Helen McCrory would have been 54 today. While I am old enough to know that life is unfair, I still cannot wrap my head around her passing and the sadness Damian, their kids and Helen’s parents and siblings had to go through during her illness and her untimely death.
I have always known that Helen was a brilliant actress but now I also know she was such a class act in life and death. The way she chose to live, bravely, focusing on her family, work and charity rather than on her illness and death, is a lesson for us all about how to live and die with dignity. She was such a bright star that I know she will keep on living through her brilliant work and the two wonderful children she raised with her beloved husband. And we want to celebrate this phenomenal woman and her life today.
I was lucky to meet Helen once. She was calling a cab at the Theatre Royal Haymarket stage door as JaniaJania and I were trying to drop off our gift for Damian with the stage manager. And in a couple of minutes, Helen told us why she wanted to take a cab but not an Uber, taught us how to take a selfie from above so that we could all look like seven year olds (evidence below!), helped us to pronounce Manon’s name right and told us that Manon wanted to take singing lessons! Her eyes were lit up when she talked about her children. And we were in the receiving end of her ‘Thank you. You’re so kind” that Damian talks about in his beautiful tribute to her when we told Helen about the poster we had made for Damian. I was already a fan of her work but those five minutes with Helen was enough to get to know the down-to-earth woman that she was.
I am also incredibly touched by Damian and Helen trusting us with the task of creating Helen’s legacy site. They could have easily asked a professional but they turned to us and Gingersnap and I will treasure this experience all our lives. While we are very heartbroken about Helen’s passing, we find peace in the fact that we were able to build the site in a few days and that Helen was able to see it. And we had no idea that she was sick. We only knew that Helen asked Damian if his girls would create a fan site for her and that it was urgent. We set up helen-mccrory.com with love. And we were truly immersed in the life and work of Helen as we worked on the site that we formed such a strong bond with this brilliant woman, actress, mum and philanthropist. And it is our promise to Helen’s family and fans that we will maintain her legacy page to the best of our ability.
Knowing Damian loved Helen and she loved him back made us LOVE Helen in the first place! And then getting to know her a bit over the years through interviews and JaniaJania and me having the privilege to meet her made us feel she was the kind of woman whose company we would really REALLY enjoy; in fact, in another life, we could have been friends.
So… Here’s our TOP DOZEN reasons to celebrate Helen! Feel free to add to our list or make your own list, too!
1. She was not an island, but involved in the world around her. And, hey, she was opinionated, too!
“I really, really want every single f—ing self-service till to be ripped out of the shops and people put back in. I want people to be fined for canceling NHS appointments. I want the children I meet to be less interested in staring at a computer screen and more interested in talking to me.”
Once you read about Helen’s thoughts about modern society, how many of you nodded your head in agreement with her and then absentmindedly picked up your phone/tablet/laptop/assorted various other technological gadgets because it is now simply second nature? Good on her for trying to ensure her children weren’t permanently glued to a computer screen/other gadget. It is not an easy rule to enforce given how rapidly technology is developing and a child’s need to be doing what their friends are doing.
2. She preferred funny over beautiful:
“I’d rather be considered funny by a man than beautiful. And humour has always ranked highly for me, too, when it comes to men. It was definitely Damian’s humour that I fell in love with first. Give me someone who can make me laugh and I’m prepared to go to the end of the world with him.”
“Actually, I’m looking forward to being 50, because to me that’s when a woman is at the pinnacle of her femininity and her womanhood.”
“As I’ve got older, I feel more confident in my body, so wouldn’t want to tamper with it. Recently I was looking at myself in a scene of a film and thought: ‘My God — I’m the only one without Botox in that shot!’ You need to be able to face getting older.”
4. She was honest about her marriage:
“It’s a very happy marriage. But not, of course, a fairy tale. We don’t skip around the house in gingham, with bluebirds in the kitchen. We can argue and don’t necessarily like each other all the time, but I have never felt anxious with Damian or thought for a single second that I wanted to be somewhere else.”
What is their secret recipe? She reveals it in a recent interview:
“Being kind to one another is the key thing to making it last. I’m kind to a fault, and it’s the recipe for our success.”
5. She was a down-to-earth mother.
“We worry terribly that they are growing up in a society that is about instant gratification. If something’s wrong – their appearance in a photograph, say – a child can now edit it to their liking or just press delete. But life’s not like that, is it? I don’t want my children growing up wanting to be perfect beings in a perfect world. I keep saying to them, ‘Darling, there are times you will be sad and unhappy and you mustn’t worry about it. Melancholia’s very interesting you know… you should read a bit of poetry.’”
Helen shares with Daily Mail, among other precious family keepsakes, Gully’s first drawing of the family. Can it get sweeter than this?
