Diana Melly: widow, writer, volunteer and ball dancer (at 78)

Emanuele Midolo
Oct 13, 2015 · 2 min read

Diana Melly (née Dawson) , 78, has lived many lives. She has been a nightclub hostess, a model and a novelist. Two years ago she even started learning ballroom dancing. “It’s never too late, you know”. Her memoir about her new life as a dancer, Come dance with me, will be published the 5th of November.

Melly is the only volunteer at the visitors’ centre of Wormwood Scrubs prison, although there are more than 400 volunteers working across the country with Spurgeon’s, the children charity that has been running the centre for the last four years. She began in 2010, after working for the drugs charity Release and being a spokerperson for Dignity in Dying.

“I just help”, she said when I asked about her role within the organisation. In fact, the help that Melly gives to the centre is massive, even if she works just three hours, one day a week.

On Thursday, she is the receptionist of the centre; every visitor of the prison must visit her desk. Which kind of visitors? “Family, mostly. Girlfriends and boyfriends. This is a men’s prison but many of them are gays”, she said with a smile (her husband was a famous bisexual, at least before marrying her).

Melly is mostly known as the widow of legendary jazz and blues singer George Melly, with whom she has been married “45 long years”. Author of an autobiography, Take a girl like me, she has been close friend to personalities such as Jean Rhys, Kingsley Amis and Bruce Chatwin.

“ “I chose this centre because I didn’t want a job that made me come back home in tears, but it’s difficult to work here”, she said. Melly denounced a lack of communication between officers of the prison and the staff of the centre. “It doesn’t work very well”. The bitterness of her voice is evident. Nevertheless, Diana Melly is a joyful person, as she has always been.

Emanuele Midolo

Written by

Former editor in chief @agoravoxitalia Investigative journalism trainee @CityUniLondon