HOW WE MET: DIANA RIGG AND VALERIE SOLTI

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The Independent Culture
Dame Diana Rigg, 60, is one of this country's most celebrated and durable actresses. She has worked extensively for the RSC, the National, and in the West End, where she is currently starring in `Phedre'. Recent television includes `The Mrs Bradley Mysteries', but she is best known as Emma Peel in the Sixties cult series `The Avengers'. She is married with one daughter. Lady Solti, nee Valerie Pitts, 59, worked as an actress then as a television newscaster and interviewer for the BBC. In 1967 she married the conductor Georg Solti, who died last year. She is advisor to many arts institutions, and is Fundraiser in Chief for the new state- of-the-art Sadler's Wells, opening next month. She has two daughters

DIANA RIGG: Ours was a good time to be at RADA. Sian Phillips was in our year, the year above us was Albert Finney and Peter O'Toole, Susannah York came the year after. Both Valerie and I went up to RADA at 17 and we were in a sense very much the same. We were both northern girls, deeply unsophisticated, though Valerie remembers me being able to handle it rather better than she did. I first met her in the locker room on our first day when we were just feeling our way around. She was a very gentle middle- class girl, not much money, rather timid. One was timid in those days. There was so much to cope with: the big city, living alone, and a course that one was ill-prepared for.

Leaving home to study was seen as rather a racy thing to do, though in truth the ratio of boys to girls was pretty hopeless. There was still National Service in 1956, so a lot of boys who might have wanted to act were doing that instead. But in fact it didn't make any odds to us because Valerie and I were completely and utterly untouched by human hand and deeply naive. We laugh about it all now, especially in the light of what girls are like today. Ours were such innocent times.

Valerie was a good girl in every respect, whereas I was nearly thrown out after our first year for not paying enough attention to my studies. By that time London had taken its toll. Valerie by contrast was very contained. She always did her homework and learnt her lines, and I don't remember her going to a lot of parties. On one occasion we took the same train home to Leeds and I remember her brushing her teeth furiously to get rid of the smell of cigarettes. I was rather blase because my parents already knew I smoked.

By our second year our paths diverged somewhat. I'd moved into a flat with an older Australian and American and my life began to be really rackety. Valerie remembers coming to a party there and bizarre things happening. This was pre-drugs of course. We're talking cheap plonk and I suppose heavy petting, but that's as far as it went. You couldn't get away with much more. We had record players, but it was Chubby Checker doing the twist and stuff like that.. And our clothes were absolutely horrendous. Girls of our age were expected to dress like middle-aged women. I was sent away to London with three sweater and skirt outfits and that was it. I think Valerie had even less, though she had the advantage of being extremely pretty. We wore girdles, for God's sake, even though there was nothing of us. And the height of fashion was to have a duffle coat.

But I'm making it sound rather dour. We actually had the greatest fun- outside RADA at any rate. In those days the teaching was pretty moribund for the most part. As soon as you arrived they'd assign you to a category -juvenile, leading lady, character actress or whatever - which was rubbish. There was no bringing out individuality as there is in drama schools today. We did movement classes, breathing, elocution, Shakespeare verse. And we girls had fencing classes, God knows why. It was all rather genteel.

The friendship with Valerie actually gelled quite a long time after RADA. We didn't meet up again until she was married to Georg and discovered that neither of us had changed very much though our circumstances had. I was delighted to discover that Georg was also a great maestro at bridge. I've played bridge ever since I was a walk-on at Stratford. I can't tell you how many entrances I missed because of it.

Anyway Valerie married a genius, there's no doubt about that. And she became the perfect wife. In order to live with a man like that you have to subdue your own ego to a great extent, and that's what Valerie did, par excellence. She devoted herself to him. Of course Georg was a huge man, hugely vital, and he dominated Valerie's and my friendship in the way he dominated everything, particularly in the way he let you know that he really liked to win at bridge! But I didn't mind being taken over when the person doing it was as fascinating as he was. I was happy to sit and listen.

