30 September 1947
St Neots, Huntingdonshire, England, UK
(m. 1977; div. 1987)
(m. 1987; div. 1998)
Rula Lenska (born Róża Maria Leopoldyna Łubieńska, 30 September 1947) is an English-Polish actress. She mainly appears in British stage and television productions, but is known in the United States for a series of commercials for Alberto VO5 hairspray in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Her first husband was actor Brian Deacon (his first wife, 1977–1987) and her second husband was actor Dennis Waterman (his third wife, 1987–1998). She has also appeared as Claudia Colby on Coronation Street.
Lenska was born in the village of Diddington, near St Neots, Huntingdonshire, England. She was born in a Polish refugee camp that had previously been the EVAC American Military Hospital. Her birth was registered in nearby St Neots. Her family are members of the Polish nobility, and bearers of the Pomian coat of arms. They once owned a castle and estate in Kazimierza Wielka, Poland. Her father, Major Count Ludwik Łubieński, was personal secretary to Józef Beck, Minister for Foreign Affairs in Poland before the Nazi occupation of the country. Later, he became adjutant to General Władysław Sikorski, Prime Minister of the Polish Government in Exile and chief of the Polish military mission in Gibraltar during World War II. Łubieński later became head of the CIA-funded Polish Section of Radio Free Europe in Germany during the Cold War. Her mother was Countess Elżbieta Tyszkiewicz who escaped from Poland during the Nazi occupation, to Italy, but was captured with her own mother and sent to Ravensbrück concentration camp where they survived for two years. Lenska has two sisters: Anna, an actress who appeared in a few films in the late-1950s and early-1960s, and Gabriela. Lenska was educated at the Ursuline Convent School in Westgate-on-Sea, Kent.
Her big break was as Little Ladies' band member, "Q," in the British TV series Rock Follies (1976) and its sequel, Rock Follies of '77, the following year. By this time, she had "discarded" her title as a Polish countess; she has said of the decision, "In England it doesn't count, if you'll excuse the pun."
Lenska appeared in adverts for the hair product Alberto VO5, which were shown on US television. Though Lenska was known in the UK, she had a low profile in the United States. In a Tonight Show monologue broadcast after the commercials started running, Johnny Carson asked "Who the hell is Rula Lenska?" and began using Lenska's name as a running joke on his show. Around the same time, Jane Curtin played Lenska in a sketch on Saturday Night Live.
Film, TV and radio
She has appeared in television series such as Special Branch, Minder, Boon, The Detectives, Footballers' Wives, To the Manor Born, One Foot in the Grave, Casualty, Space: 1999, Return of the Saint, Robin of Sherwood, the Doctor Who serial Resurrection of the Daleks (in the 1970s, Lenska made it to the final five actresses short-listed for the role of companion Jo Grant), Doctors and EastEnders, in which she played Frank Butcher's girlfriend, Krystle, in a 2002 Costa del Sol special. She played Mrs. Peacock in series 2 of Cluedo. She also starred with John Inman in the short-lived series Take a Letter, Mr. Jones (six episodes, 1981), with Lenska as an executive and Inman as her secretary. She was also featured in the BBC serial Private Schulz broadcast in the same year. Lenska starred in the black comedy Paradise Grove (2003). In 1982 Lenska also appeared as a storyteller in five episodes of the BBC children's programme Jackanory, narrating stories originating from traditional Polish folk tales.
Her film roles include Soft Beds, Hard Battles (1974), Confessions of a Pop Performer (1975), Royal Flash (1975), Alfie Darling (1975), It Could Happen to You (1976), The Deadly Females (1976), and Queen Kong (also 1976) as Luce Habit. In the film Gypo (2005), which was the first UK feature film to be made under Dogme rules, she played a Romani refugee from the Czech Republic living on a caravan site in Margate. She starred in the independent British film Jack Says (2008), opposite her one-time EastEnders co-star Mike Reid. That same year she lent her voice to the animation film Agent Crush. In 2009, Lenska joined the cast of Coronation Street as new character Claudia Colby, an old friend of Audrey Roberts. In May 2011, Lenska quit the role to join the Calendar Girls tour in August 2011. In 2016 she appeared in a Christmas special episode of Inside No.9. She reprised her role in Coronation Street in July 2018 before departing again in April 2020.
On radio she played Lintilla and her clones in the second series of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and was also in the fifth series which debuted on BBC Radio 4 in May 2005. She has presented travel programmes for the BBC and has recorded various audiobooks.
She has toured extensively both in the UK and abroad and appeared in several West End shows (most recently in The Vagina Monologues and 84 Charing Cross Road) and in many pantomimes and is a regular performer (and part of the original cast) of the touring play Seven Deadly Sins Four Deadly Sinners.
In December 2005, she appeared on stage with the London Gay Men's Chorus for their Christmas Show, Make the Yuletide Gay. She sang and danced while also hosting the show at Symphony Hall in Birmingham, the Dome Concert Hall in Brighton and the Barbican Centre in London.
