‘She blazed so brightly. Go now, Little One, into the air, and thank you.’ These are the words Damian Lewis used when he publicly announced the death of his wife Helen McCrory on Twitter on 16th April this year.

Even in the deepest grief, Lewis was romantic, elegant and poetic.We got a taste of that elegant poeticism back in 2014 when he and McCrory took to the stage at the Times and Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival to read love poems from an anthology edited by a friend, Allie Esiri.

The recording of the performance – which had the audience in raptures – was believed to be lost until Lewis rediscovered it the other day and made it public in tribute to his wife. Listen now to a recording that crackles with chemistry.

Lewis told The Times: ‘When the festival had asked if they could film it, Helen and I had said no because we believe that live events have a unique energy and the cameras would have brought a self-consciousness.

‘After Helen died, Allie and I were reminiscing about the event and kicking ourselves that there was no recording. In fact, there was. Not film, but we discovered a very good quality audio recording.’

He can say that again. The 50-minute performance – in which the pair read from Shakespeare, E.E. Cummings, Shelley, Tennyson, Stevie Smith and many more – is an emotional rollercoaster. Nobody conveys depth like this duo.

Lewis and McCrory, both darlings of the stage and screen, met in 2003. They were playing a pair of illicit lovers in Five Gold Rings at the Almeida – and their attraction was clear from the start. They married in 2007, lived in London and Suffolk and had two children, Manon and Gulliver.

When Chloe Fox interviewed the couple for Vogue in 2013, she was struck by the magic of their intimacy.

‘Curling herself into her husband, McCrory locks eyes with him as he puts a protective hand between her shoulder blades and gently rubs her slender back,’ Fox wrote.

‘They seem in a little world of their own on the top of Waterloo Bridge, talking quietly and constantly to each other, oblivious to both the photographer’s lens and the gawping Londoners.’

They clearly had something very special going on. Hearing McCrory – who claimed she was not at all reflective – speak about Lewis on Desert Island Discs is arresting. She told The Stylist in 2011: ‘When I met Damian, I felt very calm with him, and like I belonged. I still do.’ She was taken, aged 52, from him far too soon.

Lewis and McCrory managed to make even their performance at the Cheltenham Literature Festival seem intimate. Her beloved father (a diplomat from Glasgow, whom she described as her best friend) was in the audience. The ready little husband-and-wife jokes they swapped throughout the poetry were as touching as the declamation itself.

We sure lost a star when we lost Helen McCrory – but her memory shines bright through recordings like this one.

Other Great Poetry Podcasts

The New Yorker Poetry Podcast

In this stylish podcast, the Poetry Editor of The New Yorker hosts readings and conversations. Listen here.

The Poetry Society Podcast

Enjoy readings and the vibrant exploration of fascinating themes in this podcast from The Poetry Society. Listen here.

The Slowdown

In this meditative daily podcast, poet Tracy K. Smith reads a short contemporary poem selected by her team, which is comprised of women and people of colour. Listen here.

By Becky Ladenburg
October 2021

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