Joanna Lumley: ‘I was 10 when I became besotted with Elvis's magic voice’

Absolutely Fabulous star Joanna Lumley travels to Memphis and Mississippi for her new ITV documentary about rock and roll legend Elvis Presley.

What’s On TV's Nick Cannon caught up with Joanna who told him what it was like to be taken on a tour Elvis’ famous home Graceland with his former wife Priscilla, to meet his first girlfriend Dixie, and why she’s so obsessed with everything Elvis…

As a huge fan of Elvis Presley you must be thrilled to be making a documentary about him?

“Elvis is my hero! He’d have been 80 this year so it gave me the perfect excuse to make a show about him and visit where he lived in Memphis and was born in Mississippi.” 

Can you remember the first time you became aware of Elvis?

“I was 10 when Blue Suede Shoes came out and I became besotted with his magic voice. I remember seeing a photo with his slick hair and just falling in love. He was unbelievably beautiful. My obsession’s continued ever since and I now seem to follow Elvis as if he were a saint.”

What did you make of Elvis’s wife Priscilla when you met her?

“I just loved her – she was the envy of so many others. It’s hard to imagine what it must have been like to marry Elvis. Just to be with her was awe-inspiring. She’s like a porcelain doll, so beautiful and radiant.”

How was it having Priscilla show you around Graceland, the home she shared with Elvis?

“Being in Graceland and hearing her stories really gave me sense of what it must have been like to live there with Elvis. It’s also the place where Elvis died and is buried, so it was all very weird but terribly touching. Priscilla showed me the piano he played on and told stories about things that happened in each room. I lapped it up.”

It sounds like Priscilla’s devoted to keeping his memory alive…

“She really is. Priscilla is absolutely devoted to keeping Graceland exactly as Elvis would have known it and loved it. And the peace garden they’ve made where Elvis and his parents are buried is astonishing and moving.”

It must have been an odd marriage, as they were never alone much it seems...

"Yes, just bizarre. It’s impertinent to guess at anyone’s marriage, but it seems he was a very jealous man. She was his treasure and he wanted to keep his little treasure, and get all his friends in around them. Priscilla showed me the place at the dining table where they both sat and whoever in particular favour was next to them. It was like royalty holding court.”

Did you find it moving to be standing next to Priscilla inside the famous Abbey Road Studios as a new version of Elvis’s classic song American Trilogy was recorded in this documentary?

“It was unbelievable moving. I’d been looking forward to it so much and it was the first time I met Priscilla. Abbey Road itself is throbbing with fabulousness, so this really was quite something, especially when Elvis’s voice came into the room. And it was sweet to see little Priscilla like a sweet little sphinx who’s done all her crying over Elvis. This was terribly moving.”

In Tupelo, Mississippi, you also meet Elvis’s first ever girlfriend Dixie…what was she like?

“I adored Dixie. She’s now 80 and so humble and sweet. They met at the school choir and he was too shy to ask her on a date, so she told him they should go roller-skating. She got him over his shyness it seems. She loved her times with Elvis when they were teens.”

Do you remember where you were on August 16, 1977 when you heard Elvis had died?

“I was filming The Avengers in Canada, and the Canadian press were awful, basically wondering what the fuss was about, where as I and the rest of the world were truly devastated. There was very little respect for Elvis in Canada back then and that appalled me. But millions of us did respect him and it was heartbreaking, the King was dead and it was awful.”

Joanna Lumley: Elvis and Me on ITV screens on Wednesday, November 4 at 9pm

Nicholas Cannon
TV Content Director on TV Times, What's On TV and TV & Satellite Week

I'm a huge fan of television so I really have found the perfect job, as I've been writing about TV shows, films and interviewing major television, film and sports stars for over 25 years. I'm currently TV Content Director on What's On TV, TV Times, TV and Satellite Week magazines plus I previously worked on Woman and Woman's Own in the 1990s. Outside of work I swim every morning, support Charlton Athletic football club and get nostalgic about TV shows Cagney & Lacey, I Claudius, Dallas and Tenko. I'm totally on top of everything good coming up too.