At the equivalent show in December 2006, Sandi Toksvig corrupted the lyrics of a song to suggest Lenska had a Christmas job in Debenhams. In 2007, she was toured alongside Marti Webb and Sheila Ferguson in a new musical about menopause called Hot Flush. and hosted a mini-show at Lutterworth Piano Rooms 3 November 2012.
Celebrity Big Brother
Her work on tour with the London Gay Men's Chorus is assumed to have prompted her participation in the United Kingdom version of Celebrity Big Brother in January 2006. Her reason for accepting the invitation to go on the show was "I'm a crazy Polish countess who likes a challenge". During the show, she declared that she had been a "Tibetan Buddhist" for many years but had been practising "Buddhism for the common man", which has no hierarchical structure (Nichiren Daishonin), for two years.
On 13 January 2006, along with fellow housemate, Scottish politician and then-Respect Party MP George Galloway, she attracted the attention of the media by indulging in a role-play task set by Celebrity Big Brother, in which Galloway pretended to be a cat licking milk from her cupped hands, and Lenska stroked his ears and moustache. On another occasion during her time in the Big Brother house, when accidentally locked in the toilet, singer Pete Burns quipped, "Oh dear, what can the matter be, clapped out actress stuck in the lavatory." Lenska was the third housemate voted out of the show on 20 January 2006.
Lenska has been married twice, first to actor Brian Deacon (4 June 1977 – 1987), with whom she had one daughter, Lara Parker (née Lara Deacon), and secondly, to actor Dennis Waterman, from 3 January 1987 until 31 March 1998. Both marriages ended in divorce. She and Waterman met on the set of Minder in 1981 where their characters had a brief love interest. Her marriage to Waterman ended because of his violent behaviour towards her, and in March 2012 Waterman caused controversy with some comments on that aspect of their relationship: "It's not difficult for a woman to make a man hit her. She certainly wasn't a beaten wife, she was hit and that’s different." Lenska said that she was relieved that he had now admitted beating her.
In 2009, she sought compensation from the Polish government for the Communist state's seizure of her family's Polish estate.
Lenska was arrested and charged with being in excess of the UK drink driving limit on 23 February 2016. The following month she was sentenced to a 16-month driving ban and ordered to pay a total of £526. Her three-year-old grandson was present in the back seat of the car.
|1974||Soft Beds, Hard Battles||Louise|
|1975||Confessions of a Pop Performer||Receptionist|
|1976||It Could Happen to You||Rita|
|1976||The Deadly Females||Luisa|
|1976||Queen Kong||Luce Habit|
|2003||Paradise Grove||Dee Perry|
|2008||Agent Crush||Olga Thyburn||Voice|
|2011||Son of Nosferatu||Fairy Mother|
|2018||The Exorcism of Karen Walker||Ada|
|2020||Jeepers Creepers||Fantasy Lover||Voice|
|2020||Oh Little Spark!||Janina|
- Birth name per www.findmypast.co.uk
- "Meet the Big Brother celebrities". BBC News. 6 January 2006. Retrieved 30 October 2015.
- Brooks, Xan (6 January 2006). "Galloway enters Big Brother as unexpected house guest". The Guardian.
- Polish dynastic genealogy: http://www.sejm-wielki.pl/b/cz.I003946
- Lenska, Rula (26 September 2013). Rula: My Colourful Life. The Robson Press. ISBN 978-1849545501.
- Hauptfuhrer, Fred (14 April 1980). "This Is Everything You Wanted to Know About Rooo-La Lenzzz-Ka but Were Too Ashamed to Ask". People. 13 (15).
- Zorn, Eric (18 January 2006). "Rula Lenska? Why, she's just showing some friends around London, of course". Chicago Tribune.
- Saturday Night Live archive Archived 22 October 2012 at the Wayback Machine
- Blackburn, Anna (17 April 2007). "Hot Flush! Review". BBC News.
- "An audience with... actress Rula Lenska". Lutterworth Mail. 30 October 2012.
- "Galloway 'cat' act sparks anger". BBC News. 13 January 2006.
- "Personal". The Official Rula Lenska Website. Archived from the original on 13 August 2013. Retrieved 5 June 2014.
- "Last word with… Rula Lenska". Candis Magazine. Newhall Publications. Retrieved 5 June 2014.
- "Lara 'Deacon' Parker Profile". Rummikub (players social network). Archived from the original on 7 June 2014. Retrieved 5 June 2014.
- McAuliffe, Naomi (20 March 2012). "Dennis Waterman and the 'problem with strong, intelligent women'". The Guardian.
- Smith, Joan (21 March 2012). "Blame the victim – a classic with wife-beaters". The Independent.
- "Dennis Waterman's attack confession brings relief to victim Rula Lenska". Daily Record. 21 March 2012.
- "Rula Lenska banned for drink-drive crash". BBC News. 4 March 2016. Retrieved 4 March 2016.