(Translated from the original Dutch)
In her role as the clumsy, frumpish housewive Pauline Fowler in the TV series EastEnders the 42-year-old Wendy Richard for the first time plays a woman of her own age. This radical transformation of Wendy shocked many of her fans, who knew her as the young, kitteny Miss Brahms from the series Are You Being Served?
Wendy has little trouble with her new role. She said, "I've reached an age where I can no longer play just beautiful, young cats. I accepted this role just to show that I can play other characters."
Wendy is the most famous face in EastEnders, with the result that she is one of the highest paid stars in the series. With a salary of over 500 pounds a week (about 1600 guldens), she deserves it now more than ever, since she has been in showbiz since 1962.
However, Wendy life as a glamorous TV-star stands in stark contrast to her personal life, in which she was never able to find true happiness. Wendy leads a lonely life. She sighs: "Sometimes I wake up at night, longing for someone to be with me in my arms. But I am now always alone at night. I've no one who cares about me, and gradually I'm beginning to doubt if I shall find [someone] who really loves me."
She says, looking sad: "I think I shall have to bear a life of solitude until I die."
It is hard to believe from the mouth of this attractive, successful actress, with her smiling eyes looking at you, but Wendy reveals that her life at one time was so unbearable that she even attempted suicide.
"It was after my first rocky marriage was over." The actress explained why she came to this desperate act.
"My mother, who I greatly adored, had died. My father had passed away many years before. When my marriage failed, and my husband quit, I had no one else who cared for me. I was completely alone."
Wendy's first marriage with businessman Len Black lasted just five months. She says: "After we split up, I stayed in bed all day long. I didn't eat any more, and the kilos just dropped off in a few weeks until I weighed just 44 kilos. Eventually I took an overdose of sleeping pills. I didn't want to wake up again. Luckily I found that the pills the doctor had given me were not lethal."
Looking back on this unhappy period of her life, Wendy realizes now that she didn't marry for love, but rather for fear, so soon after the death of her mother.
She was only eleven when her father died. She remembers with painful accuracy the horrific discovery that she, as a young girl, made when she found the lifeless body of her father in the living room, right in front of the gas heater. He had committed suicide. Wendy: "The uncertainty that I've seen my whole life is a result of that sad event, which I find overwhelming and an indelible impression, and has dominated my life so far."
Strangely enough it was precisely that memory of her father that dissuaded her from attempting suicide when her second marriage broke down in 1982. Wendy: "I toyed again with the idea, but what put me off it was that I suddenly realized how bad it would be for the person who would find me dead. I wanted to save that person from what happened to me as a young girl. I couldn't do that to someone."
Although Wendy was know for her London cockney persona, she herself came from Middlesborough [sic] in the north of England. Her parents moved to London where they managed pubs and hotels. After the death of her father, her mother ran a small hotel near Kings Cross station. When her mother died, Wendy inherited the hotel. She ran it for two years until she sold it.
Although it's been 31 years since her father died, and 15 since her mother, tears run down her cheeks as she talks about her parents. [webmeister's note: these numbers aren't consistent; Wendy's father passed away in late 1954 and her mother in mid-1972.] Apart from a half-sister she has never met, she has no family. She lives alone in a flat in central London, surrounded by a collection of around 400 frog figurines.
Still, she doesn't really feel lonely. She explains: "My work was my salvation in times past. Thanks to my work, I have many friends now, which is fantastic to me. I am sure they will never abandon me. I am happy as I am now."
Wendy was less happy about the revelations about her turbulent married life with her second husband, filmmaker Will Thorpe, that he gave to the English Sunday newspapers. It was said that as Pauline, Wendy played the perfect mother, but that she in reality did not want to see the two children from the first marriage of her husband [Thorpe]. Wendy hit back by revealing that her husband constantly beat her black and blue. She says: "I still don't understand why I tolerated so much violence and didn't leave him. But I was always hoping that one day he would change."
Wendy's role as Miss Brahms was miles away from her. "In reality, I was terribly prudish. I've always refused sex scenes, which has cost me many roles in the past. It is simply against my principles for everyone to just go bare. I think it is usually unnecessary, unless you're playing a strip-tease dancer."
Although she built up great recognition as Miss Brahms, Wendy isn't bothered by the recording of Are You Being Served? coming to an end. She says: "There is one thing why I am not sorry to no longer be playing her." And points to the flat shoes which she wears as Pauline Fowler. "The high heels of Miss Brahms, which were the bane of my feet!"