Judi Dench snubbed marriage proposal from late husband as she wanted it to ‘feel real’

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Dame Judi Dench, 87, stars tonight in ‘Philomena’, the moving true story of an Irish woman searching for her child. Stephen Frears’ film, which airs on BBC One, earned Oscar nominations for the actress and her co-star Steve Coogan. He plays world-weary BBC journalist Martin Sixsmith, who picks up the story of Philomena’s 50-year hunt for her son, who was taken away from her as a teenager when she was at a Catholic convent.

Dench is one of Britain’s most celebrated actresses, who made her professional stage debut as Ophelia in ‘Hamlet’ in 1957.

The national treasure has enjoyed a string of high-profile roles, such as M in the James Bond films and playing Queen Victoria in ‘Victoria & Abdul’.

Away from the stage and screen, she has occasionally spoken about her personal life, including her relationship with her first husband, the actor Michael Williams, who she was married to for 30 years before his death in 2001.

The actress, who is now in a relationship with conservationist David Mills, once revealed how she turned down a marriage proposal from her first husband.

The moment came as Michael flew out to Australia where she was touring with the Royal Shakespeare Company, and her friend Charlie Thomas had died.

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Speaking about turning down the proposal, she said: “We were all in a very, very bad way.

“Mike got a plane and flew out to see us all. It was a saving grace, really.

“Then he said, ‘Will you marry me?’ and I said, ‘Will you please ask me on a rainy day in Battersea?’ Then it would feel real. So that’s what happened.”

The couple tied the knot in 1971 and were together for the best part of three decades, until Williams died three weeks before their 30th wedding anniversary.

Dench discussed their relationship with David Tennant on his podcast, ‘David Tennant Does A Podcast With’ in 2020.

She and Williams, who had a daughter together, shared the screen in Franco Zeffirelli’s film, ‘Tea With Mussolini’ in 1999.

Tennant asked Dench about their successful off-screen relationship, which she claimed was down to “luck”.

Speaking about their partnership, she told her fellow actor: “I don’t think we ever had to work at it.

“I mean, sometimes. Mikey used to have black dog days, sometimes.

“But he was the most unselfish man, and he wouldn’t ever attribute that to anything that might be between us…

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“Oh, God, how he used to make me laugh. He used to make me absolutely howl.

“We had a lovely time. It was never a tricky time. I was lucky to meet Mike.”

Tennant also asked his fellow star what it was like living without her first husband and how she had coped.

Describing her grief, Dench said: “I suspect I shall never ever get over Mikey.

“It changes who you are altogether, I think. Because it’s like you’re walking along, and suddenly you’re not looking and there’s an enormous chasm in front of you.

“Unexpected kinds of things happen. Suddenly, you’ll walk in somewhere and there’s a photograph or something. I don’t expect you ever get used to it.

“Sometimes the door in this house just opens and I think that he’s just wandered in.”

‘Philomena’ airs on BBC One tonight from10:30pm.

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