Dame Judi Dench: Celebrating 89 Years of Grace, Wit and Impact
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Dame Judi Dench: Making Ageing Look Glamorous

As the iconic actress celebrates her birthday in December, we explore the illustrious life of Dame Judi Dench, whose impressive career has spanned more than six decades.

Naomi Chadderton
Naomi Chadderton
An experienced editor and journalist specialising in news and lifestyle.

British actresses don’t come more legendary than Dame Judith Olivia Dench CH DBE FRSA – or Judi Dench, to me and you. While she may loathe being called a national treasure, her status, thanks to her incredible scope of work and her reputation as one of the nicest people in the industry means we're all going to call her one, regardless..

Now approaching her ninth decade, Dench – who had “Carpe Diem” inscribed on her wrist (her first tattoo) on her 81st birthday – continues to live life to the full, and long may it continue.

The Birth of an Icon

Born Judith Olivia Dench on December 9, 1934 in York, England, Dench discovered her love for acting at an early age. Her passion for the stage blossomed during her time at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London, where her dedication and talent quickly set her apart, foreshadowing the extraordinary career that lay ahead.

Dame Judi Dench
Dame Judi Dench as M in James Bond

Dame Judi Dench: From The Stage to the Silver Screen

Dench’s journey in the entertainment industry began in the 1950s with roles in classical plays, steadily earning her recognition and acclaim. She made her mark on the Shakespearean stage, garnering praise for her portrayals of iconic characters such as Ophelia, Lady Macbeth, and Cleopatra.

It wasn’t until 1995 when she finally captured global attention with her role as M in the James Bond film GoldenEye, a character she reprised in several subsequent Bond films. She went on to bag a string of acclaimed performances on both stage and screen including her Academy Award-winning role as Queen Elizabeth I in Shakespeare in Love in 1998 (the same year she was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) for her services to drama), and her memorable portrayal of Iris Murdoch in Iris (2001).

This ability to seamlessly transition between genres, from drama to comedy, has solidified her status as one of the most respected actresses in the world.

Not one to rest on her laurels, Dench has also had a highly sustained and successful stage career, winning a Tony and eight Olivier awards. Key TV shows include the sitcom As Time Goes By with Geoffrey Palmer, and A Fine Romance with her late husband Michael Williams.

Despite being well past retirement age, Dench continues to work to this day. She has recently appeared in the likes of Belfast, for which she received an Oscar nomination, and Allelujah, Richard Eyre’s adaptation of the Alan Bennett play.

“I have an irrational fear of boredom. That’s why I now have this tattoo that says carpe diem. That’s what we should live by.”

Ageing With Grace: Model Behaviour

Judi Dench Vogue

Photographed by Nick Knight in early February 2020 as Covid-19 loomed like a dark cloud, Dench became the oldest person ever to grace the cover of British Vogue. She was a vision in floral Dolce & Gabbana that belied her then 85 years.

During her interview with the magazine, Dench was refreshingly open about her attitude to ageing. “I don’t like it at all,” she told features director Giles Hattersley. “I don’t think about it. I don’t want to think about it. They say age is an attitude… it’s horrible.”

She also went on to call upon poet Dylan Thomas to sum up her thoughts on retirement. “Rage, rage against the dying of the light,” she said. “Never was a truer word spoken.”

However, despite often grumbling about getting older, it’s clear that Dench embraces her age, without going out of her way to change her wrinkles. And what’s more, even though she sadly suffers from age-related macular degeneration, meaning her eyesight has deteriorated to the extent that she is no longer able to see on film sets - “you just deal with it,” she told the Sunday Mirror – the job offers continue to roll in.

She was also recently interviewed by Louis Theroux, at her cottage home in Surrey, where she demonstrated a wit and sharpness that certainly hasn't been dulled by age, telling him to f*** off, when he dared to call her a national treasure, insisting it made her sound like a "dusty old cupboard."

Dame Judi Dench: Charity Matters

Dench is not only an icon on the stage and screen but also a dedicated philanthropist. Having lost her beloved husband, Michael Williams, to lung cancer in 2001, she is patron of Women Against Lung Cancer, a campaign of the Roy Castle Lung Foundation, while she also co-hosted the Unite for the Future Gala, benefitting the victims of 9/11 and Doctors Without Borders.

She is also a staunch advocate for animal welfare, and her support for organisations like the Battersea Dogs & Cats Home reflects her compassionate nature and commitment to making a positive impact beyond the entertainment world.

Happy Birthday Dame Judi!

In celebrating Dame Judi Dench's birthday, now is the time to honour not just an extraordinary actress but a woman whose life has been characterised by elegance, talent and a heartfelt commitment to making the world a better place.

As she continues to grace us with her presence, she remains an inspiration to aspiring artists and a beacon of light for those navigating the journey of life.

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We are big believers that you should be able to design a life you love and not stick to a linear path, especially when it comes to ageing and retirement. In fact, we'd go as far to say that the concept of retirement in its current form needs to be retired. Yes, that's right, there's no rulebook here!