Diana Rigg was a firecracker if there ever was one, and she spent her career rebelling against the expectations of others and making scandals wherever she went. From her sex-kitten stardom as Emma Peel in The Avengers to her iconic performance as Olenna Tyrell in Game of Thrones, Rigg was truly unforgettable on-screen—and her romps behind-the-scenes were even more salacious. Here are facts about Diana Rigg, The Queen of Sin.
Diana Rigg Facts
1. She Had An Exotic Childhood
Diana Rigg had an exotic upbringing. Thanks to her father’s cushy job working as a railroad engineer, she spent most of her early childhood in India. Though an English citizen, Rigg lived in the foreign country from the time she was two months old, and spent a happy childhood learning Hindi. Sadly, those golden days wouldn’t last forever.
2. Her Parents Abandoned Her
Rigg’s blessed life in India was very brief. With the growing conflict over Indian independence, Rigg’s father shipped his young daughter back to England in 1945. But that wasn't the worst part. Neither her mother nor her father came back with Rigg, and she didn't see them for years while she attended school. When they returned, she called them strangers.
3. She Was A Painfully Lonely Child
Boarding school wasn’t easy for Diana Rigg, and she felt “disenfranchised." The combination of feeling like an outsider and being away from her parents made for a lonely few years, but she coped by developing a vivid imagination, which she channeled into a lifelong passion for acting. But before she became famous, she paid a high price for her ambitions.
4. No One Believed In Her
Diana Rigg had some heavy obstacles in her path to stardom. In particular, her headmistress at school was vehemently set against her dreams of the stage, with Rigg even implying the woman would have been happier with her walking the streets. Her parents weren't so hot on the idea, either, but Rigg auditioned for drama school anyway—and this brought even more scandal.
5. She Made A Huge Sacrifice
When Rigg got into the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts at just 17 years old, she was actually already engaged to be married to a young beau. Well, her father put an end to that. The stern man told her that she could choose between an acting career and a walk down the aisle. Fiesty as ever, Rigg obviously chose acting and broke off the engagement.
6. She Was A Party Girl
If her parents really knew what Diana Rigg was doing at the academy, they'd have been even more outraged. Rigg admits she spent most of her time there partying, meeting boys, and coming to class hungover. The school almost expelled her, but she scraped by enough to make her professional debut in 1957. From then on, she only cemented her "bad girl" image.
7. She Started From The Bottom
In 1959, Rigg probably thought she hit it big when she got into the Royal Shakespeare Company....but if so, it was a rude awakening. She literally started at the bottom, with a walk-on part as a spear-carrier. Still, she also got to watch greats like Dame Edith Evans and Laurence Olivier at work. And one of her biggest roles was just around the corner.
8. She Stole Her Most Famous Part
In 1965, the popular British espionage show The Avengers was casting for the lead female role of Emma Peel. Famously, Rigg got it and quickly became a household name—but few people know the truth behind the part. The production had initially cast the actress Elizabeth Shepherd, but dumped her for Rigg when they saw our girl's humor and wit.
Yeah, Rigg stole the part right out of Shepherd's hands. But be careful what you wish for...
9. She Was Afraid Of Her Fans
Emma Peel became an instant television dream girl, and Rigg was completely unprepared to deal with the pressures of fame. So when she received baskets and baskets of fan mail almost overnight, she didn't react well. Instead of reading them, she just kept them, unopened, in the trunk of her car. If she had read them, though, she'd be shocked.
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10. Her Fan Mail Was Mortifying
Eventually, Rigg's mother decided to take matters into her own hands, and became her secretary in part to handle the unstoppable deluge of fan mail. Creepily enough, many of the letters were inappropriate odes to Rigg's body and good looks. Never a family to mince words, the matron replied to these by saying, “My daughter’s far too old for you. Go take a cold shower!”
11. She Caused A Scandal
In the 1960s, just as she was hitting her professional stride, Rigg's messy personal life hit the headlines. She had taken up with the already-married director Philip Saville and was living with him. The fiery Rigg admitted as much to reporters, even announcing that she had no intention of marrying Saville, or anyone. As we'll see, she'd change her tune...with unsettling results.
12. She Was The Queen of Sin
Despite her initial shock over stardom, Rigg soon jumped in whole-heartedly. Um, maybe a little too wholeheartedly. In the infamous "Touch of Brimstone" episode of The Avengers, she wore a "Queen of Sin" outfit with a spiked dog collar, a whalebone corset, and high leather boots. She even designed the costume herself. And that wasn't the most scandalous part...
