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Monday January 18, 2021
I read the oncology report that’s just landed on the doormat. Addressed to Joan, but am resolved that she will never read it. The atomic bombshell diagnosis/prognosis verbally delivered a week ago, here in black and white.
The hospital has opted to do radiation surgery. To blast the brain tumours in three days. Joan’s hair will all fall out a week later, and there will be brain swelling and possible incoherence, which we will counteract by doubling her steroid dosage. This will be followed by chemo or immunotherapy.
Friday January 29
The oncologist, Wanda Cui, calls with astonishing news. ‘The FDA-approved tepotinib wonder drug has been granted on compassionate grounds, completely free. You’re only required to take two pills per day.’
It’s a new drug that only works for a very specific type of lung cancer. To be given this end-of-week hope-filled news is extraordinary. Joan won’t have to undergo chemotherapy. Won’t lose her hair. Feels like a lottery win.
No sooner has Wanda said goodbye, than all three of us burst into tears and dance around the kitchen to Queen and David Bowie’s Under Pressure, which happens to be playing on the radio.
RICHARD E. GRANT: I read the oncology report that’s just landed on the doormat. Addressed to Joan, but am resolved that she will never read it. Pictured: Richard E. Grant and his wife Joan Washington at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2019
Wednesday February 3
Finally here – the first day of Joan’s treatment plan. When I get downstairs, she and our daughter Oilly are already awake and the atmosphere is antsy and irritable. At the very moment that we need to be united and supporting one another, everything feels scratchy and out of sorts.
Deep, deep breaths, then we’re in the car and negotiating rain and heavy traffic to the Royal Marsden hospital. Feel profound relief that her treatment programme has finally begun.
Thursday February 4
Overwhelmed with longing for everything to be healthy and safe again. Against the ghastly recognition that this will never be. Joan asks: ‘Do you feel that this is all happening to someone else?’
‘I’m afraid so. You?’
She nods. Looks exhausted and ill. For the first time. Or is that just me daring to acknowledge this to myself?
Tuesday February 9
Oncologist Wanda reveals that the pioneering tepotinib lung cancer drugs, which Joan is due to take, have been held up at customs. This is a real blow.
Wanda tells me: ‘If the tepotinib works, the tumours will shrink within the first eight weeks, and Joan’s life will return to normal for the next 12 months. Thereafter, we might resort to chemo.’
The good news I’m holding on to is that we will make it to our 35th wedding anniversary in November this year and have one more Christmas together. Double bonus!
Sunday February 14
Valentine’s Day – could it be our final one after 38 years together? Hard to compute. Impossible to imagine. Not being a unit, pair, partnership, union, marriage. None of which we share or discuss out loud. Play Scrabble, eat, cuddle and cocoon ourselves against the arctic temperature outdoors.
Monday February 15
Decades ago, I was invited to become an ambassador for The Prince’s Trust and was seated beside Camilla Parker Bowles at a dinner in St James’s Palace.
She was so forthright, open, curious and funny that we got along instantly and were subsequently invited to spend the weekend with her and Prince Charles at Sandringham, then Highgrove, and to attend their wedding.
Camilla sends flowers with a note – ‘Thinking of you at this horrid time’ – which made both of us chuckle.
No attempt at euphemisms. Much appreciated by my no-nonsense Aberdonian wife, who is equally direct.
Tuesday February 16
Prince Charles sends Joan a two-page, handwritten letter, full of love, compassion, empathy and encouragement. Joan wonders: ‘How has he managed to do this in between endless commitments and calls on his time?’ Clearly very touched.
Drove to the Marsden hospital to pick up the tepotinib drugs which have finally landed. Having waited so impatiently for them to arrive, it’s anticlimactic to have them at last. Will they work? With what side-effects?
Sunday February 21
Nigella Lawson cabs over Sunday afternoon savoury and sweet treats. Call to thank her and she advises to ‘live for the moment. Ignore all the prognosis and life expectancy estimates. That way madness lies.’
Easier said than done, when you’re a natural-born worrier!
Thursday February 25
Steroids have made Joan incredibly tetchy and irritable due to interrupted and too little sleep. Know it’s not meant, but all the same, very wearing.
Friday March 5
Wanda calls: ‘Good news – the lung tumour which was 7cm has shrunk to 3.5cm and the MRI brain scan has confirmed that there are no new tumours.’
Impossible to resist the fantasy that if this new tepotinib drug has managed to reduce the cancer by half in just two weeks, why can’t it carry on destroying it, until it’s all gone, in another fortnight? A friend calls. ‘You may have narrowly missed winning an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, Richard, but your supporting role in your domestic drama will be your finest hour.’
