Skip to main contentSkip to footer

Exclusive: Joanna Lumley reveals 'hard' reality of being a single mother as she backs Action for Children campaign

The Absolutely Fabulous star shares her personal experience of raising son Jamie as a single mother

Joanna Lumley at a BUILD event at Shropshire House, London
Kate Thomas
Lifestyle Managing Editor
Share this:

An icon of our times, Joanna Lumley is best known as champagne-swigging Patsy Stone in Absolutely Fabulous. But the comedienne, 77, is now using her star power for the greater good by lending her voice to Action for Children's Secret Santa campaign.

Joanna was inspired to get involved thanks to her own difficult experience of becoming a single mum in her twenties, struggling with an impossibly tight budget. At just 21, Joanna gave birth to her only child, a son named Jamie Lumley, and raised him on her own. Now 53, Jamie has two teenage daughters of his own, Alice and Emily, whom Joanna completely dotes on.

Chatting to Action for Children for a special Q&A, the actress revealed can't wait to spend quality time with her granddaughters this Christmas and encourages everyone to help inject some sparkle into a child's life this festive period.

WATCH: Joanna Lumley makes heartwarming plea on behalf of Action for Children

Why are you supporting Action for Children, and why now?

Childhood should be such a magical time and it is still for the majority of children. Yet the pandemic has had such a profound and lasting impact on vulnerable children and families, and now the cost-of-living crisis is making a bad situation worse. 

I’m supporting Action for Children’s Secret Santa campaign this year as I know from my own experiences as a single mum in my twenties bringing my son up on my own how hard things can get, especially when trying to get by on a very tight budget. I was lucky to come through it all but sadly, there are now nearly four million children in the UK living in poverty. Some of those parents are struggling to access the early years help they desperately need to give their children the best start in life.

Action for Children is there in our communities doing amazing things to ensure more children have a safe and happy childhood, and are given a chance to thrive. They support children in care, run programmes steering young people away from crime and tackle the challenges faced by children left without vital support. They’re supporting young people with mental health programmes in schools and finding new ways of getting support to mums, dads and carers struggling with parenting.

joanna lumley son jamie© Photo: Getty Images
Jamie was born when Joanna was 21 years old

 What do you think are the toughest challenges facing children and young people today? 

The pressures they face are very different to my day. Having to be seen to be happy and look their best all the time – I mean those pressures were there when I was growing up but it’s all amplified and distorted by social media today. And children and teenagers can’t escape it – especially when bullying has moved online, having to deal with it in and out of school – it must be truly harrowing.

Many children and young people are more exposed to things they shouldn’t be and worry about adult issues. We all need to spend less time on our screens – parents and children. Finding a balance between the digital and real world is so important and I think the solution for all of us is to talk more.  

So much of parenting is about learning, and of learning together – it helps children build resilience and overcome the tough things in life.  Education is so important and the more fun you can make it the easier it is to get young people interested. Music is one of the best conduits for learning – I’m a big fan of playing classical music and singing for children – so many won’t have heard some of the wonderful music I heard as a child if it’s not played at home as it seems to me classical music has been largely taken out of schools. Have some favourite songs you all enjoy as a family and don’t be bashful about singing all together in the car! 

Action for Children Secret Santa Christmas campaign© Action for Children
Will you join Joanna in supporting Action for Children's Secret Santa Christmas campaign?

As a parent and grandparent, what would be your best advice to new parents?

My advice to new parents would be to give your children unconditional love, it’s the greatest gift we have as a parent. I also remember my parents giving me advice when I was young - it didn’t seem to make much sense at the time, but it has always stayed with me and now makes complete sense!

I’ve noticed it’s often hard for a young child to admit they need help too.  Sometimes I’ve tried an indirect approach, for example when cooking a meal with a child, just gently broaching an issue while doing something enjoyable together.

Reading together with my son and grandchildren has really helped them appreciate literature and language, and develop an interest on their own, without you forcing it on them, which never works. We read all the time and audiobooks are a great alternative if you’re struggling to get them to pick up a book.

Joanna Lumley attends the 2023 Chelsea Flower Show at Royal Hospital Chelsea in May 2023. © Getty
Joanna says she can't wait to spend quality time with her granddaughters Alice and Emily this Christmas

As they grow older, don’t be too ambitious for your children – just be there for them and see what they want to do. Get them out of the house where you can do things together – not just the usual holiday stuff – walking and adventure trails where they can learn things – they help you all connect and give you a chance to get to know them even better.

How do you make Christmas a special time for your family?

Christmas Day should be special, no matter what religion you have or whether you have none.  Small presents are better than large expensive ones, and I think there should always be a book given. Make a feast, and share it with whoever is nearby and might need company. Find one new ornament for your tree.  This year I have purchased a magical Christmas bauble from Action for Children which has been designed by an 11-year-old, Jess, whose family was financially supported by the charity last Christmas. It’s beautifully designed, in candy-floss colours.

What’s your perfect Christmas Day? How do you usually spend the day?

Joanna Lumley supporting Action for Children campaign© Action for Children
Joanna Lumley is supporting Action for Children's Secret Santa campaign

My best Christmas Day is every year, whatever it brings and whoever is with us. Sometimes we have a houseful, sometimes just a few friends, sometimes our family, sometimes other people’s families. Go to church and sing carols if you are a Christian. Take time to walk outside, to read a book for a bit, to listen to the King’s Speech, to gloat over presents, making a list of all those to thank before the old year draws out. Wear a paper hat for at least five minutes. Wash up as you go along. Think about the great wide world and what on earth we can do to make life better for the whole planet.

RELATED: Joanna Lumley's lavish home with husband of 36 years – inside 

Then just don’t worry: be happy. After all, here we are. 

Action for Children launches its first-ever bauble designed by 11-year-old Jess

Action for Children has teamed up with 11-year-old Jess whose family was financially supported by the charity last Christmas, to design a bauble this year. Jess, from North Wales, is an only child and young carer for her mum Sarah, who was forced to give up her job for health reasons. The family was struggling to make ends meet and didn’t know how they could afford to heat the house or put food on the table, let alone celebrate Christmas. Action for Children bought food and Christmas presents for them. 

Action for Children Christmas bauble designed by 11 year old Jess © Action for Children
11-year-old carer Jess from North Wales has designed a very special bauble

This year, Jess has designed a bauble for the charity to support Action for Children’s Secret Santa campaign, providing a lifeline for vulnerable children across the nation and helping to put the magic back into Christmas. Action for Children helped over 765,000 children, young people and families last year, including Jess and her mum, by providing food vouchers and help with heating to get them through the winter. 

Young carer Jess explained: "I wanted it to look like candy floss and I hope everyone loves it as much as I do! It makes me so happy to know that buying my bauble will support the charity that helped me."

Each unique, limited edition, handmade bauble will retail at £10 and is sustainable, plastic-free and locally sourced. Hang a bauble on your tree and support the Secret Santa campaign to help give a vulnerable child the essentials of warm clothes, a hot meal, or a Christmas present just for them.

To buy Jess’s bauble and become a Secret Santa for Action for Children, visit

More Parenting

See more