It’s now a week since my 80th birthday and I am still basking in the glories of that day. In all honesty, I had been rather dreading the isolation, but it turned out to be a quite overwhelming experience. Yes, a Covid birthday, but made very special by so many cards, messages, presents, and a zoom call with the screen filled with children, grandchildren, and relatives scattered as far afield as New Zealand and both coasts of Canada. And then there was a cake!

Birthday cake

The flowers kept arriving all through the day.  My room, now resembling a flower shop, quickly filled with glorious blooms and a week on they are still thriving.

All this kindness, love and generosity set me inevitably thinking back over my last 8 decades.  A lot of living has been done, packed with endless incidents, some good and some not so good! There has been a great deal of happiness, but also sadness  – and suffering. Although the latter was hard to endure at the time, with age you realise that the ups and downs, the yin and yang, all evens out in the long run. It’s just part of this journey we have to take before moving on to something we  know nothing about.  I’ve always thought that if we were meant to know what happens after we die, we would have been told. Instead it will be, as Peter Pan put it, ‘ a great adventure.’ I find that a comfort.

Enough of the philsophy! For now, I still have a lot of living to do – I hope..  So many people have told me that the 80’s are the new 60’s. I am slightly sceptical about that – but we shall see. One thing I do know is that every day from hereon in, must count. Still a lot to do. Another book to write for a start…

This retrospection set me thinking about all the great friends who have supported me over the years. Sadly many have gone. But not the amazing Dame Judi Dench. I first met her 60 years ago when my father married her and Michael (Williams). There was a problem with their wedding, as Judi was a Quaker and Michael a Roman Catholic. They wanted a joint ceremony and no solution could be found, so she turned to my father, Joseph McCulloch, who was a maverick Church of England clergyman with a reputation for breaking the rules. He managed to arrange a wedding for them and officiated at their service in Hampstead Parish Church. It was a wonderful occasion and Judi and I have been friends ever since. She became Godmother to my eldest son, and years later recited a Shakespeare sonnet at his wedding. Her professional support to me has been continuous. Judi became the President when I formed my theatre company, The English Chamber Theatre.  Then, when I moved on to become artistic director of Opera UK, Judi was hugely generous when we were fundraising to mount new productions. Although I see her less often now, I know she is always there, generous in her support and friendship. She hates being called a ‘national treasure’ but there is no doubt she is a quite exceptional person – not only a truly remarkable actress, but a unique and generous friend, with an outrageous sense of humour. Her laughter is so infectious it should be bottled.

Jane McCulloch & Judi Dench

Next blog in March. Meanwhile, do let me have your thoughts and comments.