The Grown-Up Test: Bonnie Langford

Gemma Calvert / 18 February 2019

The actress and dancer is starring in West End show 9 to 5 The Musical and turns 55 in July. But how old is she in her head?



Worst hairstyle?

I’ve had plenty! The 1980s was probably my worst hairstyle, for the entire decade! I went from having so much hair I looked like a Tressy doll – I had tons of natural curly hair and I’m quite small, 5ft 1in. My hair came into the room before I did. In 1989/1990 I wanted a change, so I went to the other extreme and chopped it off to half an inch at the back. It was a nightmare because in those days we didn’t have lovely things like straighteners, so it bounced up like I’d got my fingers in the electric sockets. These days it’s mid-length. I’ve found a happy medium!

What was the last public complaint or protest you made?

I don’t really publicly protest about anything. I give people a chance, but I will complain if they’re doing a shoddy job, just because they’re lazy. That said, I can’t remember the last time I said ‘that’s not good enough’.

What did turning 50 mean for you?

Nothing much. Far too much emphasis is put on a number when it’s about the person inside, what you’re doing and where you’re at in your life. There is no standard ‘you have to behave like this’ or ‘you’re physically like this’ because of the number that goes beside your life. Unfortunately, when somebody has passed and you see their birth date and leaving date, it’s really a quick dash. You never know what’s coming. I know it means you can be part of Saga, which is a lovely benefit, but age isn’t something you should concentrate on.

What's the last good deed you did for the planet?

I feel like a terrible person because I don’t know. I’m environmentally friendly and I do lovely walks and appreciate the planet. I don’t have a garden, I live in a flat in London with a balcony and I can’t keep anything alive on it. I have two orchids in my house, which I’ve managed to keep alive. That’s the important part because orchids are so difficult to grow.

What do you wear around the house?

My pyjamas, dressing gown and slippers. I’ve been rehearsing for 9 to 5 The Musical and doing a show at night so it’s all been a bit mad. Generally, I go home and go to sleep.

Celebrities to see in West End theatre productions

Home or away?

I like to go away on holiday somewhere warm. In the summer, I rushed over to New York and visited friends and my niece who lives there and did some shopping, but I’m a bit of a Cancerian and I like to nest at home. I do so much away with my job, when I’m home I like to be quiet.

When did you last stand naked in front of someone?

I’ve just finished 42nd Street and people are running round half-naked most of the time so you just do. I also get spray tans and although you wear paper knickers, they don’t do much, do they?

What single thing would make getting older easier?

A foam roller because you can roll out the lactic acid and knots in your muscles and legs, which makes you more supple. Also having a weekly deep-tissue or shiatsu massage, which I try to do. When I’m in a show and singing a lot, I try to get a vocal massage to realign my neck and shoulders and massage around my jaw, sinuses and voice box. It’s not necessarily pleasant, but it’s really freeing. You feel so released and open afterwards that it can give you a bit of a head in the clouds feeling. We hold so much of our emotions and energies in our bodies and don’t even realise it.

What makes you really grumpy?

When I’ve not had enough sleep, when I’m not organised and on top of things and I can’t bear being late. Also, people who don’t listen or pay attention to other people, people who are blinkered and don’t show respect and kindness for others. It’s day-to-day ignorance – people walking along the street five abreast and you can’t get past, not putting yourself in somebody else’s shoes, people who are just completely oblivious to others. People can be incredibly single-minded. It takes nothing to be polite and kind.

What’s the bad habit you can’t break?

I’m being quite good because I’m not eating chocolate at the moment, which is generally a bad habit. Vocally, it’s not very good for you and I’m also feeling very tired and I’m very bad at going for sugary, sweet snacks. Most people will go ‘I’m doing a full detox’. I can’t do that at the moment – life’s too difficult – but I will cut out something that’s easy to eliminate. Then you go for the chocolate and think ‘no, I’ve been without it for a few days, I can do this. It’s fine’. Other than that, I probably talk too much.

