There will be dying, but there is no need to go into that…The sun rises in spite of everything…Everything is going to be all right.’ – Derek Mahon
Helen McCrory was a class act not only in her acting career but also in life and death. The way she chose to live, bravely, focusing on her family, work and charity rather than on her illness is a lesson for us all. Her personality and life deserve a big celebration and we are thrilled to share with you the way Damian has kept celebrating Helen all year long.
A Poet for Every Day of the Year at the National Theatre
Guests gathered at the National Theatre on January 25, 2022 for a moving live poetry reading dedicated to the late, great Helen McCrory. Allie Esiri curated the night’s event from her latest anthology volume A Poet for Every Day of the Year that she dedicated to Helen. A variety of readers including Damian, Lesley Sharp, Fay Ripley, Simon Russell Beale and Danny Sapani took to the stage to read verse to 900+ audience members in attendance, together with Damian and Helen’s children Manon and Gulliver and family friend Helena Bonham Carter.
Chris Riddell (political cartoonist for The Observer, award-winning author and illustrator, and Waterstones Children’s Laureate 2015-2017) was in attendance to live-sketch each poem as it was read.
Damian introduced the evening as he shared an anecdote about the origins of the expression ‘stealing somebody’s thunder,’ which apparently comes from the failed playwright John Dennis in 1709. Damian remarked that nobody could steal Helen’s thunder on stage:
“This evening is dedicated to her and it’s perfect, because Helen loved the National Theatre. One person whose thunder would absolutely not be stolen was Helen McCrory.”
Helen thought poetry mattered and supported Allie Esiri’s passionate determination to make it a part of people’s daily lives. Allie said:
“We dedicated the evening to Helen and Damian said a few words, but we just wanted to get on and do the show. It’s what she would have told us to do – OK, enough already, get on with the show!”
Damian read Robert Burns’ Address to a Haggis where he attributed his accent to his father-in-law who coached him over some gin 🙂 Damian also read Ode To Autumn by John Keats and Lemn Sissay’s Invisible Kisses.
Russell Beale recited W.H. Auden’s O Tell Me the Truth About Love and Shakespeare’s Sonnet 98. Lesley Sharp read Rumi’s The Guest House, Seamus Heaney’s The Cure at Troy and Wendy Cope’s Song. Sharp and Fay Ripley together gave audience members Tennyson’s Charge of the Light Brigade and Amy’s Levy’s At a Dinner Party, while Danny Sapani read from Wordsworth’s Composed Upon Westminster Bridge to Ray Antrobus’s Two Guns in the Sky for Daniel Harris. Riply also read Spike Milligan’s Never Bath in an Irish Stew.
All presenters lined across the stage to perform George Marriott Edgar’s Albert and the Lion and the satirical lesser known A Brief History of Modern Art in Poetry by Poet Laureate of Twitter Brian Bliston.
As the evening came to a close, Damian read Everything is Going To Be All Right by Irish Derek Mahon before Helen was granted the last word of the evening. The final poem was a 2017 footage of Helen reciting Wild Geese by Mary Oliver at the Women Poets through the Ages poetry event Allie Esiri curated at the National Theatre in 2017. Fierce. Glamorous. Formidable. A phenomenal woman.
Helen McCrory Memorial at the Actors’ Church Covent Garden
Damian hosted a private memorial at St. Paul’s Church, Covent Garden (aka The Actors’ Church) to celebrate Helen’s life and her formidable personality.
There was laughter, tears and a standing ovation in Helen’s honor.
The hour-long service opened with Beethoven’s Ode to Joy and was followed by a prayer and the hymn Guide me, O thou Great Redeemer. Readings included one about her ‘leading men’, while another was a recital of Maya Angelou’s poem, Touched by an Angel. Bob Dylan’s To Be Alone with You featured, and a film titled In Her Own Words was played.
