How We Met: `I beg her to tell me about film things'

FRANCESCA SIMON & MIRANDA RICHARDSON

Best known to television audiences for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth I in `Blackadder', Miranda Richardson (right), 46, launched her film career with an award-winning performance in `Dance With a Stranger' in 1984. She has gone on to receive two Oscar nominations and won a Bafta (for `Damage') and a Golden Globe (for `Enchanted April'). She lives in west London with her two dogs and two cats.

Francesca Simon was born in America and studied at Yale and Oxford. She worked as a journalist until the birth of her son, Josh, in 1989, after which she was inspired to begin writing her `Horrid Henry' series of children's books. Since the first was published in 1994, her books have gone on to sell 17 million copies worldwide. She lives in north London.

MIRANDA RICHARDSON

It was 1984 and I was very inexperienced in the world of interviews. My sum total up to that point had been the publicity for Dance With a Stranger, but already I'd decided it wasn't my favourite thing in the world. When they said a journalist from Vogue was coming, my heart sank. I was expecting someone so polished that I could see my face in them. And I just knew they would have a set idea of me and probably had the article written already.

Instead, Francesca showed up and something about her instantly made me think, "Thank God". I just totally, immediately, instantly related to this person. She made me feel very at ease. I was filming in Kent and we went to a funky little cafe where we could hide out. There might have been one other person in there. We had a perfectly acceptable rissole and salad and I remember nothing of the specific questions she asked. I just recall thinking this is a well-researched, interesting, intelligent person with whom I'm having a conversation. It was like we might have known each other for a long time.

At the end of our session - and this was the first and only time I've ever said this to an interviewer - I suggested to Francesca that we should keep in touch. And she said something like, "Oh great! I'm so glad you said that because I couldn't, but I'd like to." I had an instinct that there was something there worth exploring. And there was. We've been good friends now for 20 years.

A few weeks later I went to her house in London. She was making a garden which was something I was longing to do then. And then she dragged out her record collection. As ` we swapped records, we were swapping ideas. Soon after that, Francesca started working for a theatre company from LA. She was looking for stuff for them to produce and so was going to the theatre a lot. She asked me to go with her.

I remember whenever we'd be at a play I would feel Francesca turn to me trying to gauge my reaction. It was very disconcerting. We'd always have a discussion about it - at the interval, or at the end. I always find it difficult to say something about a performance straight afterwards. I have to form my thoughts, but Francesca is right there. She's very open and she can do it almost immediately. I couldn't keep up.

We're both Pisceans - which we treat as a joke, but then a lot of our mutual girlfriends are too. We're both very loyal as friends. Neither of us is afraid to be enthusiastic about people, though Francesca has that in spades and I'm a little bit cooler. But we are also very different. She's always fabulously well researched for anything she does. She wants to seem smart. It's important to her. So she's very analytical while I fly by the seat of my pants. I do research for my work, of course, but I do it in case I get caught out. I think my work is fear based. Francesca's is not.

I'm in awe of what Francesca has achieved with her books. Somewhere there is a novel languishing in her drawer. She was working on it for years. And then it was like she had this road to Damascus experience when she had her son. She started writing for him. She was interested in everything he was interested in. And it just took off. I'm thrilled for her - and thrilled by her. She's firing on all cylinders.

FRANCESCA SIMON

I was working as a freelance journalist with Vogue and I had just seen Dance With a Stranger. I was completely bowled over by Miranda's performance as Ruth Ellis, so I arranged to interview her. She was filming an Elizabeth Bowen story down in Hythe. I remember being unbelievably nervous, despite having done many interviews before. I think it must have been because I was so in awe of her performance.

In the film she'd been platinum blonde but in the flesh she was this little person in these too-big dungarees which were covered in paint. Because it was on Vogue's expense account, I suggested we could go to lunch somewhere swish, but Miranda took me to the cheapest restaurant I'd ever been to in my life. It was some kind of veggie health and salad bar. It cost about pounds 3 for both of us.

So we had this very earnest meal. I always prepare for interviews, so had a lot of serious questions, but our roles ended up being reversed because Miranda was asking the questions. She was the one trying to put me at my ease. She's very intense and she really listens to what you're asking. I remember after one of my long questions, she looked at me and said, "What do you mean?" And I thought, "Oh my God, what do I mean?"

In the end, I finally did relax. Miranda responds to the person she's with. She wasn't just trotting through a list of pat answers like some interviewees. She was trying to engage. So there was a real dialogue going on. And we kept discovering things we had in common. Somehow it came up that I was fond of an obscure Breton folk singer called Alan Stivell and so was Miranda.

After we did the interview, Miranda suggested that we go for a walk. She must have already decided she trusted me because we talked comfortably and honestly. When we came back to the hotel, we were sitting flopped on the sofa laughing and giggling. Her director walked past and said to Miranda, "Oh, I thought you were being interviewed." Miranda replied, "Yes, this is the interviewer." The director looked at us and said, "I'd assumed you were old friends."

As I left, Miranda asked if we could keep in touch and so, a couple of days later, she called and came to lunch wearing a wonderful green and white 1950s dress. When we are together, we never talk very much about our work. I find out about what she's doing from the newspapers - and the occasional visit to the set. I went to see her recently when she was filming the new Harry Potter. I have to beg her to tell me about film things like the Oscar ceremonies. And then she only does it to humour me.

When she recorded the audio version of my Horrid Henry books, I couldn't quite believe that this long friendship had come to the point where we were linked work wise. I was a little nervous of approaching her about reading them - in case she didn't like the books. But she did and she said yes and she's fantastic. When I listen to her reading them I sometimes forget that I've written them. She makes them sound so different. Now I write with her voice in my mind. So I wrote one about a sleepover that involved an opera karaoke, just so I could telephone Miranda and say, "Guess what - you're going to be singing."

`Horrid Henry's Bedtime', by Francesca Simon, is published by Orion Children's Books at the special price of pounds 1 to mark World Book Day on 3 March. Miranda Richardson will appear as Rita Skeeter in `Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire' in November

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions