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October 31, 2015 -  The Express / Elvis Express Radio
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Joanna Lumley's girlhood crush on The King: I feel Elvis and I will always know each other

JOANNA Lumley explores her girlhood crush on Elvis Presley in a new ITV documentary....
As Joanna Lumley reprises the role of Patsy Stone in the hotly anticipated movie version of Absolutely Fabulous – which is filming now – she gets back into character by adopting
Patsy’s hunched back, enormous beehive hairdo and red lipstick.

But there’s another trademark Patsy attribute that is as much a funny character trait as a private tribute by Joanna – Patsy’s smile, a sort of sneer, is an homage to Joanna’s
childhood hero and crush, Elvis Presley.

“Patsy never grins like I do, like a huge horse – she just lifts her lip,” she says. “That’s how Elvis smiled and many people imitated him, including Patsy.”

We’re meeting to discuss Joanna’s one-off TV documentary, Elvis And Me. She explains that in honour of what would have been his 80th birthday, she’s revisiting her girlhood crush
on Elvis by exploring his life and legacy.

It’s a journey that takes her to his birthplace in a shack in Tupelo, Mississippi, and to his famous home, Graceland, in Memphis, Tennessee, with Elvis’s ex-wife Priscilla Presley.

As she “hates studying bad things”, Joanna, 69, concentrates on Elvis’s early years rather than the sad end of his life: “When the doctors had got hold of him and were prescribing
all kinds of ghastly pills,” says Joanna.

Joanna recalls the “tidal wave” moment as Elvis arrived on the UK scene in 1956 when she was a 10-year-old boarder at a convent school in Sussex.  The girls all clubbed their
pocket money together to buy the latest Elvis record.

“We adored other singers, but Elvis was always far above everyone else because he was too beautiful for words,” she says.

While making the show, Joanna was delighted with the titbits she picked up about Elvis’s childhood years, particularly the fact that he ignored the racial divide so prominent in the
American Deep South.

She met one of Elvis’s best friends in boyhood, Sam Bell, who is black. The two used to go to the cinema together in Tupelo and after each boy entered by the segregated “whites
only” and “coloureds” entrances, Elvis would cross the rope that separated them in the cinema to sit with Sam.

“I felt Elvis’s presence in the cinema with Sam,” says Joanna. “I loved Elvis for ducking under the rope to sit with his friend. He was only a little boy, but he was colour blind. The
young Elvis taught me more than the glamorous Elvis.”

Cinema played a big part in his adult life, too, she discovered. To deal with his chronic insomnia, Elvis and a gang of friends would head to a Memphis cinema that he had rented out
and watch movies late into the night.

Joanna also discovered that he was surprisingly well read, very spiritual and “completely wonderful musically”. “He could play lots of instruments, all self-taught,” she says.

“He couldn’t read music but like some people have a photographic memory, Elvis had a photographic ear, like Mozart. Once he heard something, he could play it all the way through
perfectly. That’s never really celebrated, because people just think of him as the singer.”

The old adage says you should never meet your heroes because they’ll disappoint you, but Joanna’s journey of discovery has only reinforced her love for The King.

“I feel Elvis and I will always know each other,” smiles Joanna, not entirely ironically. “What I mean is that I found I’ve got a bit nearer to him, but there’s something unknowable about
him, too, which is how he was a giant. You can’t have as much adulation as Elvis without being talented and otherworldly.”

Elvis And Me, Wednesday, 9PM, ITV
He couldn’t read music but like some people have a
photographic memory, Elvis had a photographic ear, like
Mozart.  Joanna Lumley