As the nation marks Freedom Day today, Dame Maureen Lipman is one of hundreds of thousands of people who will be mourning a loved one lost during the pandemic – her partner of 14 years Guido Castro.
Most heartbreakingly of all, she wasn’t able to hold his hand, as she had to wear full PPE at his bedside.
“It is unbelievable to have to say goodbye to somebody with gloves and a pinafore on,” she reveals. “It doesn’t bear thinking about.”
Guido, 84, who suffered from Parkinson’s disease, passed away in January. He technically survived a long battle with the virus, but Dame Maureen says it led to his quick demise soon afterwards.
“He survived COVID in a care home. But he didn’t really survive” she says. ‘It knocked the stuffing out of him”.
But the star, who plays Coronation Street ’s battleaxe Evelyn Plummer, knows she was one of the lucky ones.
Guido ended his days in a care home, where she was at least able to be in the same room, unlike all those who lost loved ones earlier in the pandemic.
And she’s quick to point out she is not blaming the Government either, with the rules in place for the right reason.
She says: “They could have done better but who the hell knew what to do? The scientists’ opinions are all different. I don’t know that anybody could have got this right. It’s a nightmare.
“When you’re in a war zone, you are grappling in the dark, and we as citizens have to accept what comes down, right or wrong.”
She had been with Egyptian-born computer expert Guido since 2008, four years after losing her husband of 30 years Jack Rosenthal. Now Maureen, 75, is throwing herself back into work…
She says: “We’ve all suffered and lost people. Life goes on and in the Jewish prayer for the dead there is no mention of the person who died. It’s a thank you for life. The truth is you just carry on.”
Maureen, announced as a Dame Commander in the Queen’s 2020 birthday honours, recently met another new widow who knows the importance of keeping calm and carrying on.
This month, Her Majesty, 95, made her first visit to the Coronation Street set since 1982, and Maureen was so dazzled she nearly forgot to curtsy.
“It was a moving moment,” she says. “It really brought us all together because we all fell in love with her. It was part of history. She was indefatigable, asking all the right questions. “According to Alan Halsall, who plays Tyrone, I said, ‘Sorry, I forgot my bob,’” she laughs.
“She was absolutely dazzling, and interested in all, from the sound man to the person who worked in the canteen – she has no snobbery. Even the hardest republican young actor fell in love with her. She was so interested and beautiful. She’s got fewer lines than I have. I’d like to know what cream she’s been using.”
Maureen did not forget to mention her late husband and father of her two children, Jack, who had been an early writer on the soap.
“I said to the Queen, ‘My husband wrote episode 13 of this, Ma’am, and after you have gone, we’re going to film episode 10,448,’” she says.
The visit was to celebrate the soap’s diamond jubilee but Maureen believes the Queen also wanted to treat her lady-in-waiting Angela Kelly.
She says: “Her lady-in-waiting is a complete Corrie nut. She was beside herself. She was floating. I’m pretty sure that’s why the Queen came to Corrie.”
There was another thing she would have liked the Queen to bring – her damehood, having yet to receive the physical honour.
Maureen explains: “I was hoping she as going to give it to me on the cobbles or in the Rovers Return.”
She joked: “I put it all down to Gyles Brandreth and Gogglebox, because I can’t think what I’ve done in the last few years that’s better!”
Maureen refers to Channel 4’s Celebrity Gogglebox, where celebs comment on other TV programmes, as her “Saturday job”.
But she has quit after being made to see too many male appendages. She laughs: “I’ve only got so many years left. I don’t want to see a bulldog’s penis. I don’t want to see Too Hot To Handle men talking to their penises.”
Despite the direction in which TV has gone, she has just renewed her Corrie contract.
She says: “I’m going to stay for another year. I like it because it’s kind of improvisational – we get hardly
any rehearsal. “They find me very amusing.”
Alan Halsall, who plays Evelyn’s long-suffering grandson Tyrone Dobbs, is often her victim.
She says: “He doesn’t know what’s going to come out my mouth. Before a scene he’ll say, ‘Any changes, love?’ It’s like playing tennis with a really good player. He’s just prepared for whatever I throw.”
Evelyn joined Corrie in August 2018 and has become a fan favourite.
Maureen has resisted attempts to show her character’s softer side.
She says: “With the dead bodies and the partner swapping you do need to have people just sitting in a pub saying things like, ‘Oooh, hasn’t toilet paper got narrower?’” Maureen first hit TV screens with the ITV Playhouse in 1969, and in film she has starred in hits including Educating Rita.
But for many, it is her role in BT ads, such as “You Got An ’Ology” in 1988, that leaves an enduring love for her.
She has now co-authored a cookery book called This Book Is Toast to raise money for Spread A Smile, a charity that helps seriously ill children in hospital by sending in entertainers.
She said: “It’s a really brilliant charity. God forbid any children should be in that position but if they were this is what you’d want for them.”
*This Book Is Toast is available now at spreadasmile.org/toast/