Words by Simon Button
Even at an hour longer than advertised, this two-and-half hour chat between Dame Julie Andrews and Alex Jennings just wasn’t long enough.
That’s partly because Jennings and Andrews (who worked together when she directed him in a revival of My Fair Lady and who are clearly great friends) spent a bit too much time reminiscing about how they first met.
Likewise, the actor went off on a somewhat self-indulgent tangent recounting how he first got into the acting business.
But the main reason A Conversation With Dame Julie Andrews felt like more of a surface-scratcher than a fully fledged career overview is that the woman who shot to fame in My Fair Lady on Broadway in 1956 has done so much since then that she’s already on her second set of memoirs.
The event at a packed Royal Festival Hall was to publicise her new ‘Home Work: A Memoir Of My Hollywood Years’ book that covers everything from losing out on the lead in the My Fair Lady movie only to snag the Mary Poppins title role (and an Oscar to boot) to her final collaboration with her director husband Blake Edwards in That’s Life! in 1986.
But this most adorable of dames also chatted about her childhood, her career resurgence in the Princess Diaries franchise, working with Edwards and writing with her daughter Emma Walton Hamilton (who co-authored the new book) - all in that practically perfect voice of hers that has only gotten warmer with age.
At age 84, still very sprightly and full of joy, Andrews is a great raconteur.
She was very funny (noting that Donald Trump would have turned differently if he’d had Poppins as a nanny) and honest (describing her My Fair Lady co-star Rex Harrison as a rather tricky fellow) and, while there were no startling new revelations, it was so lovely just being in her warm and wonderful presence.
After an interval where she encouraged us to “have some tea and a pee”, the second half was something of a race against time where Jennings didn’t even get around to discussing Victor/Victoria - Julie’s underrated 1982 movie musical that was way ahead of its time in its depiction of gay characters.
Oh well, she’ll just have to come back and grace us with her presence again.
Dame Julie Andrews was in conversation with Alex Jennings at The Royal Festival Hall. Her book Home Work: A Memoir Of My Hollywood Years is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson.