Rita Tushingham says she felt like she had been “picked up and thrown against a wall” after finding out about her 33-year-old daughter’s stage three breast cancer diagnosis.
The actress, 80, praised her daughter Aisha Bicknell’s strength in handling the news and said it had been important to “be in the moment” when supporting her.
Liverpool-born Tushingham, who has starred in films including A Taste of Honey and Doctor Zhivago, said it was impossible to hide from the devastating news.
Speaking on Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, she recalled the difficult period in 2005.
“It was a shock,” she said.
“You feel like someone’s picked you up and thrown you against a wall.
“You can hide in a corner and not do anything about it or say ‘right this is it’.
“You have to, I hate the word, but you have to be in the moment. You have to accept what’s happening.
Becoming emotional she continued: “Aisha is the most amazing person and she just got on with it.
“She is so strong and spiritual and she helped me and at the same time, I had my other daughter who was quite frail and ill in Los Angeles, in hospital at the same time.
“But… I made myself at the end of every day, I brought myself into ‘this is the situation’ and I really slept well.
She added: “You just have to recognise what the situation is. You can’t hide from it.”
Tushingham added that there were often times during that period where she had wanted to simply “keep myself busy” which included a lot of “stress ironing”.
The actress found fame at the age of 19 for her role in the taboo-breaking 1961 film A Taste of Honey, which she starred in alongside Paul Danquah, and earned herself both a Bafta and a Golden Globe award for her performance.
During one scene the pair share what was reportedly the first onstage interracial kiss, and Tushingham said she had been “shocked” about the racism directed towards her black co-star in London.
She also recalled her audition for the role, which had advertised as an “unattractive, unknown actor” which Tushingham said was “something I could do”.
Responding to comments made at the time in the media about her appearance, she said: “I didn’t take it personally.
“You don’t think about it, honestly, or go into the bathroom in the morning and go ‘oh God, you’re ugly’. You just don’t do it.
“You have to be really into yourself to be that concerned and why should you be that concerned by one person?”
– The full interview with Rita Tushingham on Desert Island Discs will air on BBC Radio 4 and BBC Sounds on Sunday at 11am.