Oxford Times August, 2013
Living the Dream
Diz White has two homes— one in Los Angeles, where she works as an actress, and one in the Cotswolds, which she describes as ‘the enchanted land’. So besotted is she with her rural life in an idyllic 17th-century cottage near Burford that returning to the USA gets more and more difficult — although her American husband Randy gets homesick. “I always shed a few tears when I leave our cottage,” said Diz. “It feels like home here, and the more I get involved in our village community, and the more friends we make, the more difficult it gets — though I do have my career, friends and roots in LA, and I love the weather there!” Diz’s love affair with the Cotswolds has resulted in her writing three books about the region — the latest, called Cotswolds Memoir, recounting her and Randy’s sometimes humorous, sometimes tortuous, journey towards cottage ownership. It took huge amounts of persistence, having been gazumped at the very last minute on a cottage at Kelmscott.
I detected a slight American accent, which Diz was not terribly pleased to hear as she is British, and proud of it. She is a Londoner, brought up in Upminster, Essex, and her university studies were far removed from anything theatrical. She went to Central St Martin’s and studied history of art and architecture, along with graphics. However, a born performer, Diz started up her own comedy troup called Low Moan Spectacular and, with Arts Council funding, they went on tour of the UK. “At Edinburgh Festival we were spotted by some New York producers who said they loved our show and would like to produce it in America,” Diz explained. “They said they would be in contact when they had raised the money. Well, we didn’t really think anything would come of it but then a contract arrived saying they had raised the money and applied for visas for us. We thought wow! we are really going, but we still thought we would be back in six weeks. “But our show El Grande de Coca Cola —The Big Coca Cola — went down really well. It was a silly, fun show, like a bad Las Vegas revue, but the audiences loved it! “It became a cult hit and you couldn’t get a ticket. We stayed and HBO filmed it as a special, and it mushroomed from there. I didn’t make a conscious decision to stay in the US — and I was terribly homesick — but we got more and more work.” Then another of Diz’s shows, Bulldog Crummond, was made into a film — in which she starred — by ex-Beatle George Harrison’s Handmade Films. “The irony was that we got a movie deal in LA to make an English film in the UK,” said Diz. “It was great to come back here, and it was loads of fun. We shot in lots of stately homes and George would come on set every day and take us out to dinner at night. They were very long days — starting at 5am and finishing after midnight.
“George would bring people with him for dinner — the Rolling Stones here, the Guinnesses there, Monty Python actors — it was fantastic!”
After that Diz returned to the USA, working as a screenwriter and making guest appearances — including a role in Star Trek. She also has a very lucrative line in voiceover work.
She voiced Jackie Kennedy for a CBS documentary and for the film JFK too.
“I also did all the women screaming as the ship sunk in the Titanic movie. No actress can scream like me,” laughed Diz. “And in Gladiator I was the people yelling in the Colisseum — all the men lose their voices after an hour, so I would stand up close to the mic and lower my voice, and be a man, would you believe?!
“I never lose my voice, but you have to breathe correctly, relax your throat and so on.
“I did a movie with Mel Brooks and I was doing the voice for a woman who had been bitten by Dracula. Mel was sceptical that I could do it, but I let out a blood-curdling shriek and he was ‘wow — amazing’! It is a useful skill, and they pay wonderful money.”
So between that, acting and writing, Diz has been and still is very busy — herMay-to-August break in the Cotswolds, when the LA studios close for the summer, is well earned. But she only discovered her beloved Cotswolds about 12 years ago.
“I needed a break — I had been looking after my mum, who was poorly — and my sister suggested we go to a farm B&B she had been to at Shipton-under-Wychwood,” said Diz.
“We relaxed as soon as we got there. One night the farmer’s wife knocked on the door and said ‘come quick’. We thought it was a fire or something, but she took us to the barn where a calf was being born. It was magical. She asked Randy to name it— so somewhere in the Cotswolds contentedly chewing the cud is a cow called Bette Davis. It was those big brown eyes that inspired him!”
Diz was quickly smitten as they toured the Cotswolds, taking in the chocolate box villages, ancient churches and lush landscape. And her quest to find their perfect cottage is recorded, with all its ups and downs, joy and despair, in her book Cotswolds Memoir. Before that she wrote two other books Haunted Cotswolds and Haunted Cheltenham.
She said: “Cottages come at astronomical prices unless you can get a deal — and we got ours by a lot of hard work, looking and looking and managing to strike a deal before it got onto the market.
“You have to become involved in the community to be on the bush telegraph to do that. I am persistent, some are not prepared to go to the lengths we went to — luckily my husband backed me up and we were a team on our quest.”
Diz and Randy acquired their dream cottage four years ago, and are slowly getting it how they want it.
“I love doing interiors, and as an actor I know how to stretch a pound until it pings. It has been so much fun going to car boot sales and junk shops — all the things I buy get repainted and refashioned. I found a man who reupholsters for me and does a great job for a fraction of the price.
“When I went to America I left a few possessions in my sister’s attic. When we moved in, all we had at the cottage were an inflatable bed, a rocking chair and an oil lamp.
“We have found some fantastic stuff at local fêtes too. If there is a bric-a-brac stall we are there with elbows sharpened! At one in Church Westcote I got a 1820s side table for £35, it must be worth £200 or £300. I would not sell it though.
“It has been hard starting absolutely from scratch — we acquired the basics and now we are gradually upgrading.”
Diz plans to record the revamp of her cottage in another book, and she may also write a Cotswolds cookbook — she and Randy are committed foodies, and this shines through in Cotswolds Memoir in which she itemizes some memorable meals at Cotswolds pubs and restaurants.
“This would be a big undertaking, because I would want to do it properly,” she explained. “I would like to do it in anecdotal style with some local stories included.
“There is nothing I like better than sitting in the garden of my cottage and writing in the sunshine.
“Then I will break off for a slightly boozy lunch, or Randy and I will go for a hike or a row on the river. We love the lifestyle — this is living the dream.”