was absolutely hooked. Is it Will that nearly made it and then got done at the last minute? I thought he played a blinder. I never spotted him. But the second series will be so different and difficult, won’t it? Because people will be looking out for the calculation now. I was talking to the guys that were there for the first series and they said it was terrifying because no one knew what this game show was or what was going to happen. They were just constantly, constantly frightened.

Your podcast sounds rude: French & Saunders – Titting About.

Titting about is not anything to do with bosoms. It’s just titting. It sounds rude but it isn’t. Tittie means little, like tittie mouse. T**s is a complete other thing. When our agent first asked if we’d like to do a podcast, we didn’t understand what a podcast was. And I still don’t. It’s sort of half-planned, talking and laughing. And, honestly, there’s nothing more enjoyable than then being with Dawn in a room and just yacking.

Will you ever retire?

I probably won’t really want to retire. I’d probably have a bit more time off but you look at the cast of Allelujah and you’ll see what keeps people going is having some interest, and keeping your brain active and working at whatever it is you work at. Keep going. And give yourself a purpose in life.

You had a cancer scare a while back. Do you think much about the future?

Of course, you’re thinking about it all the time now. You’ve got to be prepared to live a long time, even if you might not, because you don’t want to make yourself a burden on your family. What I’m constantly about now is getting rid of stuff. What you realise is you live with far too much crap and what if we pop our clogs tomorrow and some poor sod’s got to go through all this stuff? De-crap your lives! De-crap everything!

Will there be any more Ab Fab?

I’m now saying ‘no’. Because that’s my new word. My word du jour.

What was your reaction to the news Fawlty Towers was coming back?

Slight dread, I have to say. I just thought, why? Why don’t you write a new thing? I don’t understand why you have to do that. You can’t beat the old one.

You seem to be a master at sustaining long-term relationships: your 38-year marriage to Ade Edmondson, your 43-year work marriage with Dawn French. What’s the secret?

Being very passive. Total passivity. A lot of people do that. It’s just more unusual probably in the showbusiness sense for double acts to keep going. I heard Robert Webb doing his Desert Island Discs and he said that he and David [Mitchell] stay together because they’ve never had The Argument. The thing is to avoid The Big Argument. Compromise is a marvellous thing.

Allelujah is released today in cinemas nationwide

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