We first met Celia Gregory when we joined the Tyneside Theatre Company, Newcastle, in 1973. For us, fresh from our respective drama schools, Celia seemed the seasoned pro, having completed a whole season at Lancaster rep.
When she walked into the room on our first day, all heads turned. Celia effortlessly radiated beauty, inside and out – her’s was a sensual beauty not unlike Ava Gardner’s, with dancing eyes and an earthy, naughty laugh.
Born on September 23, 1949, Celia grew up in Switzerland, Germany and Holland. She spoke German, French, Portuguese and Italian. She seemed to us so exotic and such a woman of the world, with innate elegance and taste. She loved the fine things in life and always dressed with great flair, half jet set and half gypsy. And, like a gypsy, she had enormous insight and empathy.
Her heart was huge and her generosity was boundless, qualities that suffused her acting roles from the beginning. She was not a technical actress – her brilliance was born out of raw intelligence, understanding of people and an appetite for life.
She possessed that rare quality – stage presence. During our year in Newcastle, she played Masha in The Three Sisters with insight and experience beyond her 24 years and her Gertrude to Jack Shepherd’s Hamlet was maternal and passionate.
In the seventies, Celia was on the Sunday Times list of Britain’s most promising actresses. During the ensuing 20 years, her talent and dedication carried her career from strength to strength. She appeared on the West End stage with Laurence Olivier, Joan Plowright and Frank Finlay in Eduardo de Filippo’s Saturday, Sunday, Monday, directed by Franco Zeffirelli..She starred opposite Paul Scofield in Ronald Harwood’s play A Family.
On television, she starred in the BBC series Survivors and played opposite Sam Neill in Reilly – Ace of Spies. Her copious television work included Hammer House of Horror, The Professionals, Bergerac, Tales of the Unexpected, The Ruth Rendell Mysteries and The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes, with Jeremy Brett. Her films included Agatha, with Dustin Hoffman and Vanessa Redgrave, The Inside Man, with Dennis Hopper, and Peter Greenaway’s The Baby of Macon.
After marrying and having her two children, Charles in 1984 and Peter in 1987, Celia continued to work occasionally until 1993, when she chose to devote more time to her family. Coming from a large family of sisters and half-brothers herself, family meant everything to her. Christmas at Celia’s followed the German tradition of being celebrated on Christmas Eve and, even if occasionally times became lean, Celia would lay a beautiful table with the family linen and silver, gather her loved ones around her and pamper everyone. The evening would usually end with Celia playing her guitar and belting out her beloved Brazilian songs.
In that early production of the Three Sisters, back in 1973, we played Chekhov’s siblings. Off stage, we became soul siblings and have remained so for the past 35 years. We shall miss our soul sister terribly.
Celia died on September 8. She is survived by her two sons, her sisters Leyla and Yvonne, and her half-brothers, Klaus, Uli and Andreas.
Cherie Lunghi and Allan Corduner
Jan Sagent writes:
From the very first time I worked with Celia, it was her ability to transform that impressed, from the plaintive, funny, innocent and complex JO in Taste of Honey, to the ravishing, passionate Masha in The Three Sisters, devouring Vershinin with a glance. She was incapable of false delivery and lived every part as if it were her last.
She became my muse as a director and, when I moved to TV, whether it was the mother of a lost child in The Ruth Rendell Mysteries, a sophisocated fraudster in Perfect Scoundrels or other parts in Casualty or Juliet Bravo, she was always my first choice.
Her translucent beauty, loved by the camera, her grace on stage and her husky voice remain vivid, and the generosity she lavished on her friends was like her talent, wholehearted, uncompromising and immense.
Cherie Lunghi, Allan Corduner and Jan Sagent