Royal Wedding Mania has gripped America and ardent fans are anxious for newsy details about anything and everything that has to do with the historic day when Prince William takes Kate as his Princess Bride this coming Friday April 29, 2011.
Jane Seymour, the official British correspondent for Entertainment Tonight, has been happy to oblige – reporting on speculation about the wedding gown designer, the chic custom-made hats for the ladies attending the wedding, the royal carriage ride from Westminster Abbey, the kiss on the balcony at Buckingham Palace, the wedding ring forged from Welsh gold, the tiara, and on and on.
Seeing Jane in London so often this past week reminds me of the interview I did with her in 2007 about six weeks before she appeared on Dancing with the Stars We had a special connection at the time that we spoke. We were two daughters commiserating about the health of our ailing parents. My father who had bladder cancer died ten days after that interview, and Jane’s mom, who had recently suffered a stroke, passed away while Jane was on DWTS about ten weeks later. In my mind there will always be a heartfelt connection that links Jane Seymour to the last few precious days I had with my dad.
Read my full interview with Jane Seymour as published in Luxury Las Vegas magazine. The following is an updated excerpt:
Marsala Rypka: What three people have had the most profound influence on your life?
Jane Seymour: I had amazing parents who were keen on the theater, ballet and opera. My father (who died in 1991) was a surgeon. He would take us into the operating room after surgery so we wouldn’t be afraid of blood. I saw my first operation when I was ten and I was able to watch without fainting. He showed me the organs of the body, how they fit inside and how beautifully designed we are.
My mom, who was from Holland, went to Indonesia as a nurse and ended up in a Japanese prisoner of war camp during World War II for a few years. She became a bit of a celebrity because she was the first Dutch POW to arrive in England after the war. My mother’s now 92 and just had a stroke and we’re losing her as we speak. She’s completely paralyzed, can’t talk yet she still manages to make kisses and smile at everyone. She’s always been the life and soul of the party. She’s never wanted to miss out on anything.
And third is my husband James (Keach) who I met him when my life was at its worst. (Jane had just gone through a bitter divorce from David Flynn which left her nearly bankrupt.) James is the best relationship I’ve ever had with a man in terms of sharing love, going through the ups and downs of life, having a real partner, not just creatively, but parenting, in every aspect.
MR: Name something that people would be surprised to learn about you?
JS: I’ve had three near-death experiences. The first time was I was in Madrid playing Maria Callas in the movie, Onassis: The Richest Man in the World. I had a bad case of bronchitis and a male nurse came to my room to give me an antibiotic. He missed the muscle and hit an artery or vein and immediately my mouth and throat started to close. I saw a white light and my body below me. I wasn’t panicked, in fact I felt a sense of peace, but I had an overriding desire to get back into my body so I could raise my children. I still had so many things I wanted to do.
Ten years later I had a near-death crisis in Puerto Rico while filming another movie. I had a 105 fever for five days, during which I hallucinated frequently. In one of my dreams, I saw my father’s face. He was nodding and said, ‘You’ll live.’
The third time I had a brush with pre-eclampsia during my pregnancy with my twins, Kris and John.
Since then I realize that it’s the simple things that matter the most. It’s not about owning things, it’s about experiencing them. The only thing you take with you is the love you shared with people and the difference you may or may not have made, and anything creative you may have left behind. We don’t know what happens at the end of life, but I don’t think we should waste the life we have.
“I learned and even more importantly I experienced in my life review, (during a near death experience) that a divine energy connects all of us. That has since orchestrated all my relationships. With each person I have attended in the dying process, I have also witnessed this spiritual energy. I have given talks for hundreds of hospice workers, and almost everyone agrees that this energy is present. Hospice workers often tell me their stories of God’s loving energy being present during a client’s death.”
– Barbara Harris Whitfield- author
Full Circle: The Near Death Experience and Beyond
MR: What has it been like having twins at 45 years-old?
JS: It’s been an incredible gift. Sometimes I’m exhausted and I think can I get up in time to get them off to school and there’s homework. It’s one thing when they’re babies and you have to wake up in the middle of the night to change and feed them, but when they bring home algebra and you didn’t like it the first time, let alone the third.