As for Valerie, I'm fascinated by the idea of this dear shy girl who's still in there somewhere. She's wonderfully unpretentious, Valerie. Yet she's now a highly accomplished woman who has juggled a family life between Chicago and London as well as running houses in London, Italy and Switzerland. In a sense her journey's been rather less obvious, and deeper- personally deeper - than mine. I feel I'm more or less the same, yet Valerie's undergone this metamorphosis And I very much admire her for it. Her social ease is non-pareil. Her dinner parties can be filled with world-famous musicians yet there's always a deep thrum of simplicity about them. And since Georg's death there's been no let-up at all. It's been heartbreaking for her, I know. He's left such a huge gap. But she goes on organising things as brilliantly as before.

VALERIE SOLTI: It was 1957, 58, and we met in our first year at RADA, and even then Diana stood out from the crowd. She never manifested thc blind funk that the rest of us felt. Even straight out of school she looked right, her makeup was right, she had poise. She denies this of course. The great thing in those days was eye-ticks, and her eyeliner was always done very expertly. She had red nail varnish, and this marvellous, thick, naturally perfect auburn hair. Her voice was right. Everything was right. And she just seemed able to do it all. While we were forever slogging away at our lines, Diana would go out to a party and spend 30 seconds next day learning hers in the locker room, and in class it would come out perfectly.

It felt very special in those days to have got a place at RADA. Diana and I had a connection from the start because though she'd been born in India her parents lived in Leeds, and my parents lived in Leeds. We hadn't known of each other before but at some point in that first term we connected. There wasn't a lot of travelling back and forth during term-time because one couldn't afford the fare, but we'd go home together at the end of term. There used to be a carriage on the train with a sign saying "Ladies Only" and that made us laugh because we could never work out what it was meant to be for. We'd smoke on the train and I used to go and brush my teeth so my parents wouldn't know, but Diana didn't care. She'd quite happily go home reeking.

After the first year Diana moved into a shared flat in Hampstead where there seemed to be an awful lot of parties and although I had digs on the other side of London, hers was always the place you'd go after an evening out when it was too late to get home. There was a sort of coal chute you could crawl through to get in, and there would always be a sofa to sleep on, but it was all fairly innocent. Diana had various boyfriends but one's private life was one's own in those days, and sex wasn't a thing any of us discussed. In many ways it was a more respectful society, and certainly a lot safer and less threatening.

The big difference between young people then and now is that we didn't have any money. We went to lots of plays, but often stood at the back. And there wasn't a question of spending on clothes. Being well-groomed was what we aimed for. We wanted neat little hairdos, big skirts and stand- out petticoats which you had to starch in the bath. In class we'd wear our fathers' old shirts belted over tights with ballet shoes. This was long before anyone had leotards.

Sian Phillips and Glenda Jackson were also in our year. Sian was a bit older than the rest of us and had worked in the theatre already, so she seemed terrifically grown-up. But among us younger ones it was Diana who had star quality. That extraordinary rich voice was there from the start. And getting one's voice right was what we all worried about. It had to be on the breath, centred, not too far back in the throat, not too far forward in your nose. "Received pronunciation" didn't exist. You either spoke correctly or you didn't. If you had a few vowels that were not quite right, you worked at them.

At the end of two years we all dispersed. Diana's first job was in Chesterfield if I remember. I went to Reading rep and we rather lost touch. But only a few years later she turned up in the RSC playing Cordelia, which was the beginning of success for her. Then it wasn't until after my marriage that we met up again. Georg and Diana admired each other very much. Music isn't particularly her thing, but they admired each other's professionalism And they both had a strong desire to win at bridge. I remember vividly going to visit Diana when she was doing Medea in New York, and we took her back after the show to our hotel apartment and spent a very long evening playing bridge and eating soft-shell crabs which I bought from Eat.

