It’s a memoir for this week’s pick – and it’s really good but it’s also heartbreaking. So bear that in mind when picking a moment to read it – I ended up a snotty mess more than once.
Depending on how old you are, you’ll know Richard E Grant for something different. Withnail and I, Spice World, Girls or if you’re my sister me: Jack and Sarah. He was nominated for an Oscar in 2019 for his role in Can You Ever Forgive Me. But what I didn’t know was that he had one of those rare things: a long and happy marriage in showbiz. And I only found that out when I saw his post on social announcing that Joan had died. A Pocketful of Happiness is a memoir of his wife’s illness, intercut with stories from their life together.
Joan Washington was one of the acting world’s leading dialogue and accent coaches. She and Richard met when she taught him at acting school, soon after his arrival in the UK from Swaziland. Ten years older than him and recently divorced, they fell in love when she coached him to help iron out his accent and they stayed together for 38 years.
Richard’s love for Joan shines through in every page of this – but you can also see how loved she was by other people and how much impact she had on their lives. At the end Richard has included some of the tributes to her from people that she worked with – some of which were gathered when her friends tried to get her an honour from the Queen before she died. It’s a memoir of grief and nursing someone through a terminal illness – but it’s also full of wonderfully showbizzy stories. Richard’s unashamed joy at being nominated for an Oscar was obvious at the time – but in this you see the behind the scenes as he goes to the awards season events and meets every famous actor he’s ever dreamed of working with – but also his all time heroine: Barbra Streisand. The showbiz stories help break up the heavy bits but also tie together with the story of the last few months of Joan’s life. It’s one of the best actor memoirs I have recently read – and as you know, there have been a few on the pile!