Norton called the spontaneous recital “spellbinding”. “How incredible is Judi Dench?” one viewer posted. “You could hear a pin drop.”
It’s a typically wonderful Dench moment. The 88-year-old actor has won one Oscar, one Tony, two Golden Globes, four TV Baftas, six film Baftas and seven Olivier awards over her career, and has been described as “the best thing about Britain alongside fish and chips”. But she’s just as adored for playing, well, herself.
Here are our favourite, non-thespian Dench highlights from over the years…
Tattooed at 81
For Dench’s 81st birthday, her daughter Finty got the actor her first tattoo, an inscribing on her wrist that said “Carpe Diem”.
“I have an irrational fear of boredom,” Dench later told press. “That’s why I now have this tattoo that says carpe diem. That’s what we should live by.”
Rapping with Lethal Bizzle
In 2017, Dench showed off her rapping skills in a viral video alongside Lethal Bizzle.
The grime star convinced Dench to rap his single “Pow” with him, with the following specially adapted lyrics: “Pow, yeah I’m Ju-to-the-di/Pow, if you don’t know about me/Better ask someone quickly.”
She also tried items from his Stay Dench clothing range, including a branded cap, saying: “Oh I say! Look at this – can I wear it? This is an excellent size.”
Social media star
Dench is very close with her family, including Finty’s son Sam. The actor and her grandson spent a lot of time together in lockdown, posting funny, uplifting videos on social media.
In 2020, she shared a light-hearted message of solidarity during the pandemic, all while wearing a moveable hat.
In the video, the actor pretends to be caught by a camera while posing in front of foliage and sporting a hat shaped like a dog.
“Oh, there you are!” Dench says. “Just keep laughing, that’s all we can do.”
While Dench is speaking, the ears on her dog hat move seemingly by themselves.
In 2022, while in conversation with broadcaster Gyles Brandreth at London’s Gielgud Theatre, Dench told lots of stories about how her poor eyesight has got her into sticky situations over the years.
She told Brandreth that she thought it would be funny to shout at someone whom she had mistakenly identified as her friend, the impressionist Alistair McGowan, only to realise afterwards that it wasn’t him.
“I was driving along and saw who I thought was Alistair McGowan and I shouted ‘w***er’… and it was a total stranger,” she said.
In another awkward moment, Dench said she was once on stage and thought she saw theatre director Howard Davies in the audience.
“So I got a piece of paper and folded it up and wrote on it, ‘I suppose a shag is out of the question?’” Dench recalled. “I dropped the note and looked up and played the scene and I glanced back… and it was also a complete stranger.”
For years, Dench has lived with the eyesight condition AMD (age-related macular degeneration).
“Because I can only really see who someone is when I’m six inches away now,” she told press in 2019, “I have to get very close to people – and I mean extremely close. Which is handy with the fellas. Wonderful, really. And you have to find a silver lining, don’t you?”
Dench has a forest filled with “memorial trees” planted in remembrance of actors from Alan Rickman to Helen McCrory.
In an episode of Louis Theroux’s 2022 interview series, she showed the presenter around the private forest that extends from the garden in her Surrey home.
“It is about remembering, but it’s through a living thing, so you don’t remember them and stop,” she once told press. “The memory goes on, and gets more wonderful.”