I vividly remember Helen choosing To Be Alone with You as one of her favorite tunes in her Desert Island Discs episode adding that she had a blank check from Damian to run away with Bob Dylan 🙂
The guests at the event included Matthew Macfadyen, Keeley Hawes, Mark Strong, John Simm, Helena Bonham Carter, Allie Esiri, Ralph Fiennes, Eddie Redmayne, Benedict Cumberbatch, Joe Cole, Natascha McElhone, Bob Geldof and Paul Ready.
A close friend said:
“It was just the most beautiful memorial. It was very touching. Speechless.”
A family guest shared:
“It was absolutely wonderful, and Damian was fantastic in organizing it despite his grief. Gully played the guitar and Manon read and all the other actors who acted with her, and of course the director of her first play in the National, was here.”
A string of close friends and relatives gave speeches at the service, as well as famous acting colleagues. Mark Strong led the tributes as the actor who worked with Helen more than almost any other actor, appearing in seven different films, shows and plays together.
Helen with Mark Strong in Uncle Vanya
You can see more pictures from the Memorial here.
The McCrory Award – Photo Exhibition and Auction
In June, Sir HvH Arts Foundation CEO and Helen’s close friend Debbi Clark, in collaboration with Marcella Martinelli, curated an art exhibit showcasing exclusive photography pieces of Helen McCrory to support the Sir Hubert von Herkomer Foundation and to honor The McCrory Award. The foundation – which Helen was the former Patron of and is now patroned by Damian – gives access to free art and media workshops for disadvantaged children “…so they can express their inner artist” and flourish. Other featured photographs that were donated by friends included Fay Ripley, Mark Strong, Eddie Redmayne, Helen Bonham Carter, Sienna Miller, Jude Law, Sadie Frost, Billie Piper, James Purefoy, Harriet Walter and Harry Treadaway, who posed for Debbi Clark, photographer and CEO/Founder of HvH Arts Foundation.
The McCrory Award was announced at an invitation-only private viewing, with Damian presenting the award to three young HvH Arts Foundation artistic recipients: Joshua Bamgbose, Sienna Rackal, and Giada Averna.
The foundation is dedicated to supporting children and young people who are gifted in their art, yet many do not have access to resources, training or support to fulfill their dream. The McCrory Award and charitable mentorship will make their dreams become a reality. Helen always believed every child should have equal opportunities and accessibility to the arts.
The event was hosted by Alon Zakaim Fine Arts and held at the opening of their new gallery space in London, with 100% of the donation proceeds going to HvH Arts.
Here is a video clip from the event of Damian reading Helen’s quote. Clip was provided courtesy of Marcella Martinelli’s Instagram story. Thank you so much, Marcella, for your great work and for allowing us to share with our readers.
According to Evening Standard’s Londoner Diary, Damian called for more funding for underprivileged artists as he gave out the inaugural McCrory Award. Discussing how UK art had been “middle-classed” due to being “critically underfunded” compared to neighbours, he told The Londoner:
“If we want working-class writers… we’ve got to find a way of giving them the confidence to pursue it, but also the financial backing to have failures.”
Soccer Aid Tribute
When Damian appeared on Good Morning Britain to talk about his upcoming appearance on Soccer Aid, he paid a moving tribute to Helen.
“The first time I met you and your lovely wife Helen away from work was at Soccer Aid many years ago in Manchester and you were there with the family and the kids. She was always such a vociferous supporter of you and everything you did.”
“Kate and I were very honoured to be at her memorial service just a few weeks ago. I’d imagine you’ve been very moved by the outpouring of love and support that has been shown towards her since she sadly passed away.”
“Well, She was a fabulous human being and people from all walks of life have been in touch to say what an impact she had on their lives.”
“That day we had a few weeks ago was a very special day, I’m very glad you could have been part of it and she was celebrated by her tribe, her profession, the acting profession – actors, directors, producers, writers all showed up and she’s much, much missed.”
“When she came to Soccer Aid the very first time, I’d gone into my hotel room at The Lowry in Manchester and it was covered in Union Jack bunting and England flags everywhere which she’d gone out and bought and decorated the room with. So, she’s with us. She’s with us again this year.’”
'She's with us again this year.'