13. She Was Too Risqué
Besides Rigg's scantily-clad "costume," the episode also had her extensively whipping a man while dressed in the get-up. Now, this was just too much for the censors. They edited the episode down to only its barest, most family-friendly elements, and didn't air an uncut version of the installment until decades later. Unsurprisingly, it's still a fan favorite to this day.
14. She Got Kicked Out Of A Hotel
Rigg was always a rebel, and "Touch of Brimstone" wasn't the only way she used her clothing to make a statement. She insisted on walking around in trousers whenever she darn well felt like it, even when the habit came back to bite her. A host once escorted her out of a hotel restaurant because she had the nerve to wear a pantsuit after 6 pm.
15. She Received A Brutal Insult
Rigg knew her worth down to the last cent, so she was outraged to find just how little The Avengers valued her. Despite being the breakout star of the show, she discovered that not only was her male co-star making hundreds of pounds more than her per week, but also that a cameraman was making more than her, too. The show's response was disturbing.
16. She Made A Dangerous Threat
Sadly, barely anyone on set supported her complaints, and Rigg had to threaten to quit to get even a modest raise. The show managed to hold onto her for three seasons, but they were miserable years. She felt friendless on the set of the show, and she began to tire of fans calling her "Mrs. Peel" wherever she went. Rigg was about to break out in a big way.
17. She Became A Bond Girl
After Rigg finally left The Avengers with extreme prejudice, her next big role was the very definition of revenge: She transformed into a freaking Bond girl. In 1969's On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Rigg earned rave reviews playing Countess Teresa di Vicenzo opposite George Lazenby. And she has a very huge claim to fame in that film.
18. She Married James Bond
Somehow, Rigg's Countess manages to get the playboy spy James Bond to the altar—and then she actually manages to marry him, too. To this day, Diana Rigg's character has the dubious honor of being James Bond's only lawfully-wedded wife. But behind the scenes of the latest Bond movie, things were falling apart all over again.
19. There Was A Dirty Rumor About Her
Despite their fictional marriage, Rigg and Lazenby had a nightmare on set. According to Rigg, Lazenby would often fly into rages at the crew and other cast members with "inexcusable and crude" behavior. A rumor even emerged that Rigg hated Lazenby so much, she would deliberately eat garlic before filming their romantic scenes. The source of that rumor? Well...
20. She Made A Powerful Rival
After the film came out, the rumor got so big that Rigg wrote an open letter denying it—and accusing Lazenby himself of starting the yarn. For his part, Lazenby denied any malicious intent, and claimed the whisper came about when the press misheard something Rigg herself had said. Just before her passing, Rigg got a chance to set the record straight, though...and boy, did she.
21. She Hated Her Co-Star
Even in 2014, Rigg wasn't going to let bygones be bygones. When an interviewer asked about her time as a Bond girl, Rigg confessed that she wished she'd had "Roger or Sean" as her Bond, and called Lazenby "stupid," saying he read too many magazines and was just acting out what he thought was suave. "And I had to marry the man!" She finally scoffed. Alright, Diana Rigg does not forgive and forget.
22. She Had A Notorious Type
Although her scandalous lover Philip Saville was Rigg's "first love," he definitely wasn't her last. After they split up, Rigg rebounded hard. She took up with painter Menachem Gueffen, and their relationship was every bit as dramatic as two artists could make it. They fought constantly, with Gueffen even once throwing her luggage out a window of a hotel while they were on holiday. But it's Rigg's reaction to this that was truly strange.
23. She Made An Indecent Proposal
Apparently, the way to get on Diana Rigg's good side is to chuck her belongings out of windows, because the enraged act made her go starry-eyed—so much so that she proposed to Gueffen on the flight home. Then, somehow, the volatile pair even went through with it, marrying in a ceremony in 1973. It was not happily ever after.
24. She Had A Quickie Marriage
Rigg claimed that she had "met my match" in Gueffen, but not even the actress had faith in her bad romance. In an interview she gave shortly after her hasty nuptials, she waxed rhapsodically about how in love she was with Gueffen, but then quipped after a slight pause, "I give the marriage a year." As it turned out, she would be eerily right.