6. She was a true feminist.
“…Financial independence means the marriage contract has changed. Women don’t have to look for someone to pay the rent when they’re looking for a lover… The benefits of feminism for someone like my husband are fantastic. He can stay at home with the kids, he can take them to a park, he does the school run. He gets to know his kids because that’s expected of men now. No longer do fathers sit in the study and say: ‘Bring the children up with my gin and tonic and I’ll kiss them on the forehead.’ As much as he may ask, he’s not getting it.”
Helen did not only make Damian (he told me once he’s a feminist, too, and I believe him!) but all of us proud in 2018 when she read a speech by Millicent Fawcett, a feminist icon primarily known for her relentless work for women’s suffrage, as the statue of Fawcett was unveiled in Parliament Square in London.
— Damian Lewis (@lewis_damian) April 24, 2018
You can see an excerpt from Helen’s speech here.
Finally, the essay “All About Anna” Helen wrote for The Guardian in 200o is an extraordinary piece every woman, young and old, should read.
7. She had her priorities set even on the day she and Damian attend a state dinner hosted by President Obama at the White House!
“The actors were told by protocol officials to turn up at 7pm prompt and that make-up and hair could be arranged for them a few hours before.
‘We turned that down,’ says McCrory.
‘I’d never been to Washington before and wanted to hit the sights and see a couple of museums.
‘So we rushed back to the hotel five minutes before, jumped in the shower, got changed and ran down to the White House.”
Hey, you two, all of this really in five minutes?!?! Is it Narcissa and her wand or what?
8. She spent her last year helping others!
Helen did not just stay home quietly and enjoy her time with family under lockdown. Instead, she and Damian launched FeedNHS, a nonprofit campaign to raise as much money as possible to help feed NHS workers one healthy meal each day. Partnering with Leon CEO John Vincent, and comedian Matt Lucas, Helen and Damian started the campaign in London hospitals and soon after took it nationwide. And the partners had no idea that Helen was sick! They raised over 1.4 million pounds to feed the front line heroes! And if this is not inspiring, what is?
9. She was Aunt Polly for God’s Sake…
Well, we binge-watched the first couple of seasons in a week or so, and Helen’s Aunt Polly left us in awe craving for more! The writing, the acting, the cinematography and THE MUSIC just rocked!!!
In case you haven’t seen Peaky Blinders yet: It’s about Shelby family, a family of gangsters operating in post WWI Birmingham. Aunt Polly is the BRAINS of the family along with Thomas Shelby (Cillian Murphy) and she ran the “business” when the young guys were away at war. Polly has her own baggage, too; and she is a woman that you would not want to mess with… ever… well, exactly like the woman who plays her! 🙂 And if you wanna find out about what happen to people that messed with her, Peaky Blinders is available on Amazon as well as on iTunes!
10. She was one smart cookie.
It has been a revelation to find out in Damian’s New Yorker profile that the decision to do Keane, the movie he is probably most proud of having made in his brilliant body of work, was a Helen moment:
“That was a Helen moment because she’d read it, and she said, ‘Whatever happens, you have to do this’.”
No wonder Damian called Helen his “ferociously intelligent co-counsel.”
11. She ROCKED her Desert Island Discs Episode
Believe it or not, Helen’s Desert Island Discs (DID) is my go-to when I feel sad and every single time I hear it, Helen makes me smile big, feel good and sing loudly. So it is no wonder that The Guardian chose Helen’s DID as one of the five key episodes in the show’s 80 year history!
From The Guardian:
Helen McCrory, 2020
Confessed that she “lived life at 150 miles an hour” and cheekily described her husband, Damian Lewis, as “naughty”. She chose the complete works of Spike Milligan and the entire Victoria and Albert Museum in London as her luxury item. “I shall wear all the jewels, all the costumes. I shall take out the samurai swords – some of the greatest swords ever made – to make my hut,” she told Lauren Laverne. “And I shall enjoy myself on my desert island, surrounded by what I love most, which is humanity.” She chose Stevie Wonder’s Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing as her final track, and died a few months later.
You can (you should!) listen to Helen’s Desert Island Discs in its entirety here and find out more about this brilliant woman who believes in humanity.
12. Finally, and probably more important than anything, Helen said THIS when asked about her most treasured possession and stole our hearts forever <3
“If the house burned down, there isn’t anything I would run in to fetch. I suppose I should say my wedding ring, but the truth is that I asked my husband to get me a wedding ring that was totally replaceable. It’s just titanium, light and unmarked. It’s the symbol of the ring that matters. I have never found ‘things’ important or interesting. My most treasured possession is my brain.”
Let’s celebrate Helen’s life with the song that the man who misses her the most made for her <3