AFTER three years of self-imposed exile in the countryside, screen siren Hetty Baynes is back – not just in her beloved corner of west London but front and centre of the world she loves. In the familiar surroundings of her favourite neighbourhood, Notting Hill, once Hetty has unpacked after what was, she says, a stressful move, she’ll be back writing and acting. Hetty is appearing with longtime friend Sir Michael Gambon in the film Cordelia and is working on a three-part TV drama loosely inspired by her dysfunctional childhood. The former wife of controversial director Ken Russell admits that her new lease of life is in no small measure down to cosmetic surgery she had in the summer.
“It has given me a real boost in confidence,” says Hetty, who has appeared in The Bill, Bergerac and countless stage productions.
Now 60, she was treated by aesthetic surgeon Dr Ian Strawford who performed a thread procedure similar to one Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, has recently undergone.
As well as the Silhouette Soft Threads and a collagen lift, Hetty also had laser surgery to remove several moles, and Botox on her forehead and around her eyes. “I had to trust Dr Strawford with my face,” Hetty says.
“It was quite an emotional journey because I’ve been on show all my life apart from the past couple of years, but the ageing process had started to affect me. “I told him, ‘I don’t want to look like I’ve been in a wind tunnel or got someone else’s face’.”
Hetty has always been a sensuous woman, with soulful eyes and English rose colouring and, from where I’m sitting, she looks a decade younger than she is.
This is music to her ears. “Yes, I’m vain, but there is nothing wrong with making the best of yourself, like going to the hairdresser or wearing lovely clothes. This is about being your best self. “I have always been a girly girl and loved clothes and dressing up since I was a child. I see one’s style as self expression, so having my face back has been this incredible gift. I can enjoy make-up again.”
Hetty says modern high definition film and TV cameras are “punishing” so she felt like she had no choice.
“I burst into tears when I first sat in the surgeon’s chair. Now I’m really pleased with what I have had done.”
But it was Hetty’s legs, rather than her face, that first exploded on to our screens.
Stood at the top of a flight of stairs nonchalantly proffering a tray of ice creams while adjusting her short skirt, her debut scene, directed by her flamboyant husband-to-be, changed her life. The year was 1992 and Russell was directing TV movie, The Secret Life Of Sir Arnold Bax, which he wrote and starred in as the eminent English composer whose obsessive love for his much younger muse Annie, a part acted by Hetty, gave the unfashionable composer a new lease of life.
She played Annie as a glamorous cockney dancer moonlighting as a cinema usherette, and love blossomed during a lengthy shoot of her shapely legs.
“Ken took half an hour to light them, now what actress wouldn’t be flattered by that?” Hetty asks.
Soon life was imitating art and Hetty and Russell, 30 years her senior, fell in love during the filming, and within six months were married.
“I fell hook, line and sinker in love with him despite the age gap,” recalls Hetty, who has enjoyed a long and successful acting career in film, TV and theatre, most recently in BBC’s The Hour, and JK Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy.
“It was his sense of humour and imagination that got me,” she says. “We called each other Pixie, but we were very professional and didn’t have our first date until after the film.”
They were married near Bournemouth where Hetty had danced on the beach during filming.
The wedding was covered by Hello! magazine. “This meant we had a security code for our guests.They had to bring a sprig of parsley and recite the song from the Danny Kaye film, The Jester,” she remembers.
It had been 23 years since Russell made his signature film, the Oscar-winning Women In Love, famous for its passionate nude wrestling scene between Alan Bates and Oliver Reed.
His decision to take a third, much younger wife, only enhanced his notoriety. “Yes we had a tempestuous marriage, but I never stopped loving him… still do,” says his penultimate wife.
“I feel his presence around me. We were almost too similar, we clashed, we were both temperamental creative people, rather than being the other rocklike thing for that creative person.”
They divorced in 1999 but remained close friends until his death in 2011.
The day we meet, Hetty is due to go out to dinner with her 26-year-old son, Rex, a filmmaker, her only child and the youngest of Russell’s eight sons and daughters. “Life with Ken was extraordinary.
He was unique, a one-off, and also a Jekyll and Hyde. But I had been brought up in an atmosphere of drama, and you couldn’t get more dramatic than being married to Ken Russell, the enfant terrible himself.”
Hetty was the youngest of five children and her childhood was certainly unconventional. While her father, aircraft designer Leslie Baynes, spent every weekend at Dunshay Manor, the Dorset estate where the family lived, her mother Margot was involved in a lesbian relationship with its owner, sculptress Mary Spencer Watson.
Hetty’s father moved out when she was nine. “My childhood was full of confusion,” explains Hetty. “It was a heightened emotional arena set against the backdrop of a formidable manor house estate which was owned by Mary.
‘There was a complicated parental dynamic with Mary, Mummy and Daddy which I didn’t understand’, but which was my norm. I used to sit at the front door waiting for Daddy, but it was like I had three parents.”
Margot and Mary’s relationship continued for 50 years. When Mary, Hetty’s godmother, died in 2006 aged 92, Hetty waged a long and costly war over her £2.3million estate which was bequeathed to the Landmark Trust.
Claiming that Mary was a surrogate parent, Hetty claimed £600,000 but ultimately lost.
“The case left me feeling so misrepresented that it felt like my veins had been opened,” she says, her final word on the lawsuit.
She believes that her upbringing made it difficult to develop a normal view of how to be an adult. “I remained an emotional child for a very long time, and have had self-destructive and dysfunctional behavioural patterns in my life.
My mother’s dream had been for me to be the next Margot Fonteyn and that was the main purpose of my life.”
But the Royal Ballet School, where she studied from the age of 10, could be a brutal world. At the age of 13, Hetty was told she had “heavy bones”. “I felt like I was being stabbed in the eyes.”
By 15 she was struggling with the eating disorder anorexia nervosa and by 16 was acting professionally, to her mother’s dismay.
All these years later, as she picks up the threads of that career, Hetty acknowledges that she was suffering from burnout.
Now she is determined to look to the future. “I’m a great believer in the human spirit’s ability to revive and transform itself,” she explains. “But at 60 your whole perspective on mortality changes.
You’re in the last third and there is more urgency in spending time with those people you love, and not screwing it up.”