The Absolutely Fabulous star became a family friend after his father agreed to let her buy a cottage on his Dumfriesshire estates in 1997 – even though it wasn’t for sale at the time.
Ten years later, when the ninth duke died, his son Richard – the current duke – invited her to read a few verses of Sir Walter Scott’s epic poem The Lay of the Last Minstrel at his memorial service in St Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh.
As well as appearing in her own book festival event, Lumley will be joining three other actors in an abridged reading from the poem at this year’s festival, which has The Scotsman as a media sponsor.
At yesterday’s programme launch in Melrose, festival director Alistair Moffat unveiled a star-studded programme for his tenth festival, which will take place on 13-16 June.
Although Mr Moffat says he expects Lumley’s event, in which she talks about her acting career, to be the first to sell-out the 460-seater festival marquee, he is looking forward to her role in the reading of The Lay of the Last Minstrel.
“The duke was telling me about how brilliantly Joanna read at his father’s memorial service, and I said, ‘Hang on, why don’t you ask her if she’ll come here?’,” Mr Moffat said.
“He did, and she said she’d be delighted.”
Among this year’s other guests will be Britain’s only double Man Booker winner Hilary Mantel, actors Tom Conti, Phyllida Law and John Sessions, and “Voice of Golf” Peter Alliss, who will be coming to Melrose just before the Open at Muirfield.
Novelists AN Wilson, Kate Mosse, William McIlvanney, Alexander McCall Smith, Mark Billingham, Chris Brookmyre, Simon Scarrow and Dame Stella Rimington, who was the first woman to be appointed head of MI5, will also be appearing, as will historians William Dalrymple, Neil Oliver and Tom Holland.
The festival hosts Britain’s biggest prize for historical fiction, the £25,000 Walter Scott Prize, whose winner will be announced at a special event.
In a strong non-fiction strand, Richard Holloway and Frank Close will discuss the relationship between science and faith, royals’ biographer Penny Junor will talk about Prince William, and Allan Massie will discuss his new book, Life and Letters.
After its successful introduction last year, Melrose Mastermind will make a return visit, with Sally Magnusson asking the questions and Kate Mosse, Jim Naughtie, Eleanor Updale and John Sessions squirming in her father’s famous black leather chair.
hildren’s programme includes Lauren Child Francesca Simon, Darren Shan and Charlie Fletcher. Tickets go on sale today.
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Post: Borders Book Festival, Harmony House, St Mary’s Road, Melrose TD6 9LJ
In person: From 13 June, at Box Office, Harmony House, Melrose.