As his late sister’s blog becomes a book, actor Greg Wise tells Hannah Stephenson how therapy ‘saved’ him

GREG WISE has just returned from a few days' holiday in Scotland with his wife, the actress Emma Thompson, ready for a round of publicity - in which the actor faces the unenviable task of recalling the last months of his sister Clare's life.

The siblings were "ridiculously close"; living in the same street in London, holidaying together, and enjoying many wonderful family get-togethers. Film executive Clare was the 'rogue aunt' to Greg and Emma's daughter, Gaia, and adopted son, Tindy.

When Clare was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013, Wise was away filming for some of the time and a close friend returned from Australia to look after her, along with her extended family.

Emma went with her to chemotherapy, and together they laughed in the face of cancer, as Clare lost her hair (Emma became stylist, and Wise hairdresser). She started a witty blog to keep everyone informed as to what was happening with her health and treatment.

Judging from her initial entries, Clare was clearly a hugely positive, funny and entertaining person to be around, highly organised (they called her 'Clipboard Clare') and determined to live life to the full.

The treatment worked - but then the cancer returned to her bones in 2015. She re-started the blog, her brother taking over in July 2016, when Clare became too ill to write.

Greg, 51, continued to chart the highs and, increasingly, the lows of his sister's last months, including the final 10 weeks when he became her sole carer. He was with her when she died in September 2016.

The blog's now been made into a book, Not That Kind Of Love, but far from being all doom and gloom, there are as many light-hearted moments in it as there are bleak recollections.

"You have to approach everything with humanity, and humanity is about humour," says Wise. "It's too easy to catastrophise, which serves no purpose at all."

In the blog, he reveals he got her absolutely stoned on too many upping meds and jokes about her beloved cat, Grably Puss, while simultaneously filling in details about her new wheelchair, hospital bed and other signs of her deterioration.

He was unable to leave his sister alone in the flat for most of the time during the last months, although did get some cover to go for some 'emotional housekeeping', aka his weekly visit to his therapist. He says he's been having therapy for years.

"I go to therapy once a week. We should all go to therapy once a week, or even twice a week. It's very important to go and be able to be in a space to discuss stuff that is not necessarily appropriate to discuss with mates or family, especially at a time like that, when I was necessarily confronting my own mortality and my sister's.

"I'm always very intrigued how people are suspicious about folk who go to therapy. I've been for years. It saved my life.

"I could not have sat with my sister over this period of time and survived, without having done an awful lot of work on my mental health over the years before. I'm profoundly grateful every day of my life that I've done the work I did on my head.

"It would have been very easy to have been completely broken by this. And I wasn't."

He began filming the second season of The Crown (he played Mountbatten) two days after Clare's funeral.

"You've got to get on," he says with a shrug. "I'd told a couple of people on production, just to say I didn't know how I was going to be. I didn't want to turn up and go, 'I'm in mourning, so be nice to me'.

"Work's a distraction, it doesn't help. It's very important to take yourself out of where you are in your head to do something pragmatic and physical. But there's no real way of sorting anything out, without sitting with the pain and letting it find a natural place within you.

"Trying to obfuscate or push down emotion by getting your head down and working may be all right short-term, but will never work long-term. You have to be able to sit with it.

"Early on, you don't know when the grief's going to hit you. When it does, it comes like a vomit. You can be walking down the street or at the supermarket at the frozen peas counter and suddenly it hits you, and you go with it. Don't get in the way, don't objectify it, it has to come out."

In the book, he reveals that Clare was sad that she hadn't found 'that kind of love', that she had never married or found a partner with whom she could share her life.

"But who are we to say what is healthy or unhealthy?" he says now. "A lot of 'that kind of love' is terribly destructive and messed up.

"She'd never had a live-in partner. She'd had the odd boyfriend, but it was her choice. She was scared of being hurt, but she was also fantastically bright and very career-driven. The little endorphins that fire in a romantic relationship can also be fired in a boardroom."

He remains convinced that she decided when she was going to die.

"I was relieved when it happened. It was untenable for her and had been for a long while. She was finding a reason to open her eyes every morning and I think I was part of that reason.

"As hard as it was for me to see what was physically happening with my sister, I know that period of time was extraordinarily powerful for the two of us in a very positive way, even though it was fuelled by such a terrible disease."

Getting back to any kind of normality afterwards was hard, he admits.

"We were all traumatised. It was all part of the journey. My family didn't just support me, they were in the thick of it. And there is collateral damage. We just try to be as gentle and graceful as possible."

Work remains a distraction. He's currently appearing in the BBC4 thriller Modus and is off to Los Angeles soon to film a TV series called Strange Angel, which will take until June. His wife will be filming in New York for a couple of months, so they may meet in the middle.

They spend a lot of time apart, he concedes. "That's what keeps a marriage healthy and is how it's always been.

"We've been together for 23 years, and the secret is having healthy independence. Acting is the work we do and you make it up as you go along. We just managed to steal four days at the cottage, which was wonderful. It's about finding these little moments."

There was never any competition between his sibling and his wife.

"Em and I had been together for 10 years when we got married. I met her when I was 28. They were very close and we holidayed together a great deal and when Gaia turned up, Clare was the fantastic 'rogue aunt'. She was amazing with Tindy.

"Clare's still very much present and will always be. I carry her with me."

  • Not That Kind Of Love by Clare & Greg Wise (Quercus, £16.99)