How We Met: Nigel Havers & Cherie Lunghi: 'We went to the same stage school. I was there for the ballet, he was there for the girls'


Cherie Lunghi, 62

The actress gained recognition with her first major movie, as Guinevere in the 1981 fantasy film 'Excalibur', before embarking on a West End stage career, and appearing in TV dramas including 'The Manageress' and 'Secret Diary of a Call Girl'. She lives in London.

We both went to the same stage school in the 1960s: a beautiful, baroque building near Hyde Park Corner filled with bohemian teachers. I was there for the ballet, he was there for the girls. It was an unlikely choice for someone of his background [as son of the late barrister and Conservative politician Baron Michael Havers] and he was one of only 10 boys in the whole school. He turned up late one term; this good-looking boy with a twinkle in his eye, very charming and quite flirtatious. So I steered clear initially; he was one candle this moth was not drawn to, and anyway he was far more interested in someone else.

After drama school our paths always crossed; we would often bump into one another on the high street, in hotel foyers and even on flights, and there was always a really strong connection: I remember one encounter on a London-to-LA flight when both of us were in a transitional situation with our respective relationships. [Havers was in the process of leaving his first wife Carolyn Cox, while Lunghi's relationship with film director Roland Joffé was ending.] We got quite drunk and talked all night about our crises, laughed a lot about the parallels and commiserated with one another.

We had never worked together until Nigel got in touch earlier this year and invited me to have lunch with him and his friend [theatre producer] Rupert Gavin. Nigel was interested in putting together an adaptation of The Importance of Being Earnest, with me playing the part of Gwendolen Fairfax. I said, "But I'm too old for that part!", but he explained how it was all wrapped up in us playing this amateur dramatics group based in the countryside, who'd been putting on the same play for decades, and failed to notice we were no longer suitable for the roles.

It's very easy working with Nigel; he's very warm and relaxed; what you see is what you get. He's still very good-looking, and audiences respond when you put someone beautiful and charismatic on stage. In fact, he doesn't seem to have changed at all: he has the same sparkle in his eye, and he's very funny. Having joie de vivre is an attractive thing. He is possibly more light-hearted than me; I might have a more introverted streak as I'm an only child and have a slightly solitary style.

It's fair to say that Nigel has always been open about his interest in women. And while we've all got pasts, he is now happily married to Georgi, who comes and watches us perform; she's lovely and they look really nice together.

Nigel Havers, 62

Appearing in a number of TV dramas in the 1970s, including a BBC adaptation of 'Nicholas Nickleby', Havers' big break came with his role in the 1981 Oscar-winning film 'Chariots of Fire'. He has since appeared in movies including 'A Passage to India' (1984) 'Empire of the Sun', and most recently on TV in 'Downton Abbey'. He lives in west London with his wife, Georgiana.

We both went to the Arts Educational School when it was at 144 Piccadilly in London. I was about 14 and delighted to discover there were about 400 girls and only 10 blokes there. Cherie was in the same year; she was this cool, pretty, slim girl who was quite academic and we got on really well and became good friends. She was a very good dancer, and we used to do end-of-year productions together.

My father had a flat in Temple, in central London, as he was a lawyer, though I pretty much had it to myself, and I hosted a lot of parties that Cherie came to. My father turned up one Sunday morning after one of them, when Cherie and all my mates were dossing down everywhere, and he wasn't pleased.

After drama school we went our separate ways, and I'd see her now and then: we've had some very random encounters. For instance, in the late 1980s, we met on a plane going to LA. She was going to see her then partner, [The Killing Fields director] Roland Joffé, and I was going to LA to film a TV series. When we arrived at the other end, Roland had sent a limo to pick her up, and she gave me a lift. The driver was this odd-looking bloke in drag, and not long into our journey he crashed our car into the one in front; we were banged about and rather shocked, but we were OK.

I've seen pretty much everything she's done. I had a number of friends in John Boorman's Excalibur, which I thought she was good in, though I particularly liked her in The Manageress; she had a big hit with that as this ballsy women running a football club. I think that is part of what she brings to her characters; they're smart, sassy women.

She was top of our list when it came to casting our production of The Importance of Being Earnest, though she took some convincing, as she thought she was too old. We've not worked together before, but I knew she'd be straightforward, fun and easy to work with. We're both playing parts older than the characters are supposed to be – though I think she still looks youthful and has a youthful personality. Once we were rehearsing, it felt like being back at drama school. She is brilliant on stage, as she can switch emotions on a sixpence and she is always very conscientious.

I think she feels I'm more extroverted and gregarious than her, but anyone who goes on Strictly Come Dancing has to have nerves of steel; I could do the dancing, but I don't think I've got the bottle to do that.

'The Importance of Being Earnest', starring Cherie Lunghi and Nigel Havers, is at the Harold Pinter Theatre, London SW1, to 20 September

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