Few British sex symbols compete with the lovely, powerful Diana Rigg. In the 1960s, two roles defined her career. She played Emma Peel on The Avengers and Tracy Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. In fact, she was the only Bond girl to actually tie the knot with the notorious lady’s man 007. In this decade of free love and boundary-breaking, Rigg was famous for her jumpsuits and karate-chopping, bad guys getting bravery.
Like many of the most famous British performers, Diana Rigg started out her acting career on the stage. She was a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company and later performed on Broadway in America. Even after decades on the screen and stage, Rigg never retired. In fact, today, she’s probably most famous to Game of Thrones fans. She was in her late 70s and early 80s when she played the seasoned matriarch, Olenna Tyrell–a role she accepted only because the script depicted a tough, strong woman character.
In this video, we celebrate Diana Rigg’s success on stage and screen and uncover the tales and tidbits that prove she was one of the greatest British actresses of all time. If you’re a Diana Rigg fan who’s mourning her recent passing or just want to learn more about her long and fruitful life, watch on!
A Symbol of Strength for Women of the Sixties
In the 1950s and early 60s, women mostly depicted on film and television as either victims, sex symbols, or homemakers. Diana Rigg determined to turn this stereotype upside down, and with her character Emma Peel in The Avengers, she did just that. Emma Peel was a secret agent who used her martial arts training to chase down all kinds of criminals. Rigg played Emma Peel in seasons four to six of The Avengers, reprising the coveted role to Linda Thorson after the first episode of season seven. It was a role that Diana Rigg was endlessly proud of because there were so few independent, intelligent, and strong women roles on television at the time. And so she should have been! She inspired a generation of women to fight for agency.
Diana Rigg’s Avengers Jumpsuit Was Called the Emmapeeler
Rigg’s Emma Peel was intelligent, capable, independent, and witty. The role was, says Rigg, way ahead of its time. And the public was ready for it. The Avengers never saw more viewers than when Diana Rigg played Emma Peel. Some critics claim, however, that this was because of Rigg’s undeniable sex appeal. And her status as a Sixties sex symbol was something Rigg was never comfortable with. “How is a sex symbol supposed to behave? I haven’t got a clue!” she once stated in an interview with CBS. Her famous jumpsuits–dubbed the Emmapeeler–spurred an entire fashion movement of bright, skin-tight and stretchy, yet practical womenswear.
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Diana Rigg Embraced Every Aspect of the Swinging Sixties
The bright, wild, and horny world of Austin Powers wasn’t just a figment of comedian Mike Myer’s imagination. That world really existed in 1960s London, and Diana Rigg was right in the middle of it. Swinging London, as it was called at the time, was full of fun, love, and wild parties. Rigg famously recalls the time when Beatles’ singer, songwriter, and bassist Paul McCartney would randomly turn up on her doorstep with the band’s latest album in hand (for the fans, it was Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band). “He just wanted to meet me and give me the record,” she said. Apparently, and probably unsurprisingly, he was absolutely charming.
Rigg Spent Several Years on the Stage in the 1960s
Diana Rigg joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in the late 1950s and spent much of the 1960s working the stage in the RSC and London’s National Theatre. She performed in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage, and Tom Stoppard’s Jumpers. In the 1990s, Rigg accepted a number of lead roles in shows at London’s Almeida Theatre, including Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Greek tragedy Medea. Even in her mature years, she didn’t give up stage performing–she still had the stamina for it after all! In 2018, she played Mrs. Higgins in My Fair Lady. Famed director Jonathan Kent, who worked with Rigg on numerous occasions throughout her career, said she was a “force of personality, beauty, courage and sheer emotional power.”
Diana Rigg Was the only Bond Girl to Ever Marry 007
One of the roles Rigg is most famous for, especially with lads of a particular generation, is Tracy di Vicenzo (later Tracy Bond) in the 1969 James Bond thriller On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. She had so much fun on the lavish set, starring alongside George Lazenby, who only played Bond once. For example, many of the costumes Rigg wore were gifted to her after filming: a fancy watch and a fox fur coat. She was also the only Bond girl ever to marry Agent 007, though (spoiler alert) her character was killed off at the end of the movie.
Many Consider Tracy Bond to be the Best Bond Girl Ever
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is considered one of the greatest Bond movies ever, and Rigg’s performance as Tracy Bond (nee di Vicenzo) is one of the defining features of the film. Critics widely consider the character to be the most complex Bond woman to grace the series. She is a messy, tormented soul who isn’t even sure if her life is worth living. And her demise at the end of the film is powerful and genuinely tragic. In fact, Rigg’s depiction of Tracy Bond is one of the reasons the film endures as a classic even to this day.
80s Kids Will Remember Diana Rigg as Lady Holiday
Kids of the 1980s will undoubtedly best remember Diana Rigg from her role as Lady Holiday in 1981’s The Great Muppet Caper. While this character might seem out of sorts compared with the roles Rigg has played up to that point, she apparently accepted it because her daughter pleaded with her. In fact, Rigg was able to bring her daughter and her friends onto the set to meet famous Miss Piggy, Kermit, and all their friends! Rigg ended up thoroughly enjoying her time on the Muppet set, recalling just how fun of a movie it was to make. And if you’ve watched this romp through 1980s culture, the fun all the actors had really shows!
Diana Rigg Smoked a Pack a Day
That Diana Rigg smoked a pack of cigarettes a day was a fact known only to those who knew her best. In fact, her heavy smoking habit landed her in hospital in 2017 with a cardiac ablation. She underwent surgery and almost didn’t survive when her heart actually stopped working during the operation. God said, “Send the old bag back down again; I’m not having her yet,” she said of the experience. It was a bit of a joke, but Rigg is a devout Christian, and the incident inspired her to quit smoking and adopt a healthier lifestyle.
Diana Rigg is a Dame
In 1988, Diana Rigg was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire by none other than Queen Elizabeth II herself. Like other seasoned English actresses of her era, Rigg received the honor due to her long service to the dramatic arts in Great Britain and globally. So we should all really be referring to her as Dame Diana Rigg, thank you very much! Of course, she’s also won an endless stream of awards throughout her career, from Bravo Otto trophies in the 1960s to Gold Derby and BAFTA awards in the 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s.
She Never Retired, Gracing the Silver Screen Right to the End
Not one to ever give up, Diana Rigg never formally retired, and in fact, she pretty much never even slowed down her performing career even as she hit her 80s. She played the formidable Olenna Tyrell, Queen of Thorns, in the 2010s television hit Game of Thrones. At 80, Rigg depicted the Duchess of Buccleuch in the PBS series Victoria. She starred alongside her daughter, Rachel Sterling, in the sitcom Detectorists. And right up to her death, Rigg was acting in the British rural veterinary drama All Creatures Great and Small.
Rigg’s Death in 2020 Left Her Actress Daughter Distraught
Diana Rigg passed away on September 10, 2020, at her home in London. She was 82 years old. According to her daughter Rachael Stirling, she died of lung cancer, which was diagnosed in March of the same year. Rigg spent the last months of her life with family, reminiscing on her influential, decades-long career full of love, laughter, and undeniable success. Rigg is survived by her daughter, her son-in-law Guy Garvey, who is the lead singer of the band Elbow, and one young grandson.
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