I felt an incredible pressure in my head. Even the rustle of sheets caused me pain: Five years after a brain haemorrhage almost killed her, Bond Girl Maryam d'Abo is finally well enough to tell her story
21:02 GMT, 7 July 2012
Maryam d’Abo was the stunning blonde with sculpted cheekbones who fell for 007 in the Bond film The Living Daylights. She became a celebrity overnight, but Maryam always felt there was more to life.
However, it took a serious brain haemorrhage in 2007 for her to find her calling. Now a documentary-maker, d’Abo has completed Rupture: Living With My Broken Brain, a BBC4 film narrated by Nigel Havers that charts her own experience and that of other sufferers.
‘I am very lucky to have recovered so well and it was a very personal film to make,’ says the 51-year-old. ‘I feel reborn now I am behind the camera. I enjoy being in control rather than being told what to do as you are when you are in a film. Being involved in the creative process of making documentaries has helped my recovery by giving me more confidence.’
Living with her broken brain: Maryam d'Abo says she feels reborn after her brush with death
Maryam’s childhood was tough. She was born in London in 1960 to a Georgian mother – now 93 – and a Dutch-Finnish father.
An only child, she was brought up in Paris and Geneva by her mother after her father, a respected banker, contracted meningitis while Maryam was a baby. As a result, he lost the power to speak and his mental faculties regressed to those of a four-year-old. He died 35 years later.
‘I only knew my father as an invalid and felt very sad at his condition,’ she says.
Maryam decided she wanted to act when she was 11 and her big break came in 1987 when she starred as Kara Milovy, a Czechoslovakian cellist and sniper who falls for James Bond, played by Timothy Dalton, in the 15th Bond film. ‘I am the only Bond leading lady who didn’t have to take my clothes off,’ she laughs.
After ten years of acting in Los Angeles, in 1995 she returned to London, where she met Hugh Hudson, now 75 and best known for directing the film Chariots Of Fire. She married the divorced father of two in 2003. In January 2007, they were staying with friends in Los Angeles when Maryam became seriously ill.
Causing a stir: Maryam in the 1987 Bond film The Living Daylights
‘I had been having increasingly bad
headaches over the previous two years but the pain suddenly became
horrendous,’ Maryam recalls.
‘I also felt an incredible pressure in
my head and began vomiting. A doctor initially thought I had viral
meningitis and I was unspeakably anxious that I might end up like my
‘I felt so ill I
couldn’t bear to speak and even the rustle of sheets caused me pain. /07/07/article-2170175-13F76B30000005DC-166_306x912.jpg” width=”306″ height=”912″ alt=”1 in 3 will die immediately” class=”blkBorder” />
Aneurysms are swellings on the wall
of an artery and are usually congenital, but they can be the consequence
of high blood pressure, often linked to stress or ageing.
Smoking or excessive alcohol consumption increase the risk of rupture.
underwent a four-hour emergency operation, during which a clip was
placed over the artery to stop it bleeding. She says: ‘I was left with a
9in scar but, although my head was full of blood, the aneurysm had been
easy to access and I didn’t suffer any brain damage.
‘I stayed in hospital for eight days. I felt unimaginably exhausted and couldn’t connect with the world.
also felt isolated, my short-term memory was hopeless and I was so weak
I had to learn to walk again. Initially, I could only manage two
minutes’ exercise at a time, but I persevered and after four months was
given the all-clear to fly back to London.’
Although her brain injury happened five years ago, Maryam still suffers from the physical and psychological after effects.
Even now, as we sit eating lunch in a West London hotel, she looks very vulnerable and apologises when she loses the thread of her conversation.
Physically, she is still beautiful, but Maryam claims her looks are no longer important.
‘In common with many who have a brain injury, I initially lost my confidence and felt very vulnerable as if a protective layer of skin had been stripped away,’ she says.
‘For the first two years after the haemorrhage, I felt I was doing everything in slow-motion. I was terrified of crossing the road and couldn’t cope with noise. My slowness made everyone else seem to be neurotically running around, as if they were in a Charlie Chaplin silent film.
‘Even today I am not as tolerant as I used to be. Other experiences, however, were incredibly intense and looking at a blue sky could make me so emotional I’d cry.
‘I also got depressed, which is very common. I wasn’t as fast as I used to be and couldn’t achieve as much. I lost some friends as we couldn’t connect in the same way.’
As a result of the haemorrhage, Maryam also suffered mild aphasia, a communications disability that occurs after brain trauma when the individual thinks of one word but says another.
‘I might, for example, want to say “red” but actually say “blue”. I still say the wrong word sometimes, but luckily I am not too bad. I also had a slight stutter.
‘In addition, I couldn’t cope with some things I used to love, such as meeting girlfriends in a cafe, as it would be too noisy and crowded. I had been a great chatterer on the phone, but I was uncomfortable holding a mobile to my ear and tired quickly of talking.’
In 2008, a film producer friend suggested she make a documentary on brain injury.
‘Initially I was reluctant but Hugh helped me write a synopsis and constantly encouraged me. I wrote to top neurosurgeons in the UK and US to ask if they would take part, and when they agreed I felt compelled to get on with it.
‘The challenge of directing and interviewing helped me with confidence and I learnt so much. If I hadn’t had the brain haemorrhage, I might never have done it.’
Rupture: Living With My Broken Brain is on BBC4 on Thursday at 10pm as part of the BBC’s Body Season. Survivors of brain injury can find advice and support at thesilverlining.org.uk.