Prince Charles sends Joan a two-page, handwritten letter, full of love, compassion, empathy and encouragement. Joan wonders: ‘How has he managed to do this in between endless commitments and calls on his time?’ Pictured is Charles talking to Richard and actress Joely Richardson at a Prince’s Trust gala event in 2001
In late November 2016 I was sent a script titled Can You Ever Forgive Me? by my agent and told that I had 24 hours to read and decide about doing it, ‘as it’s shooting in January’.
‘Who’s dropped out?’
‘Who’s playing the lead?’
It’s the best screen role I’ve had since my first one, Withnail And I, 30 years ago. Months from my 60th birthday, and the best gift I could have been given.
Being Melissa’s co-star is about as status-enhancing as it gets.
Everyone I encounter wants more Melissa. Whether it’s Glenn Close, backstage after Sunset Boulevard, Meryl Streep via email, or Tom Hanks at dinner with Steve Martin, actors palpably love her.
Saturday March 20, 2021
Since sharing our news about Joan with all of our friends two months ago, am finding it difficult not to judge the ones who haven’t been in touch whatsoever. No word, text, WhatsApp, email or call, especially as we’re in Covid lockdown. Crystal clear where people are placed in the pyramid of friendship.
Friday April 16
We are in the car by 9.30am and at our cottage in Gloucestershire by noon. Joan had always wanted a country retreat, with low ceilings and an inglenook fireplace, and four years ago went searching online.
Found a cottage 100 miles away in a village with a couple of pubs and no shop, and, within five minutes of being shown around, said, ‘We’ll buy it.’ The quiet of the countryside is like balm.
Lunchtime news reports that Helen McCrory has died of cancer at just 52. We all cried. Both of us had worked with her. Wrote to her husband Damian Lewis.
Impossible not to project when this will happen to us.
Wednesday May 5
My 64th birthday. Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was the first pop LP I was given, on my tenth birthday in 1967. When I’m Sixty-Four seemed an impossibly distant, unimaginable age.
I met Paul McCartney in 1997, when I’d gone to see my one-time ‘screen wife’ Julie Christie in a play at the Wyndham’s Theatre. Went backstage to see her, and met Paul and Linda and their daughter Stella. ‘Join us for dinner. We’re all going to the Bombay Brasserie.’
‘Why bloody notsky!’ scrolled across the cartoon balloon above my head as I looked around in disbelief at the dinner guests either side of me. Julie, Paul, Linda, oh, and Twiggy and Leigh Lawson who had joined our gang. A mini round-up of 1960s icons all chatting away with me, this starstruck Swaziboy, among them.
I banged my knees together to remind myself that I was actually here, sharing naan bread with Doctor Zhivago’s Darling, the man who wrote Hey Jude and Eleanor Rigby. and Twiggy, while my head went all ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’.
A lot of talk of major movie awards – even the ‘O’ word! – surrounding Can You Ever Forgive Me? following its US release in October. Attend the Governors Honorary Oscar Ball in a vast ballroom, somewhere in Hollywood. Meet up with Melissa, as our spouses are not invited.
Into the cocktail party fray and the first person we stop and talk to is Emily Blunt, whom I’d met at Jessica Chastain’s wedding near Venice last summer. Introduces me to her husband, John Krasinski, who is curiously bashful.
The minute he is distracted by another actor, she leans in and whispers, ‘This is a big moment for him. He was so jealous that we’d met in Italy, as he can recite every line of Withnail And I.’
Who knew? Certainly not me.
And now it’s Nicole Kidman swanning elegantly towards me, saying: ‘I hope you win every award coming your way, ‘cos you’re heartbreaking and brilliant.’
No denying the sea change from her polite greeting at an event eight weeks ago, before she’d seen the movie. Feels like being given temporary membership of the elite Fame Club.
Thursday December 6, 2018
Golden Globe nomination for best supporting actor! Oilly and I are midway through lunch in the Cotswolds when this pings into her phone. ‘OMGs’ back and forth between us, as we try to contain our excitement.
Monday January 7, 2019
Day of the Golden Globe Awards in Los Angeles, which I’m so excited about attending with my family. All tuxed up. Inside, it’s like Madame Tussauds for real.
The tables are crammed together, and you’re shoulder to shoulder, perfume-clashingly close. No food! Just sweets and booze.
As a Globes veteran, Melissa has wisely brought a bag of ham rolls to sustain our table and generously hands them round. I scoff six of them in quick succession.
