Saturday 10 December 2016

George and Charlotte love Gruffalo audiobooks, William tells Imelda Staunton

Published 22/04/2016 | 02:51

Actress Imelda Staunton after receiving a CBE from the Duke of Cambridge at Buckingham Palace
Actress Imelda Staunton after receiving a CBE from the Duke of Cambridge at Buckingham Palace

The Duke of Cambridge has revealed his children's love of The Gruffalo audiobooks as he presented narrator Imelda Staunton with her CBE.

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William told the Vera Drake actress that Prince George and Princess Charlotte listen to her readings of the Julia Donaldson books on car journeys.

Staunton, who has won four Olivier Awards and a Bafta, was honoured for her services to drama at a ceremony at Buckingham Palace.

She is better known with younger audiences for her portrayal of Dolores Umbridge in two Harry Potter films, as well as Mrs Blatherwick in Nanny McPhee, and can now add the young royals to her fan base.

After she collected her CBE from the Duke, she said: "We did have a nice chat about what I do and that their children listen to me because I've done all of the Julia Donaldson books, The Gruffalo and 10 or 12 others, and they listen to them in the car so they know my voice."

Staunton was nominated for an Oscar, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award for her titular role in Vera Drake, about a working class woman performing illegal abortions in the 1950s, but said nothing matches her day at the Palace.

She said: "Nothing compares to this, because it's real.

"Being an actor and then getting a prize, well it's prize enough doing the job, we get made enough fuss of. But with this, I feel included with what people in the nation have done, I feel like one of them.

"The only time I feel a tiny bit important is when I think I've done what that economist lady has just done or the woman trying to get more women being CEOs, that to me is what it should be about and I'm being recognised for my work and they are for their work."

She added: "Baftas and awards are your peers and occasionally the public, but this is your country."

Staunton, 60, was joined at the ceremony by her husband and Downton Abbey actor Jim Carter and their daughter Bessie, and said the couple are planning a quieter life now she has finished her West End run in Gypsy and Downton Abbey has concluded.

She said: "Hard work is great but, having done eight months last year, I don't want to do any theatre this year because I have to have a life. My husband has stopped doing Downton Abbey and also stopped being chairman of the cricket club so we have a bit of that strange thing called life.

"We didn't even have weekends. Most people who do ordinary jobs have weekends but we didn't even have that."

Also recognised at the investiture ceremony was art historian Sir Roy Strong, who was appointed Member of the Order of the Companion of Honour (CH) for services to culture.

Sir Roy, 80, has served as director of both the National Portrait Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London

He said: "I remember opening the letter and I just burst into tears, it was completely unexpected and an incredible thing to happen and I just wish my wife was alive to see it."

After receiving his honour from the Duke of Cambridge, he said: "He's a very special person and a delightful young man. He said, 'I hope you come back for more things' and I said, 'I don't think there is anything more to get.'

"He sets the new style, the day after the Queen is 90, her grandson does this. I felt it was very special.

"I was knighted by the Queen 30 years ago and I will never forget it, I was very young to get it."

Sir Roy, who recently bequeathed Laskett Gardens, the largest private formal gardens created in England since 1945, to charity, said he has committed his life to the arts of his country.

He said: "I was a wartime child and my earliest memory was always of this country and its arts and everything I loved as a boy in a suburban house with bombs falling around me.

"If you look at everything I've done it's all been about this country, its art and civilisation, its literature and painting."

He added he does not fear for the future of the arts in the face of the EU referendum, adding: "I don't think it affects the arts, museums are global.

"It's difficult to make an observation because I have a romantic vision of this country, I do see it as landscapes of Constable and Gainsborough and John Piper and the castles and gardens and houses and everything I associate with England.

"The island was always different and I think we should celebrate that, that kind of approach is probably in eclipse at the moment but I'm in my 81st year and have the same excitement about everything as much as I did when I was 21 and I'm an optimist, I refuse not to be."

Former England football player Francis Lee, who played for Bolton Wanderers, Manchester City and Derby County, received a CBE for services to football and charity, and revealed he thought it was a joke when he opened the letter.

He said: "I have played for England and being out there on the pitch when they play the National Anthem, today felt like that."

Julia Samuel, founder patron and trustee of charity Child Bereavement UK, received an MBE for services to bereaved children.

Ms Samuel, who was a close friend of Diana, Princess of Wales, is a godmother to Prince George but said she still felt nervous collecting her MBE.

"It felt very different because it was a recognition for the whole organisation so I feel a bit shaky.

"Being in the palace, it's the whole system and tradition and pageantry, it's very moving."

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