I vowed early on that when I won my Oscar, I would wear a decent dress. Something elegant, cut on the bias. Think Katharine Hepburn. Or Audrey. I’ve never understood how actresses who look so stunning in the movies transform into hideous/kinky at the ceremony. Why don’t they just go to the costume designers who created their on-screen personas and say: ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s.’ Even more mystifying: why are they always at a loss for words? Speaking is their job, so why can’t they learn a few lines by heart?
Perhaps this syndrome—call it Oscar Panic —seems so obvious to me because I’ve been practicing my acceptance speech for nearly five decades now. In the early days, I expressed my gratitude from the proscenium arch of the hayloft, addressing the herd of Guernsey cows below, a solemn audience, attentive and appreciative.
I fought back tears as I thanked my grandmother for giving me a set of matching Samsonite luggage and telling me to follow my dream.
As the years passed, my dream changed. I got waylaid by the 1960s and changed categories, moving from Best Performance by an Actress to Best Original Screenplay. During my Ingmar Bergman phase, I wrote a Southern gothic script called Mildew on the Magnolias. During my Woody Allen period, I embarked on a prophetic science-fiction tale about all the good men (by this, I meant unmarried, straight and employed) mysteriously vanishing from Earth. I fell in love with the language of film, terms such as ‘fade’, ‘dissolve’ and ‘cut’.
But life moved on. Opening scene: smoke billows from the sugar-beet factory. Camera scans landscape: fields of barley blowing in the wind. Close-up: the farmer’s wife gazes at video shelves in the Ixworth Village Shop, where country folk rent a movie for the weekend. Cut to: 10 years later. Video shelves have been replaced by in-house bakery. It’s not that rural citizens suddenly hankered after baguettes more than The Queen, simply that DVDs were tumbling gratuit out of the Sunday papers.
Still, every year, it comes back to me, as I listen to breathless expressions of gratitude, linguistic patchworks that make George W. Bush sound like a poet. The lavish gratitude triggers in me a yearning to express my own words of gratitude.
I grip the sides of my stainless-steel podium, and lean into the Fairy Liquid, gazing out on my audience of peacocks, guinea fowl, hens and sheep. Let me begin by thanking each one of you for your long-suffering patience. Despite the threats to your profession—foot-and-mouth, bluetongue, bird flu—you have been steadfast and I love you for it.
Although you’re too numerous to name, I have to thank all of you at the Agri-cultural Mortgage Corporation and Barclays for your heart-felt belief in this farm. Without your faith, someone else might be standing at this podium tonight.
And I want to thank all the tax-payers —you know who you are—who have given so unquestioningly to this moment, making possible the reservoir that will quench the thirst of the real stars of the future: carrots, onions, potatoes.
I can’t leave out Defra. We haven’t always seen eye to eye, and I know it’s bad taste to mention the war, but I’m afraid that the badgers have to go.
Finally, I thank my husband, who gave me this starring role. Without him, I wouldn’t be here. My heart is full. Applause. Dissolve.
* Read more by Carla Carlisle at www.countrylife.co.uk/spectator