'Life-enhancing and without regrets': the Diana Rigg I knew

Lionel Larner, the agent who represented Rigg for half a century in America, fondly looks back on his friendship with the actress

Diana Riggs
'Diana was one of those rare British actresses who was as loved and well-known on this side of the Atlantic as back home.' Credit: Heathcliff O'Malley

As we speak over the phone from New York, Lionel Larner is flooded with memories of his close friend and client Diana Rigg.

The respected 85-year-old agent represented Rigg for half a century in America and, during that time, shared her life on and off stage.

“Diana was one of those rare British actresses who was as loved and well-known on this side of the Atlantic as back home,” he tells me. “She was very special to me and defined a generation.”

Her resurgence as Lady Olenna Tyrell in Game of Thrones – which brought her Emmy nominations, even though Rigg confessed to never having watched the series – won over a whole new audience.

“You couldn’t walk down the street with her in New York without being stopped by one of her young fans,” recalls Larner.

Diana Rigg as Olenna Tyrell in a scene from "Game of Thrones Credit: Obit Diana Rigg /HBO

And of course, every man of a certain age was in love with her as Emma Peel in The Avengers and then in the Bond film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, in which she would become the only woman to ever make a faithful man of 007.

“I remember in 1994, when I accompanied her to the Tony Awards, where she won Best Actress for Medea,” Larner says. “A man was so enraptured that he rushed up to her on the red carpet while she was giving interviews. Diana dealt with him very graciously in that typically warm way she had: ‘I’m sorry,’ she simply said. ‘I’m busy right now.’ ”

Larner laughs fondly as he recalls a dinner at which Rigg shared a rare bad review. “American critic John Simon had said of her in Abelard and Heloise, ‘Diana Rigg is built like a brick mausoleum with insufficient flying buttresses’,” he explains. “Then all the other actors around the table began to share their worst reviews.”

Riggs was "larky and life-enhancing" according to Lionel Larner  Credit:  Keystone/Getty Images

It inspired Rigg to pen her 1982 book No Turn Unstoned, a collection of actors’ scorchingly bad critiques which, Larner says, many still give each other on opening nights.

It took her a while to shake off the “Bond Girl” label, but Rigg did so where others have failed. Hers was a long and unpredictable career: from starting out in the RSC to The Avengers, then later on television as Mrs Danvers in Rebecca. “She told me that she liked it when the audience hated her,” says Larner.

Speaking to her friend, however, there can be little doubt that she had a great sense of fun. He describes Rigg as “larky and life-enhancing. She never took herself too seriously, even when she was made a Dame”. Appearances alongside Daniel Radcliffe in Extras and Detectorists - alongside her daughter, Rachael Stirling - are testament to that.

“She took everything in her stride, both in her career and her life,” adds Larner. “And, as she once told me, regrets are a waste of time.”

Read more: Dame Diana Rigg, brilliant stage actress who shot to fame as Emma Peel in The Avengers – obituary