25. Her Relationship Fell Apart
By 1974, Rigg and Gueffen were on a trial separation. The reasons behind the split were heartbreaking. Though Rigg publicly blamed her “bloody awful independence," insiders believed the real issue was that the macho Gueffen couldn't handle being "Mrs. Diana Rigg" and having his wife overshadow him. But don't worry, Rigg bounced back.
26. She Had A Love Child
Shortly after her relationship with Gueffen ended, Rigg got in another serious romance with the dashing producer Archibald Stirling, eventually taking him as her second husband in 1982. By that time, Rigg already had a child with him, a daughter named Rachael Stirling. Maybe, just maybe, things would settle down. Then again, maybe not...
27. Her Husband Made A Fool Of Her
Rigg was used to the ups and downs of relationships—until her husband dealt her an utterly cold-hearted betrayal. One day, she discovered that Archibald was having a full-blown affair with the much-younger actress Joely Richardson, who was nearly 30 years her junior. Soon enough, Rigg proved that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.
28. She Got A Fitting Revenge
Rigg wasted no time divorcing Stirling, even after eight years of marriage, but she didn't stop there. Rather than throwing his stuff out in the trash or destroying it, Rigg was much cleverer than all that. Instead, the iconic actress packed up Stirling's nicest suits and donated them to the nearest charity shop. Take notes, ladies and gentlemen.
29. She Did A “Horrible” Thing
After James Bond, Rigg made her Broadway debut, and it didn't exactly go the way she wanted. She played the controversial role of a naked nun in Abelard and Heloise, only agreeing to the nudity because the director insisted. She almost instantly wished she hadn't, calling it the “most horrible thing” she’d ever done. It also led to a savage insult.
30. She Got a Devastating Critique
While Rigg's director pushed the poor actress into the bare-all role, the critics didn't seem to care. One particularly vicious reviewer had the nerve to comment more on her body than her acting technique, complaining that she “was built like a brick mausoleum with insufficient flying buttresses.” Later in life, she still remembered the comment as "devastating."
31. She Never Watched Game Of Thrones
Prior to nabbing her famed role of Olenna Tyrell on Game of Thrones, Rigg was completely unfamiliar with the show. She never watched the series—even while she was on it—and admitted to having “no clue” what was happening. When you're as good as she is, you don't need to pay attention. In fact, it was Rigg who made Game of Thrones jump through hoops...
32. She Had A Wicked Sense Of Humor
When Rigg met with the GoT showrunners, David Benioff said that it felt like she was auditioning them instead of vice versa. Obviously, the bawdy, witty, and sharp Rigg nailed the part, but one exchange particularly sealed the deal. Speaking about GoT's notorious nudity, she grinned and wryly said, “There's an awful lot of bonking, isn't there?” Book her, boys.
33. She Accomplished An Impressive Feat
While on Game of Thrones, an extremely demanding scene put Rigg to the test early on in filming. Rigg’s character Olenna had to list all the things she needed for her marching army. It was so exacting and long, Rigg thought the producers wanted to see if an old bat could even remember her lines. Well, Rigg didn't shy away from the challenge: She did, and she did it in one take.
34. She Snapped At A Director
In her early days on Games of Thrones, Rigg definitely caused some drama on set. In particular, one Emmy-winning director was helming an episode and asked her to do something simple like open a door. Rigg's reply was legendary. She responded pertly that she would do it her own way, then dismissed the director with, “Thank you! Go away." Well, he sure did.
35. She Orchestrated A Star-Studded Romance
Even when Diana Rigg was trying to do a nice thing, she somehow ended up creating controversy. When she worked on Theater of Blood with screen legend Vincent Price and actress Coral Browne, Browne admitted to Rigg that she had a crush on the aging star. Rigg quickly tipped Price off to Coral's little crush, and the pair started a fling and eventually got married. But Rigg didn't know the whole story...
36. She Did A Naughty Thing
As it turned out, Price was very taken at the time—as in, he already had a wife and child. Rigg claims she knew nothing of this, or else she never would have played matchmaker. In her words, "I did not know that...I would not have encouraged it. If I sound sort of po-faced, so be it." That Diana Rigg, always getting herself into trouble. And there was more to come.
37. She Had A Favorite Scene
Despite never watching Game of Thrones, Rigg had happy memories of playing Olenna. For one, she thought the Tyrell matriarch had "the best lines.” Rigg also loved the scene where Olenna meets her demise. As Rigg explained, Olenna faced the end proudly and “with dignity and wit, and wit is not often in final death scenes."
