Dame Enid Diana Elizabeth Rigg DBE was an English actress of stage and screen. Her roles include Emma Peel in the TV series The Avengers (1965–1968); Countess Teresa di Vicenzo, wife of James Bond, in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969); Olenna Tyrell in Game of Thrones (2013–2017); and the title role in Medea on Broadway and in the UK.
Rigg made her professional stage debut in 1957 in The Caucasian Chalk Circle and joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1959. She made her Broadway debut in Abelard & Heloise in 1971. Her role as Emma Peel made her a sex symbol. For her role in Medea, both in London and New York, she won the 1994 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play. She was made a CBE in 1988 and a Dame in 1994 for services to drama.
Rigg appeared in numerous TV series and films, playing Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1968); Lady Holiday in The Great Muppet Caper (1981); and Arlena Marshall in Evil Under the Sun (1982). She won the BAFTA TV Award for Best Actress for the BBC miniseries Mother Love (1989) and an Emmy Award for her role as Mrs. Danvers in an adaptation of Rebecca (1997). Her other television credits include You, Me and the Apocalypse (2015), Detectorists (2015), the Doctor Who episode “The Crimson Horror” (2013) with her daughter Rachael Stirling, and playing Mrs Pumphrey in All Creatures Great and Small (2020).
Rigg was born in Doncaster, then in the West Riding of Yorkshire (now in South Yorkshire), in 1938 to Louis and Beryl Hilda Rigg (née Helliwell). She had a brother 4 years her senior Her father was born in Yorkshire, worked in engineering, and moved to India to work for the railway to take advantage of the career opportunities there. Her mother moved back to England for Rigg’s birth. Between the ages of two months and eight years, Rigg lived in Bikaner, Rajasthan, India, where her father worked his way up to become a railway executive in the Bikaner State Railway. She spoke Hindi as her second language in those years.
She was later sent back to England to attend a boarding school, Fulneck Girls School, in a Moravian settlement near Pudsey. Rigg hated her boarding school where she felt like a fish out of water, but believed that Yorkshire played a greater part in shaping her character than India did. She trained as an actress at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art from 1955 to 1957, where her classmates included Glenda Jackson and Siân Phillips.