I WOULD like to add our condolences to the many which have been sent to Rachael Stirling on the sad death of her mother, Dame Diana Rigg, last week aged 82.

A gifted and glamorous star of stage and screen, Diana Rigg first came to the attention of Mrs Sylvia Greenwood who founded the Speech and Drama element of the Wharfedale Music Festival in 1953, when she was an "overweight and not very attractive 12 year old” (as she described herself) at Fulneck Girls’ School in Pudsey. Sylvia taught Drama at the school and saw something special in her pupil, mentoring and coaching her during her teenage years.

Her first performance at our May Speech and Drama Festival was her first ever experience of treading the boards. Surprisingly, her recitation of a poem only produced a second prize, a fact which devastated and angered her at the time, but she was comforted by her drama teacher who told her she had been “robbed” and would become an actress. Sylvia helped prepare her for the audition for RADA and they kept in touch constantly when the glittering career took off.

In May 2000, when Mrs Greenwood, then 88, was presented with a long service award at the King’s Hall, to mark her 46 years with the Wharfedale Festival, Dame Diana took time off from filming to attend and reminisced “I owe her my life in the theatre”. Mrs Greenwood added that as a girl, Diana had been “self-disciplined and determined, a free spirit with a mind of her own”.

Dame Diana’s wonderful and varied career in films, television and on the stage is testament to her ability to adapt to a wide variety of roles throughout her acting life. She was a great lady of the theatre and will be missed terribly, not only by her immediate family, but also by those of us who have had some small part in offering a first performance platform to such a talent. We send our heartfelt sympathy to Rachael Stirling and her family.

Pat Dibb

General Secretary

Wharfedale Festival of Performing Arts