Name two people from the past you'd like to sit next to at dinner

One would be my father who is no longer with us. He was a strong, stable and quiet man and very much the anchor of my family. Often, he didn’t share his thoughts and I would love to know what he was thinking. He took over from his father’s business because that’s what was expected and I don’t think he got to do the job he really wanted to do. I [also] don’t think he got to enjoy his retirement because he got dementia. Another person I’d like to sit down with is Angela Lansbury, who I worked with on a production in London called Gypsy when I was eight years old. I was taken to America for a year with the show and she was a great role model. She is to this day. She has a wonderful work ethic and a wonderful life ethic. She’s utterly professional but also utterly personable and seemingly authentic. She’s 93 and still working, still on it, still very much of today. The loveliest people are the ones who have the most experience because they don’t have anything to prove.

Angela Lansbury talks Blithe Spirit

Who or what is your greatest love?

My daughter [Biana Grunert]. She’s 18 and it’s just wonderful to watch her grow. As a mum, you learn about yourself, other people, how to support and do the best you can. You don’t get it right, you learn how to make terrible mistakes and you get over it. It’s a working relationship because you’re both growing so much. People used to say to me ‘How do you keep fit?’ and I went ‘I don’t actually keep fit, I just run after my daughter!’

What is the best thing you consider you’ve done?

Be a mum. That was my proudest moment. I always wanted to be a mum. I’ve never had a bucket list or a fixed vision. I’ve always had ambitions and goals but never said ‘I want this by the time I’m 25’. I just wanted to see what life threw at me, but I did want to have a child and I didn’t want to get to that point where I’d left it too late. I was an older mother – I had her when I was 35. I was so blessed.

Favourite tipple?

I’ve never been a drinker. It doesn’t interest me. I don’t like it. I’m not a judgmental person who disapproves, but I like to enjoy myself and still remember what happened the next day.

School prefect or school terror?

Prefect. I’m sorry. I was a bit of a good girl! I was actually a prefect at Italia Conti [The Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts] in London. I liked to support the teachers and the pupils and be there if somebody needed any help with anything. I was one of those people who would listen.

Biggest regret?

I choose not to have regrets. They can make you bitter, which becomes a magnet and you’re on a downward spiral. There have been difficult moments in my life and challenges, but if I hadn’t done things that way, then I wouldn’t have learned those lessons. In marriages, when things don’t go according to plan, it’s very hard for everyone involved and you just try to make it as straightforward as possible and try not to hurt too much – other people or yourself [Bonnie split from her husband of 20 years Paul Grunert in 2015]. Generally my main focus on that has always been my daughter. Whatever is best for her, I will be there.

Spring, summer, autumn or winter?

Spring. It’s full of hope, the nights are getting warmer and there’s lots of lovely colours.

Moment you felt you were finally adult?

When I bought my first property in London in 1993 and started paying the bills. I felt more of an adult when I was younger. I was very much in adult situations and didn’t want anyone to say ‘she’s very good for her age’ - age should not be an excuse. When I was in Gypsy with Angela, the director, Arthur Laurents – he wrote things like Westside Story as well – there were seven kids in the show and we were called ‘small adults’ because we were expected to be adult and behave in a certain way. We had fun with the company, but we weren’t a separate entity and all of us rose to that challenge. I had less of a laugh when I was younger because I wanted to be accepted as being competent and professional. Now I will have a lot more fun and be a lot more stupid.

Last time you laughed till you cried?

All the time. I get quite hysterical about things and do laugh until I cry, generally with my daughter. Her friends think I’m an idiot because she’s always filming me doing something daft. Once I was trying to wrestle with a duvet cover and ended up inside it, which was highly amusing for her and slightly claustrophobic for me! She’s got enough to make a YouTube channel but, fortunately, she only shares them with her friends.

How laughter is good for health

Your hope for the future?

Health, happiness and that people start to listen to each other. So many people don’t get heard and we all need to make a bit more time. I heard myself yesterday going ‘I haven’t got time!’ That’s bad. I need to make time because you never know when it will stop.

Verdict:

Bonnie can be silly, guffaws until she cries but loves her PJs and still works as hard as she did 46 years ago. With this much positivity and fun in her heart, she is a young 40 in her head.

Win tickets to 9-5, The Musical

Saga Possibilities members can win a pair of free tickets to 9-5, The Musical. Visit saga.co.uk/membership for more details.





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