The world of entertainment mourns the loss of one of its brightest stars today, as English actress Haydn Gwynne, renowned for her versatile talents in both television and stage performances, passed away at the age of 66.
With a career spanning decades, Haydn Gwynne’s impressive portfolio includes memorable roles in iconic TV shows such as “Drop the Dead Donkey,” “Peak Practice,” “Merseybeat,” and “The Windsors.” Her acting prowess was equally celebrated on the stage, where she earned nominations for both Olivier and Tony awards for her remarkable performance in “Billy Elliot the Musical” on both West End and Broadway.
Perhaps one of her most notable TV roles was as Queen Camilla in the hilarious royal spoof “The Windsors.” Haydn Gwynne’ portrayal of ex-PM Margaret Thatcher in the stage production of “The Audience” drew accolades and applause from audiences and critics alike. Dame Helen Mirren, her co-star in “The Audience,” fondly remembered Gwynne, describing her as “a delight as a person and a consummate dedicated actress.” Mirren praised her for effortlessly combining humor and seriousness, a talent that permeated her entire career.
Haydn Gwynne’ agent announced the heartbreaking news of her passing, revealing that she had been bravely battling cancer before her untimely demise. Surrounded by her beloved sons, close family, and friends, she passed away in the early hours of October 20, in a hospital. The statement expressed gratitude to the dedicated healthcare professionals at the Royal Marsden and Brompton Hospitals for their care during her final weeks.
Haydn Gwynne’ career took flight in the late 1980s with her role in the TV drama “Nice Work.” Her portrayal of the cynical and stoical journalist Alex in the topical satire “Drop the Dead Donkey” earned her a BAFTA nomination. Her return to Channel 4 in the comedy “The Windsors” showcased her versatility, as she portrayed Camilla as the soap opera’s quintessential villainess. Her character’s wardrobe, inspired by Joan Collins in the 1980s, allowed Gwynne to explore the comedic and entertaining aspects of her role without the constraints of serious research.
Continuing her royal TV journey, Gwynne played Lady Susan Hussey in the fifth series of Netflix’s “The Crown,” depicting the character’s resignation following a racism controversy. Her diverse television roles included Dr. Joanna Graham in “Peak Practice,” Supt Susan Blake in “Merseybeat,” and Julius Caesar’s wife Calpurnia in the BBC’s “Rome.”
Renowned playwright Jonathan Harvey celebrated her as a “gifted and versatile all-rounder,” while writer Jack Thorne remembered her as “the kindest, loveliest soul and a wonderful performer” who gave her all to her craft. Musical star and radio presenter Elaine Paige, who knew Gwynne for 30 years, described her as “so young, so talented.” She believed there would be a bright star in the heavens that night.
Rufus Norris, the artistic director of the National Theatre, directed Gwynne in “The Threepenny Opera” in 2016 and praised her as “an amazing woman and artist” universally beloved and respected for her unique combination of wit, wickedness, grace, and fearless craft.
Haydn Gwynne’s journey into the world of acting was not without challenges. She originally pursued a degree in French and taught English at the University of Rome. However, the allure of acting eventually compelled her to “come out of the closet,” as she put it, and pursue it professionally. After returning to England, she wrote to numerous theater companies and was given her first break by writer and director Alan Ayckbourn in “His Monkey Wife” in 1984.
Gwynne’s career was marked by diverse experiences, including West End musical “Ziegfeld,” which had its share of challenges but eventually led to her first Olivier nomination for “City of Angels” in 1994. She also spent seasons with the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1994 and 1995, showcasing her exceptional versatility.
Throughout her career, Gwynne continued to embrace a wide range of roles, demonstrating her talent in both musical and dramatic performances. Earlier this year, she portrayed a version of Dame Prue Leith in “The Great British Bake Off Musical” and embodied Stanley Baldwin, the prime minister of the 1920s and 30s, in a play called “When Winston Went to War with the Wireless.”
Gwynne’s dedication to her craft was unwavering, and her presence on the stage was simply magical. She was slated to appear in a new London production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Old Friends” in September but withdrew nine days before the first preview due to “sudden personal circumstances.” Sir Cameron Mackintosh, the show’s producer, dedicated Friday’s performance to Gwynne, remembering her as a “truly wonderful person” and a “phenomenally talented actress and singer.”
In the world of entertainment, Haydn Gwynne’s star will continue to shine brightly, a testament to her exceptional talent and unforgettable contributions to both television and the stage. Her legacy will be cherished by fans, peers, and admirers for years to come.