I would like to offer you a two-week holiday, or longer, at our house
14-year-old Richard E. Grant writes to his idol
When he was fourteen years old, many years before his big-screen debut in Withnail & I, Richard E. Grant borrowed his father’s typewriter and composed a fan letter to his favourite Hollywood star.
Dear Barbra Streisand
I sincerely hope this reaches you personally. You don’t know me yet, but I am writing to offer you an idea you might like to consider. My name is Richard and I live in a small African kingdom called Swaziland in south-east Africa. Since seeing Funny Girl we, my family that is, and I have been very big fans. I have followed your career avidly. We have all your records. I am fourteen years old. I read in the paper that you were feeling very tired and pressurized by your fame and failed romance with Mr Ryan O’Neal. I would like to offer you a two-week holiday, or longer, at our house, which is very beautiful with a pool and a magnificent view of the Ezulwini Valley. Which the Swazi people call Valley of Heaven. I think you will agree when you see it. Here you can rest. No one will trouble you and I assure you you will not be mobbed in the street as your films only show in our one cinema for three days, so not that many people will know who you are, so no chance of being mobbed. Please consider this respite seriously. You will always be welcome.
Yours very sincerely,
And in anticipation of a hasty reply,
PS I am studying Shakespeare’s Midsummer’s Night’s Dream and hope these lines will reassure you: Theseus—‘For never anything can be amiss when simpleness and duty tender it’, or Puck–‘If we shadows have offended, think but this and all is mended. That you have but slumber’d here, while these visions did appear.’
Much to Richard’s frustration, Barbra didn’t escape the stresses of superstardom by taking him up on his offer. Nor did she write back. For years, all he had was a copy of the letter he’d sent ‘c/o Columbia Records,’ and the diminishing hope that she would maybe write back one day.
At a swish L.A. party twenty years later, having recently wrapped on the Robert Altman film, The Player, Richard finally met Barbra Streisand, and for twenty surreal minutes he attempted to stay calm as they chatted about movies and cinematography and music, and just before they parted ways he told her about the letter he’d sent her as a concerned teenage fan—a letter she didn’t remember receiving.
Fast forward another 28 years, and as he basked in the glow of praise directed at his new film in January of 2019, Richard’s letter went viral on Twitter, in the process catching the attention of its recipient. Finally, after decades, a reply arrived, albeit digitally.
Fittingly, the movie Streisand references in that tweet, and for which Grant was quite rightly receiving plaudits, is Can You Ever Forgive Me?—a (fantastic) film about Lee Isreal, an author who, in the 1990s, forged and sold hundreds of letters purportedly written by famous novelists and actors. That year, both Richard and his co-star, Melissa McCarthy, were nominated for Oscars for their roles. After the ceremony, Richard shared this photo.
The letter was originally reprinted in the magnificent With Nails: The Film Diaries of Richard E. Grant, a book I’d recommend to absolutely everyone. He has since spoken publicly about the letter a number of times—most recently, as far as I’m aware, on Adam Buxton’s podcast late last year. Listen to the whole thing; it’s a joy.