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Dame Diana Rigg may be 70 this month but she still drives a Mercedes sports car, smokes 20 a day and swears by a bottle of Merlot before bedtime.The spirit of Emma Peel lives on, finds Nigel Farndale.I had forgotten how psychedelic those shows were, how surreal the humour - she would end a fight scene by picking up her knitting.'Oh yes, my daughter sends me You Tube clips. But the icon 40 years later doesn't really want to know because it's not relevant to me.Some of those early photographs of me might as well be sepia.When she emerges picking petals from her hair, she looks to the overcast sky and says, 'This flat light is very good for a woman of my age.'Since she mentions it, she turns 70 this month. She had the wrinkles around her eyes removed when she was 44, but that was it.)She lights a cigarette, getting one in before lunch.And although she looks her age in a way that, say, Julie Christie, her fellow 1960s sex symbol, does not, her strong features - retroussé nose and high cheekbones, down-turned eyes and mouth - are still softly handsome. The last time we met, a decade ago, when she was in Ted Hughes's adaptation of Racine's Phèdre, people were still allowed to smoke in restaurants, and boy did she make the most of that.The marriage broke up in 1990, after Stirling had an affair with the actress Joely Richardson.
'I'm not the best person to ask because, whatever form it has taken for me, it has always been attached to my career. People who don't make that distinction are dooooomed.' (This is a trait of hers: she stretches her vowels elastically but not camply; her voice is far too deep and smoky and unhurried for that.) 'There is still that small centre of me that has never been touched by fame, never photographed, written about or discussed. When Rigg was shipped back to gloomy Yorkshire and boarding school in 1945, she felt like a fish out of water.She has just finished a run of it at Chichester - 'Got a right old buffeting from the critics, but I loved it and we played to 74 per cent capacity, so up yours critics' - and is now about to head off for the summer to her place in France, south-east of Bordeaux.There she will cook for friends, read, listen to music and swim naked in her pool. She feels freer there than in her Kensington flat, more at ease.Portrait by James Deavin There is a low-boughed tree in the Chelsea Physic Garden that bears strange blossom: a tall, broad-shouldered woman with a straight spine and a thick bob of dyed blonde hair.It is Dame Diana Rigg, and she is standing under the tree, with her head in the branches, because our photographer has asked her to.
She opts for the latter because they mix a good bloody Mary there.