Joanna Lumley OBE, FRGS (born 1 May 1946) is an English actress and former model, born in India, who is best known for her roles in The New Avengers, Absolutely Fabulous, Sapphire and Steel and Sensitive Skin.
Joanna Lumley was born in Srinagar, India. She was educated at St Mary's School in Sussex, England and afterwards attended the Lucie Clayton finishing school. Tall, leggy, slim and blonde, Lumley spent three years as a photographic model, and is said to have made her TV debut in a well-known UK advert for Nimble bread first screened in 1969. She also worked as a house model for the late Jean Muir. Lumley's acting career began with the role of a Bond girl in On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969). She went on to have a brief but memorable role in Coronation Street in which she turned down Ken Barlow's offer of marriage.
Her first major role, however, was as Purdey in The New Avengers, a revival of the secret agent series The Avengers. Although critical reaction to the series was lukewarm, the casting of Lumley was seen as inspired and following the tradition of iconic Avengers actresses. Honor Blackman, Diana Rigg and Linda Thorson. Lumley's bobbed hairstyle quickly became known as the 'Purdey bob' and was hugely popular for a time in the mid-1970s.
In 1979 she appeared in another series with a cult following: Sapphire and Steel, opposite David McCallum. Conceived as ITV's answer to Doctor Who, Lumley played a mysterious ephemeral being ('Sapphire') who, with her cohort 'Steel', dealt with breaches in the fabric of time. Lumley went on to find fame with a new generation for her portrayal of the chain smoking, boozing, cocaine sniffing and other drug-taking sexpot fashion director Patsy Stone on the British comedy television show Absolutely Fabulous (1992 - 2004).
She has specialised in playing upper-class parts, and her distinctive plummy voice has reinforced this. However she has demonstrated her ability to go beyond stereotypical images, most notably in the monologue series of playlets Up In Town (2002), written by Hugo Blick, and focusing on a society hostess's realisation that her star is fading.
Other work has included: The Curse of Fatal Death — a special 1999 Comic Relief episode of Doctor Who — where she was a female version of the Doctor, a film about a journey made by her grandparents in Bhutan - In the Kingdom of the Thunder Dragon (1996) and A Rather English Marriage (nominated for a BAFTA for Best Actress 1999) and Dr Willoughby. In 1995 she provided the voice of Annie the rag doll in the animated series The Forgotten Toys. In 2000 she co-produced a new drama series entitled The Cazalets. She has also appeared in a TV series on Sarawak, where she spent time as a girl.
Lumley starred as the elderly Delilah Stagg in the 2006 sitcom Jam & Jerusalemalongside Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders and Sue Johnston. In July 2007 the second series of the drama Sensitive Skin was aired on BBC. Lumley playing the main character Davina Jackson. Most recently she is starred in tea Shop Asylum, a sitcom written and directed by David Skynner.
Joanna was in the news during 2008 when she faced a campaign to provide Gurkha veterans with the right to settle in Britain, something which she continues to work on. Lumley has gained prominence as a voice over actress and is one of the most recognised voices in the United Kingdom. Users of AOL in the United Kingdom are familiar with Joanna Lumley's voice. She recorded the greeting "Welcome to AOL" for that company. It is, therefore, the first thing that a UK AOL user hears when logging on.
Following her rise to fame, she revealed that she had been an unmarried mother (son James, born 1967) during the 1960s when it was socially unacceptable. James Lumley's natural father is the photographer Michael Claydon who is of Anglo Indian ethnicity. The first of her two subsequent marriages was to comedy writer Jeremy Lloyd (Are You Being Served? see early career). In 1986 she married conductor Stephen Barlow; they live in London. Lumley was awarded an OBE in 1995. She is also a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society (FRGS). In 2006 she was awarded an honorary degree from the University of St. Andrews.
She is a noted animal rights campaigner and vegetarian. She is also a car enthusiast, whose favourite TV programme is Top Gear. Her favourite car is a Triumph Stag convertible. She has been involved with a number of charities, including The Druk White Lotus School (in Kashmir), The Born Free Foundation, Mind (the UK mental health charity), Sight Savers, The Friends of Kadzinuni and many others. She has an interest in and concern about environmental matters and sponsors the Joanna Lumley Fellowship in Environmental Science at the University of Oxford. At the 2007 Chelsea Flower Show, Lumley had a fuchsia named after her. She has also narrated a number of audiobooks and provided forewords for works by other authours.