Anita Dobson with husband Brian May
She may be a consummate actress but Anita Dobson can’t disguise the excitement in her voice. It’s the eve of her visit to Buckingham Palace earlier this month with her Queen guitarist husband, Brian May. The following day he will formally be declared a Knight Bachelor by King Charles III, thus making Anita a Lady into the bargain. And she’s thrilled to bits.
“Who would have thought it?” she laughs.
“That a working-class girl from Stepney, east London, would now officially be a Lady? Lady May. My friends think it’s hilarious and fantastic in equal measure. I’m so proud of Brian and that he’s finally getting the official recognition he deserves.
“It’s been a long time coming. That’s the opinion of so many people – myself included, obviously. It should have happened 20 years ago. He so deserves it.”
Known for his self-effacing modesty, Sir Brian heaped praise on his wife after the investiture, announcing it was a thrill for him to confer a title on Anita.
“It makes me feel proud that she gets an honour beside me,” he said, “God knows I wouldn’t be here without her.”
The evident mutual love and admiration between Brian and Anita is a testament to their 37-year-old relationship and marriage of 23 years.
It’s tough enough for any marriage to survive these days but in the notoriously fickle industry that is showbiz, it’s even more of an achievement. So, just what is their secret?
Anita to get an honour alongside husband Brian
“It seems like long-marrieds like us are becoming more and more rare,” replies Anita, now 73 years old.
“Compromise has a lot to do with it. Generally speaking, people don’t like compromising because it means you’re not getting exactly what you want.
“But in a marriage, I don’t think you can go all-out for what you want if your partner isn’t happy about it – and vice-versa.
“You have to weigh up the odds. Either you want to be with that person or not. If you do, you compromise. If you don’t, you leave and do whatever it is you do want.
“Brian and I have completely different opinions on lots of things so we have to compromise. Sometimes it’s an easy compromise, sometimes it isn’t.
“But because Brian loves me, he allows me to be me, and vice-versa. That’s the trick: you should allow the person to be themselves.”
Anita is a very happy stepmother to Brian’s three grown-up children – Jimmy, Louisa and Emily. She’s also a step-grandmother to seven grandkids ranging in age from 18 down to five years old.
“They call me ‘Nana Neet’ – Neet being what friends and family call me,” she explains. “They’re lovely, as are their parents – Brian’s son and two daughters. Brian and his first wife Chrissy did a great job of bringing them up and this shows in the kind of people they are.”
Anita is soon to grace our TV screens – the first time in a long while – in the black comedy BBC series Inside No.9, due to screen next month.
In an episode entitled Mother’s Ruin, she plays a villain called Annie Blackwood, married to Harry, played by Phil Daniels – both of them former EastEnders.
“What with Phil and I both being working-class Londoners by birth, we knew of people like Annie and Harry back in the day,” Anita says.
“I must admit I was a little apprehensive about being in Inside No.9. It’s always a bit scary to do something absolutely new. I’m a fan of the show but that’s one thing.
Anita Dobson in Eastenders
“Actually appearing in it is a different matter altogether. But I needn’t have been nervous. Steve Pemberton and Rhys Shearsmith – who write and star in the show – are wonderful and I’m in awe as to how they come up with their ideas.”
Although it’s being a veritable Londoner that first made Anita famous, she’s now a true convert to country living.
She and Brian made a permanent move to their house in Surrey in 2021 after their listed Kensington home was flooded following heavy rain, causing vast damage and destroying many irreplaceable mementoes.
“I never thought I’d leave London but things happen, life changes and you move on,” she explains. “I’ve come to it late but I’m a country girl now. The world seems so noisy to me these days and I love the peace and quiet of the countryside as well as its incredible beauty.
“When I’ve got a spare few moments, there’s nothing I love more than sitting in the garden, and taking in what’s happening around me. No phone, no laptop – just nature.”
Anita Dobson and Den Watts
When it comes to work, Anita is fortunate to be able to pick and choose the jobs she does.
“I don’t tend to do theatre tours which would mean me being away from home for prolonged periods because I love where we live and I want to spend lots of time there,” she adds.
Previously she had said she planned to continue acting right up until the end of her life. Now, though, she’s not so sure.
“I don’t plan on retiring but it’s true to say that, these days, I only take jobs that interest me. Next up for me is a lovely, little part in Doctor Who.
“I’d be happy if it became a permanent role. As a young actor, I did pretty much every job I was offered but, once you’re settled and more established, you don’t have to do that.”
It would be remiss to let Anita leave without asking her about EastEnders and her role as iconic Queen Vic landlady, Angie Watts.
It seems incredible now in these days of multiple TV channels and streaming platforms but, back in the 1980s, the BBC One soap regularly pulled in upwards of 20 million viewers per episode.
“My life changed practically overnight,” she recalls.
“I’d been a jobbing actress for a long time. Then suddenly this gift of a role landed in my lap and everything changed.”
Immediately she became a household name.
“I couldn’t go into pubs without being asked if I wanted to serve behind the bar. The lady who ran the corner shop near where I lived in the real East End told me the bloke who lived across the road from me had been given a camera by the press and instructed to take a picture every time I opened my front door.”
Looking back today as Lady Anita, she still can’t believe her sudden celebrity status.
“It was like a rocket had taken off and I just had to hold on and wait until it had landed.”
- Inside No.9 returns to BBC 2 in April