How We Met: Diana Hawkins and Richard Attenborough

'I tell her she's to the right of Ghengis Khan and get retorts like "you're left of bloody Stalin"'


Diana Hawkins, 70 , has been Sir Richard Attenborough's business partner for 50 years. After starting as his publicist in 1959, she became his script editor and ultimately co-producer. She lives in south London.

I was this junior dogsbody at Pinewood Studios in charge of the stills library and he materialised, on the scrounge for some stills. It was in 1959. I was 21 and he was 36. I wasn't used to meeting stars so I was gobsmacked. He was very charming but he looked dreadful; he had about a week's growth of stubble and a straw hat coming to pieces. About 18 months later I became a publicist with Pinewood and I was assigned to work on Whistle Down the Wind, which Dick was the producer for. It was a fabulous experience. But not long after I got married and went to live in Italy for several years. When my marriage broke up I came back to England with a baby, in a terrible mess. Dick gave me a job here as his PA; it's typical Dick. I think he knew about my situation, but he never referred to it.

When Gandhi got the go-ahead I asked if I could come to India as the publicist. We were there for five months. We were always friends, but that sort of experience tends to bring you a lot closer. We got into some pretty dire situations but he'd always say "it'll be fine". And I'd say "but what do we do if the worst happens?" It makes a perfect balance in a funny kind of way.

While we've never had rows about work, we're different politically and likely to quarrel. But he never bears grudges; it's one of his best qualities. I do, though. I remember hurtful things he's said and remind him of them two years later.

I'm friends with Dick's wife, Sheila, but she occupies a totally different part of his life. We've worked together five days a week most weeks for 50 years. And then at the weekends he retreats into the bosom of his family and does the weekend thing – family has always been so important to him.

I remember on that Boxing Day morning in 2004 news of the tsunami broke. By the time he'd rung and told me what had happened [it killed Attenborough's daughter and niece] I was already thinking with my publicist hat on. I issued a statement saying they were missing and that Dick would not be talking to anybody, which helped to prevent the world's press being outside his door. That was the thing I could do for him. After the tsunami he couldn't listen to music for a long time. But he told me what he heard in his head, The Messiah [by Handel]. He's about to get a new car which will have a lovely CD system. So I gave him The Messiah CD for his birthday in the hope that it will allow him to listen to external music again, as well as the music in his head. We've come a long way, we're neither of us young any more, but what we do together is creative and very satisfying.

Richard Attenborough, 85, is an award-winning actor, director and producer whose prolific 66-year career has included the Oscar-winning epic Gandhi and Cry Freedom. He lives in south London with his wife Sheila.

There was this dishy young woman in charge of the stills department and I went in to try and persuade her to let me have one of these stills. I bewitched her with my tales of the excitement of film production. Diana became involved in film publicity for my next few films, and it was a relationship that turned into much more than I ever imagined. Something changed when she started to step outside being just a pure publicist; when things were really hard out in India, the person I would consult and go to for comfort was Diana.

She has a huge sense of commitment and duty – she's much more meticulous than I am and gets up at 5am every morning, working through till lunchtime. Our arguments tend to be personal rather then professional. We have certain dogmatic rows; I tell her she's to the right of Ghengis Khan and get retorts like "well you're left of bloody Stalin".

She's more amenable than I am. I can be stubborn and difficult to deal with – if a casting director, for example, cannot change my mind they will go to Diana because I'll do whatever Diana says. Her profound logic defeats me. She has a wonderful sense of humour and she doesn't take me seriously, which I think is an outrageous thing. If I am twaddling on in a press conference, Diana will make a sign with her hands as if to say say "Dick darling just come down to it". And she teases me about technology. I hate emails. I object to the tempo – you want an answer? I don't want to give you an answer; I want time to think about it. If she persists in using this thing called email, well that could break us up.

With the tsunami, Diana was wonderful. She understands the manner in which I have come to deal with that situation. She knows the extent of delicacy required, and that it's important to talk about it; she's a most marvellous sounding board when I want to talk about Jane or Lucy and I can't talk to Sheila. She is like family. She gave me for my 85th birthday a recording of The Messiah which meant a lot to me. She has extraordinary perception.

I'm devoted to her and her loyalty. She knows me so well. Our relationship has been through ups and downs but we've weathered them and come through.

'Entirely Up to You, Darling' (Random House, £20), about Richard Attenborough and Diana Hawkins' 50-year working relationship, is out now

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Guru Careers: Graduate Resourcer / Recruitment Account Executive

£18k + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a bright, enthusiastic and internet...

Reach Volunteering: Chair and trustees sought for YMCA Bolton

VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Bolton YMCA is now a...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor