Can you tell us about your documentary Respect Your Elders for BBC1?
“In the documentary, I meet old people who are unhappy, lonely and lacking the care that they need. I am privileged because actors are treated with respect and kindness. People listen to us and bother to talk to us. It is not like that for most pensioners.”
Why did you want to make this film?
“I think there is a big problem in society which we need to address. As a young girl, I was taught to respect anybody older than myself whether it be teachers, grandparents, parents. It’s not like that any more. It’s all gone topsy-turvy.”
How was it different when you were younger?
“I was brought up in an extended family. We went to our grandparents’ house every day. My grandfather, John Butler, taught me to tell the time on his watch which was on a chain. We sat on his lap and combed his hair while he sang songs to us. He told us stories about his boyhood, so you see, we were aware of history through him.”
Your former co-star John Bardon, who played Jim Branning in EastEnders, suffered a stroke five years ago and is now bedridden…
“I visit John regularly. His wife Edna has been marvellous. I feel for him because he can’t write, paint or tell his jokes any more. He is such a clever man and he loved performing.”
Why do you think some elderly people shy away from life?
“Old people withdraw because they don’t want to be a nuisance. I think that if you have your health, you have to wear bright colours and keep reminding yourself that you are a person and not a nuisance. If you stand up straight, you immediately look younger and I think what has helped me is work.”
And fame came to you late in life…
“I started to become well known when I was two years off retirement. I’ve been working flat out for 24 years. I’m currently taking a sabbatical from EastEnders to do other work like this documentary. I like doing new things. It’s what makes me feel alive.”