ANTHONY ANDREWS walks into a Kensington restaurant wearing an open-necked blue shirt and a sports jacket. He’s 53 but looks thin, fit and remarkably young. Indeed, he looks little older than when he famously played little-boy-lost Sebastian Flyte in Brideshead Revisited.
Earlier this year he was the sexually ambiguous Boy Dougdale in the starry TV adaptation of Nancy Mitford’s Love In A Cold Climate. Both men were self-indulgent and dissolute, characteristics which are totally alien to Anthony Andrews.
We meet on matinee day over an early lunch, when he has a glass of water and scrambled eggs.
He has very English good looks which seem to embody all those oldfashioned qualities of reticence, self-control and respect for women. He looks like a man who leads a charmed existence.
In many ways he does, but there have been very black times in his life.
Whenever things have seemed perfect, fate has intervened with a kind of warning that nothing is for ever.
He’s just opened in Ibsen’s Ghosts at London’s Comedy Theatre, where this truth is underlined.
He gives a powerful performance as a cowardly priest who yearns to do the right thing. Unfortunately he hides behind sanctimonious hypocrisy for so long that he can’t see the truth either in other people or himself.
It’s a savage play about a savagely unhappy family, but Anthony Andrews is hugely fortunate in his own marriage. His wife is Georgina Simpson, heiress to the elegant London store Simpson’s of Piccadilly.
He fell in love with her picture when they were both young actors. He lusted after her and finally met her.
‘I was playing one of the schoolboys in 40 Years On with John Gielgud. I hadn’t got a flat and I used to camp out with an actor friend of mine. He had a damp basement on the fringes of Kensington, and he took photographs to make a bit of extra money.
‘His walls were covered with pictures and as I nodded off at night on the sofa, I’d look longingly at Georgina. He used to say: “You are such a bore about this girl.”
‘Then one day he rushed up the five flights at the Apollo Theatre to the dressing room to shout: “She’s in the pub.”
‘I shot into the pub, asked her if she’d like a drink but she ignored me.’
Georgina was the talented beauty born into a rich, highflying family with a great work ethic. She was the Liz Hurley of her day, forever pictured in the newspapers looking stunning.
On one famous occasion she posed wearing nothing but a coat of gold paint for a magazine cover.
A year after she’d spurned Anthony, fate intervened when his sister took him to a party. ‘It was the opening of a new club, terribly dark, and on the other side of the room sat Georgina.
Janet, my dear late sister, said: “Oh, for God’s sake, do something about it.
You have to go and say hello to this woman.”’ GEORGINA and Anthony kept staring at each other and then, as though pulled by invisible strings, simultaneously got up and walked towards the middle of the dance floor.
‘It was like a scene out of West Side Story. She looked at me and said: “Oh my God, I thought you were someone else.” ‘ It was the beginning of a passionate love affair and he felt from the beginning that this was for ever.
‘I didn’t have any doubts. Somehow nothing clicked for me until that part of my life was cemented.’ After the party he asked her out and wasn’t sure whether or not he could afford to pay for dinner.
‘We talked way into the night about the theatre and found we were both mad about horses. We never drew breath. I’d never dreamed of a friendship of that intensity.’ Initially when he met his future inlaws, he says they were a bit anxious and suspicious. Georgina was, after all, their golden only child, and he was an impecunious unknown.
A year later, when they were 23, they had a posh winter wedding with both of them looking incredibly young and happy.
The reception was held at the Simpson family mansion in Hyde Park Gate, which once belonged to Winston Churchill.
‘I was terribly in awe of her parents.
I think they were terrified when they first saw me and Georgina together.
‘Georgina’s mother could be absolutely scathing and stinging. She had a reputation of sometimes not being very nice to people, so we had our battles.
But we ended up having mutual respect.’ Now, as well as their London base, he and his wife have a rambling house in the West Country where they keep horses. Georgina is a dark, slender dynamo who gave up the theatre to run the family business.
HER charismatic husband, who was once shy and insecure, has been emboldened by her optimism and belief that anything is possible.
Their eldest child Joshua, 28, got married last year and runs a production company with his father. He proposed to his bride, Abigail, by spelling out the words ‘Will You Marry Me?’ in 20ft-high lettering in red ribbon, laid out in a field overnight.
He’s emerging as a talented producer and his father says: ‘There is no greater thrill on earth than people saying quietly in your ear: “Your son is sensational.” That really is a golden moment.’ They also have Jessica, 26, and Sammy, 15, who is Princess Anne’s goddaughter after the two families became close through their passion for horses.
Anthony’s family stability is vital to him because his own childhood was precarious. When he was only five years old he was devastated by the death from cancer of his father, Stanley, who was a music arranger with the BBC.
His mother was pregnant but nursed her desperately sick husband at home.
When she gave birth to a daughter, he was just able to hold the baby in his arms before he died.
Geraldine Andrews was left with five children. The eldest, Janet, was only seven and there was scarcely any money.
The authorities told her that the solution was to put some of the children into care, but she absolutely refused. She had an implacable faith that somehow they’d survive.
‘Her attitude,’ says her son, ‘was that today things might be terrible but tomorrow it will be all right. She was the original Keeping Up Appearances person. She thought there were standards to maintain and that was the way things were going to be.
‘Even now, any revealing that things were not plain sailing annoys her like mad. But the fact is there weren’t two brass farthings to rub together.
‘She spent her entire time robbing Peter to pay Paul. As children, we all distinctly remember crossing the road to avoid the grocer because the bill hadn’t been paid.