The actual ceremony seems secondary to the commercial-break schmoozathon. People interrupted by having to return to their seats for the next round of awards.
My category goes by very quickly and, apart from a slight heartbeat bump, it’s a given that Mahershala Ali wins for his role in Green Book.
Having so longed to be invited and included in this hallowed club of the Hollywood elite, it feels curiously underwhelming, and I cannot fathom just why. Guess it’s the ego-jostling, attention-seeking antics of it all. Exchange looks with Joan, who is feeling exactly the same thing.
Even when Julia Roberts, whom I last saw in Paris shooting Pret-A-Porter, 24 years ago, leans in for a hug, kiss and hi, as though we were in touch a week ago.
Call Oilly, who is astonishingly calm and says that she anticipated and had prepared herself for this moment. Feel profound failure as her father, incapable of protecting her from this brutal news. Pictured is Oilly, now in her 30s, with Joan
Wednesday May 26, 2021
My first day filming on a remake of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, which Joan has insisted I do.
Feel like a magpie returning to her in the evening with some glittery morsels of gossip.
Joan murmurs that: ‘I feel like it’s all over, Swaz, and I’m just waiting. Worrying about my looming MRI and CT scans. Every day just blending and bleeding into the next one.’
What can I say to comfort her? Alleviate her angst? Words fail and I just gently hug and hold her. Rock her back and forth like a baby.
Tuesday June 8
Rupert Everett drives up from Wiltshire for lunch, refuses to use his satnav – ‘It’s not reliable’ – opts for a map instead, gets hopelessly lost and arrives late. Proffering home-grown irises, roses and freshly laid eggs.
That this capricious creature should stay for three hours truly surprises, considering his bored-ometer attention span. Regaling Joan with how his 86-year-old mother has taken to swimming in the nude in the river every morning. Like everything else he tells you, you can’t help wondering how much of it is actually true. What he always is, though, is witty and entertaining.
Texts that it took him three hours to get home, instead of 90 minutes! Hopelessly lost again. Whether true or not, he made us laugh.
Wednesday June 9
My persuasion co-star Dakota Johnson is so petite, it’s a wonder all of her organs can fit inside her waist. She’s all smiles and beguiling charm, and indulges my questions about her father Don Johnson’s relationship with my idol Barbra Streisand.
‘They were together before I was born,’ underlines my decrepitude. ‘Why do you ask?’ Prompting me to give her a paragraph’s worth about my half-century-long obsession with Barbra. I even have a statue of her in my garden.
Makes Dakota laugh and reveal: ‘I don’t hero-worship anyone.’ ‘That’s because you’re an adult, Dakota, and I’m a 64-year-old adolescent!’
‘How long have you been married?’ Dakota asks. Trip-switches me to lean in and whisper our situation. Her eyes well up and she hugs me close.
Tuesday June 22
Joan is very antsy about her scan results, due this afternoon.
Wanda rings at 3pm, answered on speakerphone and know in a nanosecond from her tone that it is grim news. ‘I’m so sorry that I’m having to tell you this over the phone, Joan, rather than face-to-face, but while the brain lesions are under control post-radiation surgery, I’m afraid that the CT scan confirmed that the cancer has spread throughout the lungs and is now very aggressive.
‘Tepotinib is no longer working, and I’d suggest that you come off it, as it’s increasing your fatigue. The only option left is chemotherapy, which I wouldn’t advise pursuing…
‘I won’t have chemo, under any circumstances.’
‘Understood. I’m just so sorry that tepotinib has stopped working so much sooner than we thought it would. The palliative care and hospice adviser will be in touch shortly.’
Joan is outwardly calm and quietly says, ‘I expected this, as I knew the tepotinib had stopped working. I’m so sorry, Swaz.’
Completely poleaxed. The news feels devastating, having truly thought that this dreaded call was at least a couple of months away. Feel so stupid.
Yet, we’ve known the prognosis all year, why should today’s news be so traumatic? Because tepotinib had given us hope. Hope that it would extend her life expectancy. Hope that it’d give us some normalcy. Hope that is now hopeless.
Call Oilly, who is astonishingly calm and says that she anticipated and had prepared herself for this moment. Feel profound failure as her father, incapable of protecting her from this brutal news.
