Susan Hampshire interview

Ever since she first came to prominence playing Fleur in the television drama The Forsyte Saga in 1967, Susan Hampshire has won awards and acclaim in a career that takes in stage, television and cinema. As one of Britain’s finest actresses her struggle to overcome dyslexia is well known. Less well known, however, is that she is also a passionate advocate of homeopathy and a patron of the British Homeopathic Association.

When were you first introduced to homeopathy?
It was in the mid-sixties over 40 years ago, but to be honest I can’t remember what the medical condition was I had treated. It was either a throat problem or a skin condition, but what I do remember is that someone suggested I went to see Dr Marjorie Blackie. After the consultation she gave me a powder to put under my tongue which cured the problem and opened up my eyes to the wonderful healing possibilities of homeopathy. It has played an important part in my and my family’s healthcare ever since.

For what medical conditions have you used homeopathy?
Having always suffered from bad throats I ensure I have homeopathic Bryonia handy. I’ve also used homeopathy to treat sprains, burns and bruises. For swelling and bruising Arnica cream works like a miracle. I can remember some years ago my brother dropped a meat cleaver on his foot the day before we due to go to a dance. His foot became so swollen he was unable to get his shoe on and he was convinced he would miss the dance. I suggested he apply arnica cream to his swollen foot, which he did, and the next day the swelling had subsided to such an extent that he was able to get his shoe on and attend the dance.

How did you become a patron of the British Homeopathic Association?
My involvement with the BHA came about because of the decades of wonderful treatment I received as a patient with Dr Margery Blackie and following her retirement with Dr Anita Davies.

Do you keep a selection of homeopathic medicines at home?
I have wide selection of homeopathic medicines at home. In addition to Arnica and Bryonia I also have Aconite, Hypericum, Rhus tox, Hepar sulph, Ruta grav, Argent nit and Arum triph.
If anyone is considering visiting a homeopath for the first time, would you advise them to see a medically qualified homeopath?
Although I recognise there are many very able and experienced non-medical homeopaths who successfully treat people on a regular basis, personally I would always see a homeopath who has trained in conventional medicine. I believe this allows you to benefit from both forms of medicine with the practitioner prescribing the treatment he or she considers the most appropriate for your condition.

Have you used any other complementary therapies and if so which ones?
I have a very holistic approach to health and use a range of therapies including reflexology and occasionally aromatherapy. I’ve also used acupuncture for back problems. I meditate to keep calm and perform Yoga to maintain suppleness and for my overall well-being. And both my husband Eddie and I take four cloves of raw garlic in our food daily, as I believe it can help with blood pressure, cleanses the blood and helps to ward off colds.
What do you do to keep fit?
Yoga, walking, and running up and down the stairs – which I do an awful lot.  When I’m presented with the choice of using a lift or climbing the stairs, I always choose the stairs. 

Have you ever had plastic surgery?
When I was seventeen, like many young people I was dissatisfied with the way I looked, particularly with my nose. So at that very young age, and without my parents’ permission, I had surgery to create the retroussé nose that I have now. I often wonder whether – if I hadn’t had the operation – having a more classical shaped nose would have resulted in me playing different roles. Although I’m not complaining as I’ve had a very enjoyable career. What I do regret is not knowing about homeopathy at the time of the operation, as I’m certain Arnica would have helped heal the appalling post-operative bruising I suffered.

Why do you believe it is important for homeopathy and other complementary therapies to remain available on the NHS?
I believe the NHS should provide real choice to patients. There have been many wonderful developments in conventional medicine but it doesn’t have all the answers. Many patients have been cured of conditions or found relief from distressing symptoms by being treated homeopathically or by receiving some other form of complementary therapy, when conventional medicine has failed.

Administering a homeopathic medicine that boosts the immune system or prepares the body for the shock of surgery can only accelerate the healing process, benefiting not only the patient but also the NHS by freeing up hospital beds more quickly. I believe this represents a truly integrated approach to medicine. 

What has been the biggest influence on your career?
Without doubt the films I watched when I very young starring Vera Ellen, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Doris Day and a young Elizabeth Taylor. They inspired me to become an actress.

During your career you have played alongside many hugely talented actors and actresses – but who do you admire the most and why?
A difficult question as I’ve worked with many fine actors who have taught me so much and whom I admired greatly. Among them I would definitely include Eric Porter who played Soames in the Forsyte Saga. Also Maggie Tyzack, who sadly died last year, and Albert Finney whose attention to detail was incredible. He taught me the importance of “homework” in preparing for a role and to always question why a character is behaving in such a way, for by only fully understanding the motivation of the character are you able to deliver an accurate portrayal.   

Which roles have you enjoyed playing the most?
Fleur from the Forsyte Saga was an enjoyable character to play and was so important in launching my career; Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair; and the title role in The Lady in the Van by the great Alan Bennett. [Editor: Susan has won Emmy Awards for her roles in the Forsyte Saga, Vanity Fair and First Churchills.]

Following your recent appearance in the BBC’s hospital drama Casualty, what other TV, film or theatre productions can the public look forward to seeing you in?
I consider myself in voluntary retirement as I want to spend more time with my husband Eddie who has dementia. When I was still working we had carers come in to look after him, but his health deteriorated drastically.

Since I’ve been at home to look after him, still with some outside help, his condition has improved enormously. He now takes regular walks, is far more communicative and regularly plays bridge, dominoes and other games with me. I believe this clearly illustrates that medicine is not only about clinical diagnosis, prognosis and medication. Other factors are equally important and without doubt the level of stimulation and kindness patients receive has a significant bearing on how they respond to treatment or how they cope with their illness. Although this may sound self-evident, as the NHS attempts to cope with the increasing demand on its services I believe it is sometimes forgotten by some in the medical profession. 

How do you relax?
I enjoy spending time at home and I love gardening, as I find it clears the brain – it’s very therapeutic.