Tuesday , May 28 2024
Richard E. Grant
Credit: Benny Harps, Strand Bookstore

Book Tour: ‘A Pocketful of Happiness’ by Richard E. Grant

Richard E. Grant (The Scarlet Pimpernel, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, The Lesson) dropped by the Strand Book Store in Manhattan for the North American launch of his memoir, A Pocketful of Happiness. The July 31 event included the Oscar-nominated actor’s talk, a Q&A, a book signing, and photos with fans.

Grant’s memoir details anecdotes from throughout his life, focusing on his career highlights and his 34-year marriage to Joan Washington, an accomplished dialect coach. Sadly, Washington died at the age of 74 from lung cancer in September 2021. Grant recounted some anecdotes about his career and his marriage during his one-hour talk. It wouldn’t have been a complete evening without Grant’s stories about Melissa McCarthy, the 2019 awards circuit for Can You Ever Forgive Me?, and his encounters with singer Barbra Streisand.

To Tell or Not to Tell

Image of 'A Pocketful of Happiness' cover
Credit: Simon & Schuster

Washington wasn’t feeling well just before Christmas in 2020. After a series of tests, the doctors came back with a diagnosis of stage 4 lung cancer. They estimated that she had about 12-18 months with this terminal condition.

Grant reframed that projection in different terms in his head right away. He told the Strand audience, “That will be another Valentine’s Day, another birthday, another Christmas and maybe another Valentine’s Day in the year to come. That’s how I took it.”

While Grant and his wife were united on being transparent with their daughter, Olivia, they disagreed about telling their friends. Washington wanted to carry on as before and simply work at her job as a dialect coach. But Grant didn’t want to keep any secrets, insisting that they should inform their 30 closest friends right away.

He said, “If the person in the box could only hear what everybody was eulogizing about them, they’d be thrilled. [Joan] came around to it. She had the grace to say, ‘You were both completely right, because the love I’ve been shown has hovercrafted my spirits enormously.'”

After that, friends’ messages and generosity continued during ensuing weeks through the ups and downs of Washington’s illness. Television cook and food writer Nigella Lawson sent cooked meals every week by taxi. That gesture significantly reduced how often Grant needed to grocery shop and cook. King Charles—still Prince Charles in 2021—brought mangoes and fresh flowers on a half-hour visit to their cottage.

Photo of actor Richard E. Grant reading his memoir out loud
Credit: Benny Harps, Strand Book Store

On First Encounters and Marriage

Grant met Washington in the early 1980s when he needed dialect coaching. His first agent wanted him to audition for parts involving Northern Ireland accents. After the workshop ended, Grant asked Washington for one-on-one lessons to iron out the colonial accent lingering from his years in Swaziland, now known as Eswatini.

He wrangled for a reduced rate, which Washington agreed to on the condition that he pay her back after making it big. They eventually began dating in 1983 and got married in 1986. “On our first wedding anniversary, November 1, 1987, I got £1000 pounds in pink £50 notes in an envelope. I handed them over and I said, ‘I think I’ve repaid my debt.'”

He summarized the beauty of their 38-year relationship in this way: “That conversation that had begun in bed in January 1983 ended in bed holding each other’s hand on Thursday, September 2, 2021.”

Forging a Path of Happiness

A couple of conversations were pivotal in beginning and ending the final nine months of Washington’s life. Grant shared that one of her requests was, “I want you to be with me at home, not in hospital, and holding my hand when I take my last breath.”

It was a promise he was very keen to stick to as much as possible. And he saw it through that way.

Another key moment came a few days before she passed away, her advice to him and Olivia. She said, “I charge you both to try and find a pocketful of happiness in each day.”

Grant reflected, “As Hallmark trite as that sounded at the time, it has been the most profound mantra to navigate the abyss of grief. I’m very grateful for that.”

Answering Readers’ Questions

After sharing his stories, Grant took questions during a Q&A. Given that his book launch was in a bookstore, it was fitting that someone requested reading recommendations. Grant suggested authors Bernadine Evaristo and Damon Galgut, whose works he sought out and read in no time at all.

Photo of Richard E. Grant greeting a fan
Richard E. Grant signing copies of ‘A Pocketful of Happiness’ at the Strand

I dropped four questions in the Strand’s question fishbowl, and two index cards made their way into Grant’s hands. At the mention of Barbra Streisand, Grant smiled and boasted, “There’s nothing I don’t know! I’m a walking Barbra-pedia.”

What’s more, he has all sorts of items in his Streisand collection. “I told her this as well. I have a CD of notes and phrases that are compiled together. She said, ‘Oh my god. You are completely insane.'”

I also asked about his approach to keeping a journal, something he’s done for more than 50 years. He said, “I gave up on God—no disrespect intended—I write at the end of every day at a time when people would either meditate or pray. I do that habitually. The fact that I’m sitting in the historic Strand with all of you people that turned up is a ‘pinch me,’ unreal thing. Writing about it is the one way that makes it somehow real.”

Visit the Simon & Schuster website for more information about Richard E. Grant’s book and audiobook. Follow Grant on Instagram for his latest adventures and pocketfuls of happiness.

About Pat Cuadros

Pat Cuadros is Pop Culture Editor for Blogcritics Magazine. She frequently covers TV, film and theater. Her portfolio includes interviews with Ndaba Mandela and actors Juliette Binoche, Fran Drescher, Derek Jacobi and Brent Spiner. She's also spoken with notable voice actors Petrea Burchard, Garry Chalk, Peter Cullen and Brian Drummond.

Check Also

Fan Expo Philadelphia: Tom Cavanagh on ‘The Flash’ and Directing

"When you're directing, you're telling all the parts of the story."