Joan says: ‘I know how sad you are Swaz, but you and Oilly are going to be okay. I truly want you and Oilly to try and find a pocketful of happiness in every single day. Will you do that for me?’ Here Richard is caught in a tender moment kissing his daughter Oilly’s hand when she was two
Wednesday July 7
Gabriel Byrne , who played my father in the 2005 film Wah-Wah, drives across from Cardiff, where he’s filming, to have lunch. Asks if he can sit beside Joan, on our bed, and stays put there for the next 90 minutes, plate-spinning philosophicals, anecdotage and ruminations about life.
Wednesday July 21
Email from Buckingham Palace to ask if Prince Charles can drop in on Sunday at 12.30pm before he departs for his summer holiday in Scotland.
Regretfully, we have to be in London that day. An hour later, a second email: ‘The Prince wondered if he could drop in today at about 2.30pm instead?’
‘Of course, yes.’
Security officer calls at 2.40pm to alert me that HRH ‘is five minutes away’. Meet the Prince, who’s dressed in a beautiful cream linen suit and carrying a bag of mangos and a bunch of highly scented roses from his Highgrove garden.
Instantly at ease, and complimentary about our cottage and garden, he hugs and kisses Joan, then sits beside her on the sofa in the pergola. They chat non-stop for the next half-hour. At one point, taking her hand and saying, ‘It’s been an absolute honour to have known you, Joan’, to which she quips, ‘I’m still here!’ which makes us all laugh.
Talked of the spiritual journey ahead, the ‘armoury’ of true love, full of empathy and tenderness. Intuited when she was beginning to flag, and, before taking his leave, asked, ‘Would it be okay if Camilla dropped in next week?’
Before he got into his car, he said, ‘I hold you both very dear in my heart.’ Stood watching as he drove away, struck by Joan’s gift for speaking to everyone in exactly the same way.
Thursday July 29
An email pings in from Los Angeles. ‘A message from Barbra Streisand.’ This must be a hoax. Surely? But it has her name across the top and signature below, with a note from her assistant: ‘Hard copy is coming in the mail.’
I’m sorry to hear about your wife, Joan. She was a wonderful addition to my Yentl team. I can only imagine what the two of you are going through. But please know that I’m thinking of you both, and hope you can find some comfort in all the memories you share after almost 40 years together.
‘Richard, you’re still the first (and only) person who has ever commissioned a statue of me, to my knowledge. I’m not sure what I’ve done to deserve your devotion, but I love your devotion to your wife.
‘Please take care of yourself, and each other. Sincerely
Read and reread many times. Bittersweet that our profoundly sad situation is the reason for her message.
Thursday August 12
The palliative nurse visits and is going to put in an application for an NHS nursing care package for ‘when the time comes’ and order a hospital bed.
At the front door, I asked how long she thought Joan was likely to live.
‘Are you quite sure that you want me to tell you?’ Nodded.
‘It’s not an exact science, but I think weeks, rather than months. Four weeks.
‘She won’t be strong enough to return to London.’
Friday August 20
Joan is speaking sense, but not making any. Individual words aren’t gibberish, but when strung together they sound it.
District nurse privately explains that: ‘This is part and parcel of the degeneration of everything. Confusion and displacement.’
Gabriel Byrne arrives just before the delivery of the hospital bed and helps us carry it up the garden stairs and assemble it in our bedroom, in front of our double bed, so Joan will have the exact same view of the garden, just a couple of metres further forward than she has been.
When resettled in the hospital bed she asks, ‘Am I in the hospice now?’
‘No, Monkee, in our bedroom, and Gabe is here to see us.’
Masterful actor that he is, he talks as though there’s nothing amiss and she happily meanders with him down her own Lewis Carrollian rabbit holes. I will always love him for this. Joan and I will never share our bed ever again.
Wednesday August 25
Joan has been intermittently awake all through the night and has zero energy left. She looks like a little vacant-eyed, half-feathered bird.
No sooner does this state seem fixed than she’s suddenly all present and correct, reaches for our daughter’s hand and sweetly says, ‘I love you so much, Oilly! I’m so proud of you! Why are you crying?’
‘Because you said you’re proud of me, and you don’t say that a lot.’
‘That’s ‘cos I don’t want you to get a big head.’
Feels like a seminal moment.
Sunday August 29
Joan says: ‘I know how sad you are Swaz, but you and Oilly are going to be okay. I truly want you and Oilly to try and find a pocketful of happiness in every single day. Will you do that for me?’
I nod and blink back tears.
© Richard E.Grant 2022
Adapted from a Pocketful Of Happiness by Richard E. Grant, to be published by Gallery on September 29 at £20. To order a copy for £17 (offer valid to September 24, 2022; UK P&P free on orders over £20), visit mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3176 2937