Miriam Margolyes Credit: Claire Sutton

“The minute I saw her, I fancied her rotten” – Miriam Margolyes on the 10 secrets of a long marriage

The outspoken screen and stage actor is well-known for saying what’s on her mind. In an extract from her new book Oh Miriam!, Margolyes turns her attention to love – and how she’s made her 54-year-long relationship work.

Heather and I have been together for 54 years, although only civilly partnered since 2013.  

The minute I saw her I fancied her rotten. We embarked enthusiastically on a full-blooded sexual explosion, which was hugely enjoyable and deeply satisfactory, both standing up and lying down. 

When she returned to America, we wrote proper letters to each other on aerogrammes. And we explained who we were, what music we liked, what books we were reading, sharing every moment we could in writing. 

I became familiar with another person, another mind, much more wide-ranging and comprehensive than my own. 

The weeks turned into months, then years, then decades. We are both busy, professional women, our jobs matter to us: I have to be in an English-speaking country, she has to be where the archives of the Dutch East India Company are available [Heather is a historian], so she settled in Amsterdam. We decided to give up nothing, to stay together, have separate establishments in separate countries, meet when we could and have the best of both worlds.  


It’s important to have a loving partner. Life is sweeter shared, and there is no one I would rather spend my life with. We have been honest, sometimes painfully so. And once we separated for six months, certainly the bleakest moments of my life. I was unfaithful. I was foolish and stupid and Heather just wasn’t having it. She was quite right.

We love each other and I have been sustained, comforted and reassured by our relationship; it’s the central spine of my life. I still go off to work, to film, to do documentaries, but the coming back is very sweet. Neither of us ever plans to retire, but I hope that perhaps we might be able to live in one town, in one place together.  

I’ve actually bought the flat next door in London and I thought it’d be quite nice if she lived there, where I won’t be in her way, and we can come together in the evenings. Because the highest joy I know is to be in the same room, either talking or silent, reading or watching a film, and looking upon her dear face and being grateful she’s in my life, that I chose my partner so well and that we made a life together.

Here are my 10 tips on how to stay married: 

1. A room of one’s own.

Virginia Woolf suggested that every woman needs a room of her own. I heartily agree. But to my mind, everyone needs private space, to think, reflect, be oneself. It’s creative separation.

2. Talk to each other.

And listen to what the other says, especially during sex. 

3. Sex doesn’t last, so enjoy it while you can.

Remember, as I said on TV: a good radish is better than bad sex.  


4. Relish the differences between you.

Don’t try to make the other the same as you.  

5. Be kind. Be respectful.

Words can bite and wound. Don’t do it.  

6. Don’t gamble with your happiness.

Just being married doesn’t stop your noticing another possibility. But it’s seldom worth it. Like giving into your desire for lemon meringue pie, a moment on the lips and forever in the shit.

7. Don’t fudge, don’t be glib.

This person knows you and still loves you.  

8. If you’re not happy, face it.

And talk about it!

9. Never let the sun set on a quarrel.

A true cliché.  

10. Marriage is volume one.

You haven’t finished writing. Keep at it. Make Volume Two even more interesting.

Taken from Oh Miriam! Stories from an Extraordinary Life (John Murray, £25), out September 14  


Written by Miriam Margolyes