In the last couple of years Diana's been wonderfully supportive of my work for Sadler's Wells, which has involved organising countless fund- raising events in aid of building the new theatre. And however demanding her own work has been she's always put herself out to turn up for us, unveiling plaques, lending her voice. As you might expect, she's an excellent public speaker, she's very cerebral. And that's what's always distinguished her as an actress. She's never joined the theatrical mainstream, she's an individual.

The new Sadler "s Wells Theatre opens on 12 October. To name a seat in the theatre call 0171 713 0754

Diana Rigg is in "Phedre" at the Albery, WC2 (0171 368 1740).

The playwri

DIANA RIGG: Ours was a good time to be at Rada. Sian Phillips was in our year, the year above us was Albert Finney and Peter O'Toole, Susannah York came the year after. Both Valerie and I went up at 17 and were in a sense very much the same. We were both northern girls, deeply unsophisticated, though Valerie remembers me being able to handle it rather better than she did. I first met her in the locker-room when we were first feeling our way around. There was this gentle middle-class girl, not much money, rather timid. One was timid in those days. There was so much to cope with: a big city, living alone, and a course that one was ill-prepared for.

Leaving home to study was seen as rather a racy thing to do, though in truth the ratio of boys to girls was pretty hopeless. There was still National Ser-vice in 1956, so a lot of boys who might have wanted to act were doing that. But in fact it didn't make any odds to us because Valerie and I were completely and utterly untouched by human hand and deeply naive. We laugh about it now, in the light of what girls are like today. Ours were such innocent times.

Valerie was a good girl in every respect, whereas I was nearly thrown out after our first year for not paying enough attention to my studies. By that time London had taken its toll. Valerie by contrast was very contained. She always did her homework and learnt her lines, and I don't remember her going to a lot of parties. On one occasion we took the same train home to Leeds and I remember her brushing her teeth furiously to get rid of the smell of cigarettes. I was rather blase because my parents already knew I smoked.

By our second year our paths diverged somewhat. I'd moved into a flat with an older Australian and American and my life began to be really rackety. Valerie remembers coming to a party there and bizarre things happening. This was pre-drugs of course. We're talking cheap plonk and I suppose heavy petting, but that's as far as it went. You couldn't get away with much more. We had record players, but it was Chubby Checker doing the twist and stuff like that. And our clothes were absolutely horrendous. Girls of our age were expected to dress like middle-aged women. I was sent away to Lon-don with three sweater-and-skirt outfits and that was it. I think Valerie had even less, though she had the advantage of being extremely pretty. We wore girdles, for God's sake, even though there was nothing of us. And the height of fashion was to have a duffle coat.

But I'm making it sound rather dour. We actually had the greatest fun - outside Rada at least. In those days the teaching was pretty moribund for the most part. As soon as you arrived they'd assign you to a category - juvenile, leading lady, or whatever - which was rubbish. There wasn't the emphasis on bringing out individuality that there is in drama schools today. We did movement classes, breathing, elocution, Shakespearean verse. And we girls had fencing classes, God knows why. It was all rather genteel.

The friendship with Valerie actually gelled quite a long time after Rada. We didn't meet up again until she was married to Georg, and discovered that neither of us had changed very much though our circumstances had. I was delighted to discover that Georg was also a great maestro at bridge. I've played bridge ever since I was a walk-on at Stratford, and I can't tell you how many entrances I missed because of it.

Anyway Valerie married a genius, there's no doubt about that. And she became the perfect wife. In order to live with a man like that you have to subdue your own ego to a great extent, and that's what Valerie did. She devoted herself to him. Of course Georg was a huge man, hugely vital, and he dominated Valerie's and my friendship in the way he dominated everything, particularly in the way he let you know that he really liked to win at bridge! But I didn't mind being taken over when the person doing it was as fascinating as he was. I was happy to sit and listen.

