Richard E Grant says ignoring the fact that a loved one has died makes it seem like “that person’s life didn’t matter”, as he described when faced with the loss of his wife.
The Oscar-nominated actor said the coronavirus lockdown had given him the “amazing gift” of spending time with his wife Joan Washington, who died in September 2021 after being diagnosed with terminal cancer.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Records, he said music had been an emotional support for him through his grief and was key to the “fantasy of finding the person you loved”.
Grant married Washington in 1986, shortly after moving to London from Swaziland (now Eswatini) to pursue an acting career.
He recalls meeting his wife, a dialect coach, whom he described as a “very feisty woman, with spiky hair, kicker boots and jumpsuits”, and begging her to take him on as a private client. .
Washington was diagnosed with lung cancer in late 2020 and said she had 12 to 18 months to live, although she died after eight years.
“Due to the nature of my job, you never know what you’re going to do next, so there’s always that slight buzz of anxiety,” he told host Lauren Laverne.
“So between Covid where it all stopped… all this time together has been an amazing gift.
“That meant you had to live in the moment as much as possible rather than trying to project yourself into the future.”
He said his wife was “determined” that no one would know about his diagnosis, but that he and their daughter persuaded her to tell people about it because it was “too heavy”.
“She reluctantly agreed and then was amazed by the outpouring of support we received, from flowers to ice cream,” he said.
“Nigella Lawson talked about the food she cooked every Sunday which was practical, loving and amazing.”
When asked how he thinks people should react to those who are grieving or caring for a sick loved one, he replied: ‘Don’t ignore the fact that this person is either sick or dead. , because if you ignore it, you’ll feel like that person’s life didn’t work out. ‘t count or did not register.
“It hurts me more and I have a hard time not judging people who react outright like it never happened.”
One of Grant’s song choices was a cover of Eva Cassidy from Sting’s Field’s Of Gold, saying she “never fails to bring me down”.
Becoming audibly emotional during the song, he added, “I have no religious beliefs, but the fantasy of finding that person you loved is what you long for.
“Music is the emotional thunderbolt or the key to understanding everything in a way that goes beyond language.”
Tragedy also struck Grant a week after filming for Withnail And I began, when he and Washington lost their first daughter Tiffany, who was born prematurely.
“Grief is something you have to go through and work around and I don’t know if you ever get over it,” he said.
“I guess there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to get over it because getting over it, people say ‘time heals everything’ – I don’t agree with that.
“It implies that you forget that person or disregard them when these things have such a lasting impact on you that I never want to forget.”
He and Laverne also discussed his prolonged estrangement from his mother after finding out she was cheating on his father, and their subsequent divorce – although they later reconciled.
Grant revealed that his father took to drinking after the divorce and once tried to kill him after he emptied his booze.
“Having said that, my memory of him is much more than just remembering that part of him because I knew it was something that was driven entirely by addiction rather than the man I adored and loved. absolutely loved it,” he said.
The full interview on Desert Island Discs is available on BBC Sounds.