38. She Had A Strange Power
While everyone admired Rigg's acting chops, some of the greatest names in show business also clocked her because of just how steaming hot she was. Laurence Olivier himself called her a "delicious actress,” and Hollywood heartthrob Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. once said, “Anyone who doesn’t find her devastatingly attractive must be an Outer Mongolian monk.” High praise indeed.
39. She Could Be Mean
Diana Rigg might have been a good-time gal, but she knew how to work. In 2018, she was Mrs. Higgins in My Fair Lady alongside lead star Lauren Ambrose. Yet when Ambrose took every Sunday off to rest her voice, Rigg got very prickly about what she thought was diva behavior. She wrote an email insisting, "The show must go on—with ALL principals," and referenced the time she busted a vocal chord as Medea in 1994 without batting an eye.
40. She Created Her Own Cocktail
Rigg was obviously in fine form while playing Mrs. Higgins, because she pulled out all the stops when she turned 80 years old during her run. She threw herself a huge bash, invited everyone, and then invented her own cocktail called “Diana’s Dynamite,” which she made with Prosecco and Cointreau. As she described it, “everyone got hammered.”
41. She Refused A Big Part
One thing you can count on is that Diana Rigg was consistent about her grudges. Although she later softened on her experience as Emma Peel in The Avengers, she could never quite forget how horrible it was for her on the set of her breakout show. So when The New Avengers asked her to reprise her role in the 1970s, the actress turned them down flat.
42. She Played An Iconic Character
In 1981, Diana Rigg starred in The Great Muppet Caper as fashion designer Lady Holiday. Rigg said she jumped at the chance to work with Miss Piggy because her daughter was “passionately in love” with the character. Still, when the girl visited her on set and saw Miss Piggy for real, the multiple piggy puppets frightened her and she burst into tears. Children, they're so ungrateful.
43. She Took The Tabloids To Court
In 2003, Rigg proved that nobody gets away with putting words in her mouth. She sued The Daily Mail and The London Evening Standard for writing that “she was an embittered woman who held British men in low regard.” The articles stated that she had decided to retire and live like a hermit, which was all untrue. But...could you blame her?
44. She Became A Dame
In 1994, Diana Rigg achieved what most people just dream about: She became a bona fide Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, in recognition of her services to drama. I mean, if we should call anyone "Dame," it's Diana Rigg, right?
45. She Had Her Own Episode
In 2013, Rigg got the chance to guest star as the evil Mrs. Gillyflower on Doctor Who in the Victorian-era episode “The Crimson Horror,” which showrunners wrote especially for her. Like the Dame she is, Rigg had actually never seen a single episode of the show before the producers approached her. Even then, she agreed to the part only after watching a compilation of the series' best villains.
46. She Intimidated Her Co-Stars
In his forthcoming oral history of Game of Thrones, Fire Cannot Kill a Dragon, author James Hibberd revealed that Rigg “intimidated” her co-stars, but not because she was mean or scary. Co-stars Emilia Clarke and Natalie Dormer admitted to being “awestruck” by the actress. And honestly, with a career like hers, who wouldn’t be?
47. She Loved To Be Bad
While some actors shy away from playing baddie characters because they want viewers to like them, that wasn’t true of Rigg, who bloody loved it. She played both good guys and bad guys in her time, but said she’d pick bad every time. She enjoyed it when people disliked her, saying that evil characters are “so much more interesting than good.”
48. She Almost Died
In 2017, Rigg nearly met her maker when her heart stopped beating during a routine heart operation. The way she figured it, God must have told someone to “Send the old bag down again, I’m not having her yet,” because a jumpstart got her heart going again, and she made a full recovery. Somebody must have been looking out for her...but everyone's day has to come.
49. She Pushed Herself To The Edge
Diana Rigg continued to work until the very end, proclaiming in an interview, “I don't want to retire. I never want to retire. What's the point of it?” She most recently appeared as the eccentric widow Mrs. Pumphrey in the TV series All Creatures Great and Small, and she also has a couple of other projects coming down the pipeline to this day.
50. She Fought Until The End
On September 10, 2020, Diana Rigg finally closed the curtains on her magnificent life, passing in her own home at the age of 82. It was a shock for everyone who knew how strong and vital she had been all the way up to her end. But her daughter revealed the truth. Back in March, doctors had diagnosed Rigg with cancer, and the reaper came for her at last. Rest in Peace, Diana.