As for Valerie, I'm fascinated by the idea of this dear shy girl who's still in there somewhere. She's wonderfully unpretentious, Valerie. Yet she's now a highly accomplished woman who has juggled a family life between Chicago and London at the same time as running houses in London, Italy and Switz-erland. In a sense her journey's been rather less obvious, and deeper - personally deeper - than mine. I feel I'm more or less the same, yet Valerie's undergone this metamorphosis. And I very much admire her for it. Her social ease is nonpareil. Her dinner parties can be filled with world-famous musicians yet there's always a deep thrum of simplicity about them. And since Georg's death there's been no let- up at all. It's been heartbreaking, I know. He's left such a huge gap. But she goes on organising things as brilliantly as before.

VALERIE SOLTI: It was our first year at Rada, and even then Diana stood out from the crowd. She never manifested the blind funk that the rest of us felt. Even straight out of school she looked right, her make-up was right, she had poise. She denies this of course. The great thing in those days was eye-ticks, and her eyeliner was always done very expertly. She had red nail varnish, and this thick, naturally perfect auburn hair. Her voice was right. Everything was right. And while the rest of us seemed to spend all our free time slogging away at our lines, Diana would go out to a party and spend 30 seconds next day learning hers in the locker- room, and in class it would come out perfectly.

It felt very special in those days to have got a place at Rada. Diana and I had a connection from the start because her parents lived in Leeds, and my parents lived in Leeds. We hadn't known each other before but at some point in that first term we connected. There wasn't a lot of travelling back and forth during term-time because one couldn't afford the fare, but we'd go home together at the end of term. We'd smoke on the train and I used to go and brush my teeth so my parents wouldn't know, but Diana didn't seem to care if hers did.

After the first year Diana moved into a shared flat in Hampstead where there seemed to be an awful lot of parties, and although I had digs on the other side of London, hers was always the place you'd go after an evening out when it was too late to get home. There was a sort of coal chute you could crawl through to get in, and there would always be a sofa to sleep on. It was all fairly innocent. Diana had various boy-friends but one's private life was one's own in those days, and sex wasn't a thing any of us discussed. In many ways it was a more respectful society, and certainly a lot safer and less threatening.

The big difference between young people then and now is that we didn't have any money. We went out to see plays, but often stood at the back. And there was no question of spending on clothes. Being well-groomed was what we aimed for. We wanted neat little hairdos, big skirts and those stand-out petticoats which you had to starch in the bath. In class we'd wear our fathers' old shirts belted over tights with ballet shoes. This was long before leotards.

Sian Phillips and Glenda Jackson were also in our year. Sian was older and had worked in the theatre already, so she seemed terrifically grown- up. But among the rest of us it was Diana who had star quality. That extraordinary rich voice was there from the start. And getting one's voice right was what we all worried about. It had to be on the breath, centred, not too far back in the throat, not too far forward in your nose. "Received pronunciation" didn't exist. You either spoke correctly or you didn't. If you had a few vowels that were not quite right, you worked at them.

At the end of two years we all dispersed. Diana's first job was in Chester- field if I remember. I went to Reading rep and we lost touch for a while. Very soon she was in the RSC playing Cordelia, which was the beginning of success for her. And it wasn't until after my marriage that we began to meet up more often. Georg and Diana admired each other very much. Music isn't particularly Diana's thing, but they each admired the other's professionalism. And they were both very keen on bridge. We visited Diana when she was doing Medea in New York, and we took her back after the show to our hotel apartment and spent a very long evening playing bridge and eating soft- shell crabs - a great combination.

Diana's been wonderfully supportive of my work for Sadler's Wells, which has involved organising fund-raising events in aid of building the new theatre. And however demanding her own schedule has been she's always put herself out to turn up for us, unveiling plaques, lending her voice. She's an excellent public speaker, she's very cerebral. And that's what has always distinguished her as an actress, of course. She's never joined the theatrical mainstream, she's an individual.

! The new Sadler's Wells theatre opens on 12 October. Name a Seat scheme: 0171 713 0754. `Phedre' opens on Wednesday at the Albery: 0171 368 1740.

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