The one lesson I’ve learned from life: Actress Haydn Gwynne says do the thing that makes you joyful


The one lesson I’ve learned from life: Actress Haydn Gwynne says do the thing that makes you joyful

  • Haydn Gwynne, 63, who lives in London, found fame in Drop The Dead Donkey
  • Actress recently saw a letter written in her 20s outpouring grief about her career
  • She says you don’t realise how young you are when you’re young

Haydn Gwynne, 63, came to fame in 1990s newsroom satire Drop The Dead Donkey. Her stage performances include Billy Elliot, The Audience and City of Angels, and she plays Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, in C4 comedy The Windsors. She lives in London and has two sons, aged 23 and 20.

You don’t realise how young you are when you’re young — or all the opportunities you have. You have so much anxiety about the life decisions you need to make, you just can’t see the currencies that you have. Not just your looks and beautiful young skin, but that this really is a time to have a go at things.

Recently, I saw a letter I wrote to my sister when I was in my early 20s, which turns into this outpouring of grief about the worry I’ve left it too late to become an actor. Now from the vantage of middle age, I wish I could have seen myself with adult eyes.

Haydn Gwynne, 63, (pictured) who lives in London, claims you don’t realise how young you are when you’re young or all the opportunities you have

I never went to drama school. I was a bit of a jack-of-all-trades: good academically, sporty, quite musical. After studying at Nottingham University, I moved to Rome for five years, teaching English as a foreign language then lecturing at Rome University. But aged 26 I returned to London and told my parents I wanted to be an actor. It was such a relief.

Reading the letter it was weird to see that young Haydn worrying about time flying. I showed it to my sons and they were struck by how it echoed their own anxieties. My younger son was worrying about changing his course to one he thought would look better to employers, and I thought: ‘Do the thing that gives you more joy, surely?’

Right now I’m in a transitional time. Covid meant my sons lived at home again, but a new freedom is on its way. You think: ‘If I’m not being a mother, what is the point of me?’ On the plus side, now I can be totally present at work, do a touring theatre job and have a drink with young colleagues I admire.

They can enjoy the experience you have in life. I also feel a responsibility to look out for them. As an older woman, I realise it is up to us to step into the matriarchal role in life and at work. If you’ve lost the significant matriarchs in the family — in my case, my mother and my elder sister, who died far too young of cancer — you think: ‘Well, maybe now it’s time for me to be that grown-up.’

HAYDN stars in Copenhagen at the Rose Theatre in Kingston, Surrey, until Saturday (rosetheatre.org). 

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