I nearly lost my life giving birth to them so I wrote a book called, Two at a Time – A Journey Through Twin Pregnancies. So many people were doing in-vitro and having twins and there weren’t any books about that experience.
MS: When did you first start painting?
JS: I was going through a terrible divorce and it helped me process a lot of pain and disappointment. To this day, painting keeps me sane. As I sit with my mother as she goes in and out of consciousness, I paint the flowers in her room.
One of the great joys is that while I paint for me, my paintings speak to people and sometimes they become very emotional about them. I think everyone has a way of being creative. I came up with an art kit with watercolors and aqua sticks and a demonstration DVD for people who have never painted before.
MR: You mentioned that you went through a terrible divorce and yet you and James now have great relationships with all of your ex-spouses. How did you manage to get over the bitterness and resentment?
JS: When you get divorced, you’re ending the relationship, physically and emotionally, but parenting together goes on forever so you somehow have to find a new way that is healthy for the children. After all the difficulties, my ex-husband David and I are friends. My children call his first wife, Mama Linda. James has a huge history with his two ex-wives. I respect his history and he respects mine. It’s not threatening to our relationship. It’s important for children to realize they were created in love.
MR: What are you most proud of?
JS: I’m not afraid to try different things. A lot of people tell themselves that what they’re doing is no good, there’s no point in trying, other people do it better, etc. I feel it’s not about how what I do is received; it’s about how it feels when I process it. Whether it’s my acting, painting, or whatever, I do my best, and then I let it go.
If it’s a beautiful movie and everyone’s worked hard on it and the people who see it love it, but it comes out opposite Spider Man and nobody notices my movie, I can’t control that.
Somewhere in Time was one of those movies. It was barely released and we weren’t allowed to do any publicity because the actors were on strike, but somehow people discovered it. Success is not always about how much money it makes or whether the reviews are great.
I had an art show in Carmel and some of the paintings that I really loved I didn’t want to sell and some of them I was wondering why my art dealer even framed them. All of the ones I didn’t care for sold and the ones I thought were my best work, sat there. So I’ve come to the conclusion that the artist’s job is just to create. You don’t know what people will respond to.
I’m also very proud of being on Dancing With the Stars. Even with my dancing background it was an amazing undertaking at my age.
JS: St. Catherine’s Court, the house (it looks more like a castle) in England that I bought in 1985. To me, it’s one of the most beautiful and spiritual places on the planet. It was built as a Benedictine monastery in 950 AD. It’s ten minutes from the wonderful city of Bath which dates back to Roman time and is where Jane Austin wrote her books. It sits on 14 acres and for as far as the eye can see there are rolling hills with sheep and cows and a few houses in the distance. It has 22 rooms, and can accommodate 18 people, although when we go, there are usually 30 of us. On the property are a small chapel built in 1260, along with a tithe barn where farmers came to pay taxes to the lord of the manor, and two cottages that we’ve converted into a larger one.
It took two and a half years to renovate. As a historic house, it’s protected so we had to go through every committee known to man. It’s an ancient house but it has every modern convenience you could ever need, although you don’t notice it. You can put your IPOD in and have music in every part of the house. There’s wireless internet access everywhere. The stone floors are under-floor heated in the winter.
MR: How often do you go there?
JS: On and off, about two and a half months a year. Tax-wise I’m only allowed to spend three months a year in England. I rent it out when I’m not there. If I didn’t, I couldn’t afford to keep it.
LIFE LESSON: Jane no longer owns Catherine’s Court. I don’t know for sure, but I imagine it was hard for her to give it up to someone else, which is usually the case when we have invested so much time into something and we hold such wonderful memories dear. Ultimately though, we all move on and leave the material things behind. That’s why it’s important to learn to enjoy the things we have, but not to allow them to possess us. It’s better to invest our time in cultivating and cherishing relationships with people and nature.
MR: You have visited Kenya as part of the American Red Cross measles campaign and you took part in the vaccination of almost 14 million African children in one week. What was that like?
