Judi Dench: I’m scared of schoolchildren

“I have always had a terrible fear of a lot of schoolchildren together. I don’t know why but I just have”

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Judi Dench has no doubt had myriad experiences during her 50-year acting career but she harbours one, rather unusual, fear. “I have always had a terrible fear of a lot of schoolchildren together,” she told an audience on Sunday at the Cheltenham Literature Festival. “I don’t know why but I just have.”

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The actress – known for roles in Mrs Brown, Philomena and the Bond films – admitted her fright during a discussion of her time filming Notes on a Scandal where she “played a complete monster with Cate Blanchett.”

While acknowledging she “had a wonderful time” shooting the 2006 adaptation of Zoë Heller’s book, Dench recalled the difficulties of working in north London.

“On my very first day playing this rather difficult part, I was confronted by a whole school of children. I was absolutely petrified.”

But the actress – who was Oscar-nominated for her performance – did soon make friends with her young observers. “We used several of them in the film. They all turned out to be absolutely wonderful – completely committed and enthusiastic and interesting to talk to and interested in what we were doing.

“To some extent I got over my fear.”

The 79-year-old also touched upon the hidden benefits of her fading eyesight after revealing earlier this year that she was suffering from macular degeneration, an age-related condition.

Speaking of her appearance at the Proms in 2010, the actress said: “A more frightening experience I have yet to have. Fortunately now I can’t see very clear. I used to be able to see every member of the audience and exactly what they were doing.

“I can’t do that anymore which in a way is a wonderful blessing. I didn’t realise it was a blessing until I went on that night at the Proms. There was like a sea of corn in front of me and I looked up and thought, ‘there’s nobody upstairs’.”

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And despite turning 80 in December, the actress shows little sign of slowing down. “Fortunately I was blessed with an enormous amount of energy because my parents had that,” she said. “That is something you are passed on and you are lucky if you have it.”