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My split with Robert was horrendous... at the time I wanted to stick ice-picks in his gullet and poke Rosemarie's eyes out; After coming through a period of personal tragedy, Diana Weston is now able to look on the bright side of life again. By Tim Oglethorpe.

Considering the tragedy and traumas that she has suffered over the last six years, you may wonder how comedy actress Diana Weston can even crack a smile, never mind laugh uproariously. But laugh she does - and frequently.

Her catalogue of adversity began six years ago with a very public and acrimonious split from long-term lover Robert Lindsay. Three years ago her mother died of cancer, as did her aunt. If this all rocked her foundations, then her house almost falling down was, comparatively, just a minor setback.

Now 47, Diana was so emotionally destroyed that she couldn't face even auditioning for television work for a year and it was only with the help of an acupuncturist that she finally attained relative stability. Having endured it all, she can look back as a woman who has survived against the odds, and even returns to TV this week with the new series Pay And Display.

Star of the mid-1990s sitcom The Upper Hand with Honor Blackman and Joe McGann, Diana is dressed smartly in an expensively-tailored charcoal grey jacket and skirt. There's not an inch of fat on her slender frame and little in her face and eyes to indicate the pain she has suffered, but there's no denying she's been through hell.

A few years ago, she was dumped by actor Lindsay after 15 years together. It was the classic scenario of middle-aged man falls for younger woman. And the female in question was former Generation Game hostess Rosemarie Ford. She is ten years Diana's junior and the split was humiliatingly public.

"It was horrendous. At the time I wanted to stick ice-picks in Robert's gullet and go round and poke her eyes out, I was so angry," she admits. "But that was six years ago now and I can't afford not to get on with him. We have a daughter, Sydney, who is 12, and we inevitably see each other during the crossover when she goes to stay for weekends with him. I even went to the christening of Robert's son, Samuel, during the early summer."

Despite her undoubted well-manicured beauty and sylph-like figure, Diana has remained unattached since the break up. "I'm not against having another long-term relationship, I just haven't found Mr Right yet. I'm a hopeless romantic and I'm always falling in love with somebody or other - somebody I see on TV or even in the street. But when you've been in a long-term relationship, you realise how hard it is to make it work, how little you can take for granted and you don't enter such things lightly.

"I'm open to offers but I'm not desperately searching for a partner. I've got some smashing friends, including a couple of gay men with whom I share sleepovers at my house. Ian and Simon are not only florists but hairdressers too. So I get free flowers and free hairdos - what more could a girl want?

"They come to stay with me every second Saturday. We eat, drink wine, do some dirty dancing, go to bed - me in my room, them in the guest bedroom - and shout stories to each other through the wall. They're smashing people and were so supportive of me when I went through what I call my annus horribilis."

That was the period in Diana's life, three years ago, when her whole world crumbled around her. She endured the incredibly painful death of her mother Jill, as well as an aunt and a close friend, in rapid succession. Diana's mother, who was only in her early sixties, died from cancer - the disease affected the area from her throat to her back - while her Aunt Ann succumbed to the same disease in her breasts and liver.

"My mother and aunt were part of a family of six brothers and sisters who have all died from cancer and it also killed my natural father. So, of course, I worry that it might be hereditary and that I may, in turn, have passed it on to Sydney.

"I'm not about to start going on some terribly healthy, wheatgerm diet though. I enjoy a glass or two of wine, and a cigarette, and shall continue to do so. I'll live life to the full, rather than give in to it. I don't think there is anything worse than brooding over something."

And, if that wasn't enough for one person to endure, she also witnessed the sight of her house in Chiswick, West London, gradually falling down around her under attack from a forest of tree roots.

"There was an especially dry period and the cracks that appeared in my walls were so vast I could put my hands right through them," Diana explains. "I had a team of decorators and builders on-site for four months, putting things right again. It was virtually the last straw. I know the advice is always to just get on with it and make the best of things but there were times when I thought, 'How much more can I take?' I call it my annus horribilis, like the Queen did, except, in my case, it didn't last for anywhere near a full year. It was three months, at most."

Following her mother's death, Diane admits she couldn't get rid of the grief and anger that then tormented her. For a year, she didn't even audition for TV parts.

"I coped, I kept going - I had to, for the sake of Syd - but I did nothing but voiceovers and some radio. There would have been no point in auditioning for anything else because I felt so negative and that would have cost me any role I went for.

"The grief was terrible. I even tried, unsuccessfully, to get in touch with mum via a psychic and I remember going to see my doctor and saying to him, 'Just give me any pill you can think of to make the pain go away'. But he wouldn't. I think, because he knows I enjoy a drink and a smoke, he thought I might become addicted to whatever I was given to ease the pain."

Unable to shake off her grief, Diana eventually sought the help of an acupuncturist, who also happened to be a neighbour and a friend. "To cut a long story short, it was necessary to give me 'The Big One', a quite excruciatingly painful course of acupuncture."

It involved putting pins in Diana's toes, breastbone, upper gums and the base of her spine. "Physically, it was the most painful thing I've ever had done to me. The pain was so great that I thought I could see thunderbolts coming out of my toes when the pins were put in. It worked, though. Not in an instant, 'Wow, I feel great' kind of way, but gradually. I no longer, for example, cried every time my mother's name was mentioned and I'd been doing that constantly.

"Before she died, I had been so busy seeing her, and taking her to see her sister, that I was preoccupied. It was only after she died that the full pain of what had happened sunk in. Actually, and I know it sounds gruesome, but it almost got to the point, in the weeks leading up to their deaths, where we were having a sweepstake on which one of them was going to go first, my mother or my aunt.

"In the end, it was my aunt, by three weeks. My mother, like my aunt, was a real fighter and was determined to go on enjoying life right to the end. I remember her, just shortly before her death, dosed up with morphine yet still somehow managing to hold a cocktail party around her bed. She was an extraordinary woman."

Now, Diana hopes that Pay And Display will kickstart her TV career. It stars James Bolam, of The Likely Lads fame, and Matt Bardock (A Touch Of Frost) as a couple of underground car park attendants who spend their days bickering and boasting about their love lives. Diana plays Miss Cummings, their hard-nosed boss.

Her appearances on the box in recent times have been a little thin on the ground and she freely admits to being, "caught between the ages when actresses play glamorous young women and glamorous grannies".

She also doesn't seem to have much confidence in the medium anymore. "The world of TV is very uncertain, these days. I hear horrendous stories of actors getting parts and then, a few days into rehearsal, having them taken away again. It hasn't happened to me but it has to people I know.

"People in television are panicking and what I see on screen doesn't excite me very much. In fact, if I see one more cookery/gardening/vets/fashion/doctor docusoap, I'm probably going to scream."

Pay And Display, Tuesday, ITV, 8.30pm
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Oglethorpe, Tim
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jul 8, 2000
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