JS: The closest I’ve ever come to feeling God is when you sit out in the bush and look up at the sky, surrounded by all these wild animals living the way they were created to. Seeing millions of people who are living in a tenuous environment where they can’t get clean water or a decent education and there’s nothing but joy ontheir faces. They’re not saying, ‘this isn’t right or it’s not fair.’ These beautiful people are just so grateful for whatever they get. The kids can’t wait to go to school and the parents are grateful to have a vaccine that will allow their child to stay alive. You realize how much we take for granted.
MR: Did you bring the twins to Africa?
JS: Absolutely. They’ve never been spoiled because of that experience. They came back and decided to give most of their toys away. They don’t ask for anything for Christmas and birthdays. None of my kids are spoiled.
MR: What other charities do you support?
JS: I realized that without any specific training in interior decorating, whether I worked alongside a decorator or did it myself, the real issue was creating a space that spoke to my own style. A lot of people buy big, beautiful homes, but have no idea how to make them their own. They decorate them in ways they think are right and they become show houses, but they aren’t personalized.
I wanted this book to provoke people to ask themselves what it is that inspires them. Is it a color, a painting, a view, a piece of pottery, some fabric? Everything doesn’t have to match. You also don’t have to completely redo your house to bring about change. Mix things up, use different colored pillows or pieces of art. Create tablescapes with things that are meaningful to you like a shawl, scarves, beads, flowers. The thing that gets me is when there’s no emotion behind the art on the walls. It’s there because the colors go with the couch.
MR: What’s your greatest fear?
JS: Losing someone I love.
MR: I know you were close to Christopher Reeve who wrote the preface for your book, Remarkable Changes.
JS: I miss Chris. I talked with him a lot on the phone. He was the epitome of someone who embraced change and found opportunity within it. It’s remarkable that someone who was paralyzed and couldn’t breathe without at least two caregivers watching him like a hawk 24 hours a day could still move mountains and do a huge amount to bring support to scientists to find a cure, not just for spinal regeneration, but probably every major disease through stem cells.
When the gauntlet is thrown down, some people pick it up and carry it magnificently, and others shrivel up and live in fear, doubt, resentment, pain and hate. Against all odds, Chris continued to live a purposeful life, more so than some people who are 100% able-bodied.
And Dana will forever be the epitome of someone who was a caregiver, which is one of the greatest things to be.
MR: You and your husband James were also friends with Johnny Cash and June Carter who have also passed away.
JS: I have photographs of them all around our house. They were icons, but to us they were just real, American, simple, incredibly creative people. We stayed at their home in Memphis, they stayed at ours. We puttered around, made breakfast and talked with them on a very intimate level about a lot of the biggest struggles in life.
We had some amazing times. We laughed a lot. They would play music, James plays guitar and harmonica and we’d all sing together. They really cared and took care of a lot of people and went through hell. The end of the movie Walk The Line was not the end of the hell they went through. They went in and out of that hell in terms of their children and lots of issues until the day they died. I really miss them, but I feel they are still here because they are in my heart.
MR: How did James become a co-producer on the movie?
JS: We became friends when John and June appeared on Dr. Quinn several times. James directed John who played a sheriff dying of consumption and June played Sister Ruth, an Evangelical minister who told my patients they didn’t need to take their medicine because the Lord had healed them.
John said a lot of people wanted to make a movie of his life and he was uncomfortable with it because he didn’t know who he could trust to do it right. James spent 11 years coming up with the right script, making sure that the essence of the movie was what they wanted to say. They didn’t want a movie just about their life or their music; they wanted the movie to help people. It speaks to the addict and to the people who are there for the addict no matter what. It was important to John to speak about his connection to a higher power, not specific to a church or particular religion which was part of how he was able to become sober.
MR: What one thing would you change about your life?
JS: I’d change having only 24 hours in the day, because clearly I need more time.
LIFE LESSON: Time, not money is what is most important. And your health. Those are priceless. Look at Christopher Reeve and his wife Dana. Gone too soon. Fame and fortune are meaningless if you’re not around to smell a pine-scented forest; see a breathtaking sunset or a dazzling smile; taste a home-cooked meal, hear your child say I love you, or give someone a hug. Embrace life. Live it responsibly, but live it fully with as few regrets as possible. Laugh like no one is listening and dance like no one is watching.
Writing about Jane, reminds me of my dad. My love for him transcends time and space.