HER very name sounds exotic, her family history reads like a film script and her life has been as exciting and dramatic as any director could have wanted. Rula Lenska is a one-off.
She has now written her autobiography — an honest, funny and sometimes sad look back over 66 years where the words “dull” and “boring” have no place.
Next week (Tuesday, October 29) she will be talking about her book Rula — My Colourful Life at a special Henley Literary Festival event at the Christ Church Centre.
Lenska’s heritage was firmly based in the Polish aristocracy, but her parents came to Britain in very changed circumstances. Her father had been an officer and adjutant to the exiled Polish Prime Minister General Sikorski during the Second World War, while her mother spent two-and-a-half years in slave labour in a German concentration camp.
She was born in an army camp in Hertfordshire and did not visit the country of her parents until 1989. But as she grew up there were constant reminders of her Polish past — letters would arrive at their house in North London addressed to the Count and Countess Lubienska, and Polish was spoken at home. It was an unusual upbringing for a teenager living in Fifties London.
She started acting at her convent boarding school but began her working life as a secretary before winning a place at drama school. A summer holiday job in Sardinia where she was arrested and accused of drugs peddling nearly ruined it all.
From drama school Rula went straight into a play that transferred to the West End. At the age of 28 she won the role that would make her a star — the television show Rock Follies.
“From the first episode being broadcast, life changed,” she says. “Suddenly one felt obliged to appear in public with the full hair and make-up and no longer go out bleary-eyed in grubby jeans with mascara smeared down one’s face.” Rula recalls.
She became a star in America though a series of ads for Alberto VO5 hair products in which she played the role of an international film star. In a bizarre case of life imitating art, it made her a huge name there.
Her first marriage was to Brian Deacon and she had her daughter, Lara. Her career was still on a high. Then she then met The Sweeney and Minder star Dennis Waterman. Both were both married with children but they began an affair that ended in them marrying.
They were both big stars. In fact, they were as she says the “Posh and Becks” of their day.
He left gentle notes for her and wrote poetry — a far cry from his laddish, roustabout image.
Their idyllic romance became a life of parties, large houses, exotic holidays and acting together in plays. But then Waterman started an affair and they ran into debts after a film project failed.
Their relationship began to break down, not least because of Waterman’s drinking, and she tells the horrifying story of him breaking the spare room door down and dragging her to their bedroom. The break-down of their marriage and his violence towards her is told in the book in stark and moving detail. Eventually, after 16 years together, they broke up.
She said: “It was frightening and I was no longer willing to put myself, let alone my daughter through it. This was no longer my Diesel, my Den.”
Left with little money, Lenska has rebuilt her life — she became an unlikely star in Celebrity Big Brother. Who will forget the infamous George Galloway “cat” moment? Perhaps Galloway may wish to, but not the public. Taking part in the show enabled her to give money to charities in Kenya and Tibet — helping both people and animals has been a huge part of her life.
And who would have thought the well-spoken lady with an aristocratic background would end up in Coronation Street? But then she has always had the ability to surprise.
It may be hard to think of such a glamorous woman as a grandmother but as she says: “This new little person in my world, this little grandson, the child of my beloved only daughter, brings boundless joy and a reason for living.”
But what of the future — is there a chance that she is now taking life easy? Hardly.
“I still yearn for adventure — and sometimes danger — and the constant proof to myself that I am needed and useful. Sometimes the body seems not as able as it once was but the spirit is constantly willing.”
* Rula Lenska is talking about her book, which published by Robson Books, at a special Henley Literary Festival event on October 29 at 6pm at the Christ Church Centre. To buy tickets for her event, or the one featuring Melvyn Bragg which follows at 7.45pm, call 0118 972 4700 or visit www.henleyliterary festival.co.uk