— Good Morning Britain (@GMB) June 9, 2022
Songs for Helen
I had the privilege of seeing Damian return to stage with a guitar in his hand. And while it has been more than a month since I saw him and his fabulous band rock The Tabernacle on the closing night of the London Jazz Festival, I am still under the spell of their fantastic performance.
As music critics find “bluesy rock’n’roll” and “mellow jukebox Americana” I have found LOVE in Damian’s performance. The set list curated by Damian and his fantastic band, several of whom are regulars on Kansas Smitty’s House Band is all about laughter, fun, romance, tears, loss, and longing for a loved one – for a woman that is much much loved and much much missed. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, what I find in Damian’s music – both in his originals and some very carefully curated covers – is a tribute to his little one, his duchess, his one and only Helen. And here I give you some of these songs, Damian’s originals, which he introduced in a way to let us know for whom he wrote them.
“I knew a mighty, mighty woman once. She was my little one.”
Little One is a happy song, a celebration of who Helen is. A petite lady (“she is only 5 foot tall”) who is formidable (“she punches like a heavyweight, could eat you up for breakfast”, “she growls like a hurricane”), loud (“how can she seem so loud? I can hear her in a crowd”), energetic (“how can she walk so fast?”), lovely (“she’s got a smile that’ll light the sky up”) and much more. Damian loves her. Love grows, evolves, and changes shape over time. Life must go on, Damian will live on, and Helen will always be a part of him.
Wanna Grow Old in Paris
“I knew a woman once who wanted to grow old like a chic, Parisienne grand-dame… She managed some of this…”
Helen spent her teenage years in Paris because her dad was a diplomat there and witnessed chic Parisienne women attending parties and receptions at the residence. She once said:
I spent my teenage years in Paris when my dad was stationed there, and I’d look at women in their forties and think, ‘That’s the age I want to be.
Paris was not special only for Helen but also for the two of them as a couple. Damian proposed to Helen on Pont Neuf back in 2006.
“We’re gonna end with this one. Sometimes people visit.”
A truly great song. Once you hear the lyrics, you know who is visiting…
She comes as a blackbird, she comes as a fox.
She sits at the window, she sings from a rock.
She’s the moon in the day and the sun that shines in the dark.
She rests in he and she rests in she.
She’s my joy, she’s my pain and she rained on me.
Posthumous Icon Award at Raindance Film Festival
The 30th Raindance Film Festival took place at several venues across London late October. The festival organizers announced on social media that Damian accepted a posthumous Icon Award in tribute to Helen McCrory. Helen served on the 19th Raindance Film Festival Jury in 2011 and Damian served on the jury at this year’s festival.
The Radio Times reports Damian said:
“I’m honoured to accept the posthumous Raindance Icon Award on Helen’s behalf. She’d be pleased as punch to be receiving it. There was no more fiercely independent spirit than Helen and in her attitude towards work. She loved her time on the Raindance jury and being able to view films made with that same liberated energy. Raindance and Helen – it’s a perfect match.”
CBE for Feed NHS – Sharing it with Helen
Damian Lewis was made a CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) in the late Queen Elizabeth’s annual birthday honours. This very well-deserved honor comes for Damian’s services to drama and to charity especially for initiating Feed NHS, the campaign Damian ran with Helen and raised more than 1 million pounds to provide food for NHS workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Damian accepted the honor saying…
“What a great honour to be awarded the CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List for services to drama and for the charity work that I have carried out over the years and during the pandemic with my late wife, Helen McCrory. Thank you very much. She and I are both thrilled.”
…and he tweeted, and rightly so, that he was sharing this honour with his beloved Helen.
— Damian Lewis (@lewis_damian) June 1, 2022
What Damian and Helen did for Feed NHS during the pandemic was exemplary citizenship. And Helen would surely have been made a CBE herself if she had been with us today. We love them and we are so proud of them.
Damian received the CBE medal from King Charles III on December 14, 2022 at Windsor Castle. And we cannot love this family picture more! Manon and Gulliver were there. So were Helen’s parents Iain and Anne. And we know Helen was smiling from above <3