Joanna Lumley’s Trans-Siberian Adventure

Benjie Goodhart / 13 July 2015 ( 13 July 2015 )

The intrepid actress meets some shamans.

Now THAT’S more like it ITV. Joanna Lumley. We could all do with a little more Lumley in our lives. More Lumley in everything. Lumley to be the new Top Gear presenter. Lumley to read the news. And present Songs of Praise. And Sky’s darts coverage.

But for heaven’s sakes, don’t send her off to Siberia. It’s cold and dangerous. She might catch a chill, or be devoured by wolves, or Russian officialdom. Oh, not to worry. In spite of the programme's title, she appears to be in Hong Kong. A tropical island group more densely populated than the average termite mound, Hong Kong is about as far removed from Siberia as Stephen Hawking is from Puff Daddy.

She’s off on a journey, by train, from Hong Kong to Moscow, at least some of which will see her cross Siberia. (Though none at all in the first episode – it was a bit like tuning in to Match of the Day and being shown Antiques Roadshow’s Greatest Clocks instead).

Still, it was all rather lovely. Joanna sort of floats around looking radiant and talking in her velvet-soft tones, the audio equivalent of a cashmere blanket. She saw a bit of Hong Kong, went out in a hideously vulgar Rolls Royce in Beijing (where Katie Melua’s nine million bicycles look to have been usurped by 20 million cars). She only sounded slightly ruffled when her driver started taking selfies on her gold-plated iPhone while changing lanes. "Darling,” she purred, "I don’t think the mobile phone…"

She saw the Forbidden City, including the concubine quarters (I used to think concubines were women with extremely sharp noses). In a mining city, she visited a school, where the class  asked her various questions. “Are you sexy?” “Do you like Harry Potter?” “Do you like singing?” I think my celebrity interviews must be used as set texts in China.

Then it was off to some trifling concern called The Great Wall. It doesn’t matter how many times you see it, it is an extraordinary achievement, utterly baffling in its scale and ambition. 

Finally, Joanna crossed into Mongolia, and visited a Shaman, who talked in a funny voice, smoked, gave her a drink “filled with your mother’s good wishes”, and then flirted with her about her blonde hair. Then he spanked all the badness out of her. Ruddy Shamans. They do it, and get paid for it and called spiritual gurus. I suggest it, and I’m threatened with arrest and given a banning order. Pah.

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