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Miriam Margolyes on her new Marigold Hotel mission: ‘I never want to go to Florida again!’

(Image credit: BBC/TwoFour Productions/Aaron Ka)

Miriam Margolyes is back on her travels with celebrity pensioners for BBC2's two-part special, The Real Marigold Hotel on Tour, and they're getting up to all sorts of shenanigans in Florida and Japan...

When a bunch of celebrity pensioners spent time together in India earlier this year in BBC2’s The Real Marigold Hotel, they sampled retired life and had positive experiences. Now four of that group - actress Miriam Margolyes, darts legend Bobby George, ballet star Wayne Sleep and chef Rosemary Shrager – are experiencing retirement abroad again, but this time for a two-part BBC2 special The Real Marigold On Tour in Florida and Japan.

Miriam, now 75 and famous for the Harry Potter films, Blackadder and other comedy roles, reveals her big highlights - from bungalow envy, aqua aerobics and rows with rich people in Florida, to meeting trainee geishas, getting a job and exercising in Japan…

What was it like travelling abroad with Bobby, Rosemary and Wayne again? “It was so lovely - we all love each other. We loved doing the last series in India, and going to Florida and Japan with them has been special too. The good part of just being the four of us this time was getting to know each other even better.”

So you enjoy living in Florida or Japan the best? “Florida just wasn’t for me - I never want to go there again - but Wayne and Rosemary quite enjoyed the luxury. I just adored Japan, it was incredible and utterly gorgeous, and I’d love to return with my partner one day.”

In Florida you all stayed at Oak Run, a ‘gated’ community where around 8000 pensioners live…how did you find it? “The residents there kept saying to us: ‘We live in paradise’ but it really wasn’t paradise for me. Some people are more relaxed in a conforming situation when everybody near enough the same age, all the houses and the roads look the same, and they all do the same things, but the uniformity of the place depressed me. The warm climate doesn’t suit me either, its very humid. I’d definitely not retire to Florida.”

Were there any positive experiences? “I must stress how friendly everyone was. On the first night our neighbours came round with a lemon meringue and meat pies to welcome us. That’s one of the most attractive features of America they do have the concept of the good neighbour very strongly developed.”

What were your living arrangements? “Rosemary and I stayed in a bungalow and the boys were sharing one next door. Both Rosemary and I thought the boys’ bungalow was better than ours, so there was a little bit of bungalow envy there! It was lovely sharing with Rosemary. We used to have early morning chats over a coffee, as we both woke early. She’s usually so wired up and busy and frantic that you don’t get the chance to get the full flavour of her personality, which is much gentler and relaxed than people normally see on television.”

You tried activities there, that must have been fun? “Yes I loved aqua aerobics. There were six swimming pools and I tried to swim every day. They have tennis courts, golf courses and that’s very much a part of retirement life in Florida. I asked about museums, opera houses and theatres and they’re not terribly interested in that. That whole side of my life was not catered for. The others went to a gun range. I don’t like guns, so it wasn’t my idea of fun. I left the others to it. They really enjoyed it and were all good shots, too.”

How was your visit to a local polo club, full of the extremely wealthy? “I’m going to be very frank – I loathed it, and principally because of the people. At Oak Run they were warm, friendly and charming, but in the luxurious polo club, people were horrible. And they didn’t like us because they thought we were all very badly dressed. I had a big row with someone there which will make good television!”

And did you see any evidence of plastic surgery there? “I don’t think I saw a real face the entire time I was at the polo club. It was full of masks – everybody wore a mask. It happens to be their real face but it was a mask none the less. Some of the people there I never want to see again as long as I live.”

Tell us more about your stay in Japan… “We were staying in beautiful Kyoto with charming twin sisters in their early 70s. The general respect given to old people in Japan and the dignity with which people conduct themselves is incredibly appealing. We were all equally impressed with the country. I can’t speak too highly of it.”

What did you get up to in Japan? “One night we went to Osaka to a feast of plates where you grill a little piece of beef on your table. It was one of the most delicious meals I’ve ever had and I'm not a great meat eater. Rosemary was in total heaven as she learnt so much. She knows a lot anyway but it was wonderful to be in the county and learn from the chefs there. We went to a high-end restaurant where we met some geisha apprentices - they’re called gecko not geishas in Kyoto. They were charming intelligent graceful. It’s a culture that’s immensely appealing.”

Miriam in Japan, with fellow Marigold pensioners Bobby, Wayne and Rosemary

Miriam in Japan, with fellow Marigold pensioners Bobby, Wayne and Rosemary (Image credit: BBC/TwoFour Productions/Mami Mor)

Did you wear a kimono? “No - I’m not someone who believes in taking the national dress of another country and wearing it. I didn’t wear saris in India. I just think its silly. I’m a fat old western woman and ought to wear fat old western women’s clothes.”

You did daily exercise with the sisters didn’t you? “That was wonderful. We went to a place by the river where people gather to listen to national exercises on the radio. This is why the Japanese live so long – they know how to live properly. We in the west do not know how to live well. They don’t all rush to the gym. They do their exercises every day, then have a fish and vegetable-based diet. They’re charming principled people. I was deeply impressed.”

You took a job in Japan, too. “They have a government policy of employing retired people so a workplace benefits from their experience. They can earn a bit of money, too. We were placed in various jobs. My job was selling in a shop in a tourist shop and I was most successful. I really enjoyed it and that’s what I would do if I couldn’t work any more as an actress. It’s something our government should consider as we have an increasingly old population and we don’t want to just dump people on the scrap heap, we’re still intelligent and have a wish to work.”

There’s a second series of Real Marigold Hotel on BBC2 next year. What advice would you give the new celebrities heading to India? “Just open yourself to India, and go with the flow. It’s majestic and delicious - the most wonderful country. People come up to me all the time to talk about watching our wonderful experiences there and that makes me very happy. I keep getting asked for selfies now.”

Is there anything you’d still like to do? “I want to be at the National Theatre and do Shakespeare. I’d also like to have a television series playing a detective. I want to be Brenda Blethyn! She’s lovely. I have played a detective in one of Linda La Plante’s dramas but I can’t remember the name.”

Would you do Blackadder again? “No I don’t believe in doing things again. I’m not in favour of revamping these things. Dads Army was quite perfect, Blackadder was quite perfect, we don’t have to make them again. It’s quite unnecessary. Blackadder is a classic, just like Fawlty Towers, so it’s absurd to try to do that again.”

* The Real Marigold on Tour is on BBC2 - on Tuesday 27 December at 9pm, and Friday December 30 at 9pm