‘My mother and father had ten years of being intoxicatingly in love. When you hear her talk about it, you think: “My God, this was some extraordinary relationship.”
‘She still talks about him with a degree of reverence and always did. Then she’d get emotional and on the edge of being unable to cope. Talking about him was the only thing that ever floored her.
SO WE were overshadowed by that, and we always felt the loss of him enormously.
I remember this gaunt figure sitting in the garden in a silky dressing gown.
‘And I have an extraordinary vision of his hands, the way he used to put his hands on the table to get up. I remember his presence, his touch and, of course, his music. We still play his music and that will be with us for ever.’ Anthony’s mother was only 36 when her husband died, but she never even considered marrying again.
‘I remember how dishy she was.
There were many people deeply attracted to her, but she was absolutely uninterested. All she cared about was bringing us up, finding enough money and keeping our little house in Finchley.
‘She thought if she could give us the right standards, which she was very exacting about, then we would fly. She’d been a dancer, but after my father died she trained as a hairdresser. She did all kinds of jobs over the years.
‘She’d be out at work all day so we had to help. My sister, Janet, would come home from school when she was only about 12 to do the cooking and cleaning.’ Anthony was the oldest boy and felt responsible, with the fear of penury never far away.
He was also dyslexic at a time when little was known about the condition.
‘You were just the socalled thickie at the back of the class.’ However, his mother’s implacable faith that somehow they would cope sustained them all.
She was the daughter of an Anglican priest and her young brother had died when he was only ten.
‘He had pneumonia and she always told us that he died reciting the Lord’s Prayer with his father next to him.
‘Then, the following morning, the family sat at the breakfast table with boiled eggs. And my mother has never forgotten her father, this priest, who had just lost a son, picking up the spoon, hitting the top of the boiled egg and saying: “Life must continue, life goes on.”
‘And life does go on. One has an obligation to put one foot in front of the other and get on with it.
Some people will say that’s blind and old fashioned, but it’s kept me together. It’s the one thing that I always hang on to.’ Having lost her beloved husband, Anthony’s mother in old age had to cope three years ago with the death of her eldest child, Janet, from breast cancer.
‘A braver person than my sister I’ve never met in my life. She was put through such agony. Because she was such a generous-hearted person, she was determined to volunteer for treatments that were not tried-and-tested, one of which was laser treatment.
‘It was grisly and it completely fried her. She had to spend the last year of her life having to redress these terrifying wounds all over her breasts.
They wouldn’t and couldn’t heal, because the top layer had completely been fried off by the lasers.
‘I’ll never forget the oncologist who was in charge of her at that stage, not the wonderful man who ended up looking after her. Beforehand he said: “Yes it’s quite a good I always went with her to hospital, and I said: “But can you tell me considerably more about it?” ‘He just said: “Oh, it’s a relatively simple procedure.” And she subjected herself to it because when she talked to the young doctors at Westminster, she thought it would help them find out more about it. And they used her as a guinea pig. They turned up the voltage, it was as simple as that. They just had a go and then a bit more, a bit more. It was awful. We knew there was no way she could be cured but she shouldn’t have had to endure that.’ Finally his uncomplaining, stoical sister died in a hospice in Chichester, which he says was full of saints. ‘They really were extraordinary, they were a blessed lot of people.’
Soon afterwards Anthony’s mother had a stroke and is in a wheelchair looked after by carers.
He always wears the signet ring which she gave him many years ago, and in an extraordinary way it seems to act as a kind of warning system.
‘If anything goes wrong with the ring I know I must call her immediately.
The other evening the stone fell out. I rang her and she was OK but she’d had a further mini stroke.’ The other near-tragedy in his life has been the anorexia of his daughter Jessica. Ten years ago, he went on a starvation diet when he played a prisoner in a Russian labour camp for the movie Lost In Siberia.
He became obsessed with losing weight and he said once that he believed it had a destructive effect on Jessica. There were some terrifying years when her life was at risk. Finally she underwent pioneering treatment in Canada.
JESSICA still has a long way to go and a lot of work to do, but she’s out of danger, which is an incredible relief,’ says her father. ‘All these obsessive disorders are incredibly tricky to live with, for everyone.
‘She’s missed out on a whole section of her life. Seven years were virtually put on hold and that’s a long time for a young person.
‘I was so proud of her when she suddenly decided she was going to university. She took some more exams to upgrade her A-levels and she’s now doing a degree in English at London University, which is tremendous.’ So many parents of potentially anorexic children fail to spot the early danger signs and he says: ‘It’s incredibly difficult to realise in time. It’s always borne out of a crisis of self-esteem. They feel an inexplicable sense of unworthiness for this world.
‘That starts it off and they get caught in this grip of obsession about themselves. Then it goes from bad to worse.
It always happens to the most sensitive, sweetest-natured people.
‘A lot of times it’s the middle child in a family, for obvious reasons. In our case there was a clear difficulty because our youngest, Sammy, came very late. Jessica had been the little one for so long and then suddenly there was a new baby.’ His mother’s example has taught Anthony Andrews that all any of us can do is to try our best to keep going. She’s 84 and one day soon he hopes she will be well enough to come to see him in Ghosts.
In December of this year, he and Georgina will celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary. He’s a huge romantic who is planning something special and secret. He knows how lucky they were to find each other.
‘She’s very earthy,’ he says, ‘very down to earth. Apart from desire, we have a completely overpowering bond.
I’d rather be with Georgina than anyone else in the world.’