Sheila Hancock: I know sporty cars arent environmentally friendly, but they are my one indulgence

Sheila Hancock: I know sporty cars aren’t environmentally friendly, but they are my one indulgence

Actress Sheila Hancock, 78, most recently starred in The Last Of The Duchess at Hampstead Theatre, and was in the Christmas ITV1 drama Just Henry. She was married to Inspector Morse star, the late John Thaw, and lives in London. Here, she reveals a few of her favourite things…
Sheila most recently starred in The Last Of The Duchess at Hampstead Theatre, and was in the Christmas ITV1 drama Just Henry

Sheila most recently starred in The Last Of The Duchess at Hampstead Theatre, and was in the Christmas ITV1 drama Just Henry

ARTISTIC MEMENTO

I like to collect art and have a few paintings that I really adore. They are not particularly valuable but I cherish them. They mark various stages of my life. Either John and I bought them together, or I bought them with a fee from a job I did. I think of them as landmarks and lovely reminders of chunks of my life.

SPORTY RUNAROUND

I’ve always loved beautiful cars. I once owned a Morgan and am about to buy a Mini Cooper, but currently drive a sporty Jaguar XK. John bought me my first Jag and made me do an advanced driving course because I was a very erratic driver. I know sporty cars aren’t environmentally friendly, but they are my one indulgence.

FRENCH BOLTHOLE

Provence is my haven. I have a home there with a wood-burning stove and no central heating. It’s fairly primitive and that’s perfect. My neighbours don’t know anything about my acting life and their lives are lived at a much slower pace than those of my friends in London: no one chatters on mobile phones and people stop to pass the time of day at the market. I love everything about France with a passion.

RADIO SOAP

I’m A big fan of The Archers, on Radio 4. I’ve become hooked on the storylines and I have to listen so I know what’s happened to Clarrie Grundy or whoever in Ambridge. I occasionally work with members of the cast and torture them to find out more about the forthcoming plots. I listen, off and on, during the week, but always catch the omnibus edition on Sundays when not working and I can enjoy it at my leisure.

SOUL MUSIC

I listen properly to music and can’t bear background music. In shops and cafes, I do my best to make them turn it off. To me, music is something that has to be taken into your soul. Classical music is my great love. Bach, Mozart and Beethoven — I love them all. I can find something that will uplift me, help me deal with grief, make me smile. There’s something for every emotion.

INSPIRING RIVER

Ichoose to live by the River Thames because I find great tranquillity init. I think it’s a wonderful river, full of beauty and history. I was featured in the TV series Who Do You Think You Are, and I discovered that most of my ancestors had lived by, or worked on, the Thames. It wasthen I realised I had lived by the Thames for most of my adult life. Maybe that’s why I’m drawn to it.

Motoring fan: Shelia once owned a Morgan and is about to buy a Mini Cooper

Motoring fan: Shelia once owned a Morgan and is about to buy a Mini Cooper

Paul O Charles Dickens

Sheila is a fan of Charles Dickens (right) and says that few people make her laugh as loudly as her friend and comedian Paul O’Grady (left)

WITTY PAL

Few people make me laugh as loudly as Paul O’Grady. He is a friend and so witty there are times when I can barely speak for laughing. He has a marvellous sense of the ridiculous and can be waspish, but is also deeply kind. He lives an eccentric life on his farm, with goats walking in and out of his house, and regards it all as normal.

HEALTHY DIET

Whendiagnosed with breast cancer in 1987, I went on a raw food diet for a year and I still try to eat like that. I’ll chop up carrots, Brussels sprouts, apple and cabbage, put a dressing on it and have it with a baked potato. I have to eat simple foods because I’m a terrible cook — atotal failure in the kitchen. I can make good porridge but that’s all. The idea of a dinner party truly alarms me, so if I want to dine with friends, we’ll eat out.

Dream destination: Sheila says that Provence in France is her haven

Dream destination: Sheila says that Provence in France is her haven

LITERARY GENIUS

I love to read and I belong to a book club. Our last one was A Tale Of Two Cities by Dickens. I adored it so much I went and bought Claire Tomalin’s excellent biography, Charles Dickens: A Life. I’ve fallen in love with him all over again. I think he was a genius. He drew extraordinary characters, and his sense of politics and anger at poverty are enthralling.

CREATIVE PROCESS

I enjoy the process of creative writing. I love the English language and have great respect for it. I’m writing my first novel, which I hope to finish by the end of next year. I used to write diaries, which were extremely honest, but I don’t cherish the idea of anyone reading them.