Arts blog: bond girl Maryam d’Abo tells Alistair Harkness about cheating death

Maryam d'Abo arrives at the screening of Everything Or Nothing. Picture: PA Wire
Maryam d'Abo arrives at the screening of Everything Or Nothing. Picture: PA Wire
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MARYAM d’Abo knows she’s lucky to be alive. Five years ago, the former Bond girl suffered a brain haemorrhage while exercising at a friend’s house in Los Angeles.

“For three days I had this haemorrhage in my head and nobody knew,” recalls D’Abo over the phone from her London home. “We were off for Christmas holidays in Mexico before coming back through LA and I had such bad headaches in Mexico, I spent most of the time in bed thinking I’d caught a really bad case of sinusitis.”

Upon flying back to LA, the symptoms just got worse. The headaches intensified and she projectile vomited so much she lost ten kilos in three days. Doctors misdiagnosed it as viral meningitis; in fact, blood was leaking from an aneurysm that had formed in the subarachnoid part of her brain. “The pressure – I always felt like I was slightly hungover,” she says. “And then I was on a Stairmaster and the aneurysm exploded.”

Had the rupture happened on the plane to LA, she knows she wouldn’t have made it. Indeed neurologists have since told her that not only was she lucky to survive (she underwent a four-hour emergency operation), she was lucky she didn’t suffer more damage. “It’s amazing that I didn’t end up in a wheelchair with any kind of physical impediment or mental impairment.”

It’s an ordeal that she’s brought vividly to life in her new documentary Rupture: Living With My Broken Brain. Made with her husband, Chariots of Fire director Hugh Hudson, the film provides an insight into her painful recovery (which took the best part of three years), but also broadens its scope to offer an existential examination of the role of the brain in our development, as well as an exploration of the mental health issues that are prevalent among survivors.

The latter is one of the reasons Rupture is screening in Edinburgh next week as part of the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival. Survivors can feel a profound sense of isolation and shame because of their reduced functionality – something d’Abo says can cause them to “suddenly hit a major depression because they don’t feel as if they belong any more”.

Memory is a key component of this and while these days d’Abo has noticed that her own mind feels less ordered than it once did (“It’s like a desk full of paperwork that’s all over the place”), the short-term memory loss that really affected her in the aftermath of her operation has improved. “I get stuff done, but it’s more of a struggle.” The upside – something that makes the film very hopeful – is that, like many of the survivors she interviews, she has a genuine appreciation for the elemental aspects of life. “You’re stripped bare, so you’re not so distracted with all the neuroses and materialism you’re surrounded with.”

It’s something that has affected her perception of her acting career. “When I’m doing little character parts now, I don’t watch any more the work that I do,” she says. As for being part of Bond history (she starred opposite Timothy Dalton in The Living Daylights), even though she’s been updating her 2002 Bond Girls Are Forever documentary to tie in with this month’s 50th Anniversary celebrations of 007’s big screen debut, she says she feels “much more detached” from it. “It was fun doing the documentary having been there myself as an actress. But now when people say, ‘How did it feel to be a Bond girl?’ it’s such a funny old question because it doesn’t mean anything. It was just a job that I did.”