Joanna Lumley interview: 'We forget how frightening all this bad news is for older people'

Ahead of my interview with Joanna Lumley there is some confusion as to her whereabouts.“We wear masks, we are distanced, we rehearse in masks, we don’t gang together: the whole shebang,” she says.I was tested yesterday, I’m going to be tested again tomorrow.“Reading and being read aloud to are almost the mainstays of life, they will always give you somewhere to escape.When things are bad or too much to bear, particularly now in this time of infection, a book is the best place to turn.”

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Ahead of my interview with Joanna Lumley there is some confusion as to her whereabouts. One publicist thinks she might be in Indonesia. In the event she’s in Stockwell, where she lives with her second husband, the conductor Stephen Barlow, but only part time: last week she was in Scotland and Northern Ireland filming a new UK travel documentary and the next morning will be “up at the crack of dawn” to wrap filming on her new ITV comedy drama Finding Alice, starring Keeley Hawes.

“Funnily enough, I’ve been doing a lot through lockdown,” she booms down the telephone in that familiar voice, rich as plum pudding, before reeling off a list of recording projects including the latest series of her Radio 4 comedy Conversations From a Long Marriage, all executed in line with government guidelines, of course.

“We wear masks, we are distanced, we rehearse in masks, we don’t gang together: the whole shebang,” she says. “I’ve been tested more than any human being in the country. I was tested yesterday, I’m going to be tested again tomorrow. I’m an old age pensioner [she’s 74] so therefore I’m on the cusp of extreme danger, except I’m not of course because I’m as fit as a flea, running about the place.”

Somehow during all this running around Lumley has also found time to record an audio version of a new children’s book, 5-Minute Really True Stories for Bedtime, a brightly illustrated anthology of short factual pieces on the theme of “night”, from how sharks sleep, to what causes the Northern Lights. Her voice, as she narrates these tales, is truly something, almost seductive in its molten liquorice depths and soothing enough to send the most restless child to sleep, to say nothing of their parents.

Naturally, Lumley is a terrific fan of books in any form. “I’m all for make-believe but there is something thrilling about facts that are often stranger than fiction,” she says with gusto. “Reading and being read aloud to are almost the mainstays of life, they will always give you somewhere to escape. When things are bad or too much to bear, particularly now in this time of infection, a book is the best place to turn.”