Stephanie Beacham reveals how she and Syd Little formed an unlikely friendship and the moment she broke down in tears at an ashram…

The celebs-in-India show is back with more British stars of a certain age taking on the trials and tribulations of modern day India. This time, nine new silver surfers, including the Krankies, jockey Bob Champion and ex-EastEnder Peter Dean are in Udaipur – and we caught up with Stephanie Beacham, 71, to find out how they got on…

What were you hoping for from your experience in India?

“As you get older your priorities change and if you look of the list of things that I’ve done, the number plays I’ve done and the 600 hours of television acting playing somebody else, I was ready to say, ‘okay, now I quite want to see the world through my eyes.’ I wanted to find out who this 71-year-old really is and I did! It was so much fun.”

The Real Marigold Hotel, group

Stephanie Beacham with fellow travellers Selina Scott, Susan George, Bob Champion, Peter Dean, Stanley Johnson, Syd Little, Ian Tough, Janette Tough (Picture: BBC)

You took part in Big Brother in 2010. But had you ever been on a group holiday before?

“No! And it was a bit ‘Big Brother goes on tour’ because obviously you’ve got so many personalities. There were rather a lot of people to take into consideration – that’s the trouble with a group that large! I knew Susan [George] but I didn’t know anybody else, but we were a pretty good group, I’d say.”

The Real Marigold Hotel, Peter Dean

It’s Peter Dean, who used to play Ian’s dad Pete Beale in EastEnders (Picture: BBC)

What were your first impressions of India?

I expected the poverty because I used to live in Morocco and I’d spent a day in India before. But what took my most by surprise this time was the traffic and the speed of the motorbikes! But do you know, there’s no road rage? You’ve got a huge traffic jam because you’ve got a cow in the middle of the road and they just seem to sort it out!

We see you spend the night in an ashram in the first episode and you got a bit emotional during one of the mediation sessions. Why was that?

“I seemed to spend the whole of my time in India either laughing or crying – the emotions were very extreme. I can only imagine what I looked like at the ashram because that was a very scrubbed face experience! But it was fabulous. Mediation is a very wonderful thing and I found it profoundly moving. The spiritual search for me is very much part of what I think life’s about.”

Did you miss anything from home?


“Nothing! Yes, sure, Bernie and the dogs, but nothing else. I don’t tend to miss things – I tend to just jump straight in!”

What were the highlights of your experience?

The Real Marigold Hotel, Stephanie Beacham, Syd Little

Stephanie Beacham with Syd Little (Picture: BBC)

“
At the Golden Temple at Amritsar I had one of the most profound experiences of my life. I said my prayers as I walked down the steps into the water and had the most overwhelming feeling that they were heard. That will stick with me for life. But there were also so many delightful encounters with people. The family we stayed with at the Marigold Hotel were just divine. They still had the amazing English good manners that reminded me of my parents – I felt really at home!”

You also bonded with the rest of the group, didn’t you?

“Yes, and the person I became closest to was Syd! Never in my wildest dreams would I have put Stephanie Beacham and Syd Little together. But he’s so deliciously open to everything, so humble and so talented and I felt privileged to have made his friendship. Also Mrs Krankie [Janette Tough] – I adored her, although we didn’t have the same interests. I’m mad on temples but she just preferred to go shopping!”

So could you see yourself retiring to India?

“No, the unfairness to women is too severe. One day I saw this little seven-year-old girl with a huge bundle of sticks on her head and her little face was so grubby and then I looked in the other direction and there was this 70-year-old woman with a huge of pile of sticks on her head as well, and I thought ‘from seven to 70, the same thing’. I’m now sponsoring a little girl’s education. It’s my way of being able to cope with an unfairness in a country that has given me so much.”

When can we next see you on our screens?

“I don’t want to take on anything that I can’t give myself 100 per cent to, so I look forward to somebody coming up with a project that I can get my teeth into. I want to play more characterful roles, like Lorraine in Trollied – I loved playing her! I’m waiting for the role of the dowager who ruins everybody’s lives!”

Interview: Hannah Davies

The Real Marigold Hotel returns on Wednesday 1 August at 9:00pm on BBC 1