Dame Sheila Hancock on not learning from your mistakes

Actress Dame Sheila Hancock said “we don’t learn from our mistakes” while reflecting on old age and missing her late husband.

Dame Sheila, 89, is a star of stage and screen, having won an Olivier award for her role in a 2007 production of Cabaret, and also starred in the likes of EastEnders and The Rag Trade.

Speaking to Saga magazine, Dame Sheila reflected on the downsides of old age and the myth that people get wiser as they get older.

Actor John Thaw and his wife
Sheila Hancock with her late husband, fellow actor John Thaw (Adam Butler/PA)

She told the publication, which is aimed at over-50s: “One of the worst things about old age is when you see things happening in the world, like war in Europe that you hoped would never happen again.

“We don’t learn from our mistakes. I don’t. I’ve known for years that my bathroom tiles get slippery when wet and I have been meaning to get a rubber mat. Three months ago I fell and broke my wrist. I still have not bought a mat. Wise?”

Dame Sheila also spoke about missing her late husband – the actor John Thaw, who died in 2002.

The pair starred alongside one another in the television series Kavanagh QC.

“I mockingly laugh at myself a lot, though I laughed more when John was alive,” she said.

“If I’m watching something on the telly, I try to imagine what he would be saying about it, because he was unbelievably cynical, and very funny with it.

“I miss that terribly. He gave me a sense of proportion, and teased me about my ‘Messiah complex’, as he used to call it.

“He was amazing at making me realise I was probably too concerned about things, always trying to change the world, and you can’t change everything. Or indeed anything much.”

The pair married in 1973 and Dame Sheila explained why she never tired of him, saying: “It annoys me when people attribute words and behaviour to the dead.

“They tell me John [Thaw] would have been proud of, or would have enjoyed, or would have said such and such. The thing that I loved most about my husband in life was that I never knew how he would react or what he would do.

“That is why in 30 years I never tired of him.”

Dame Sheila was made an OBE in 1974 and in 2021 became a DBE for services to drama and charity.

The July issue of Saga magazine is available now.