When Michael Gambon passed away at the age of 82, the numerous obituaries detailing his life primarily focused on his extensive career in both film and theatre, offering scant information about his personal life. The obituary writers faced a substantial task, covering everything from his collaboration with Laurence Olivier at the National Theatre Company to his role in the acclaimed 1986 BBC mini-series “The Singing Detective,” and his contributions to the “Harry Potter” films alongside other late acting legends. Judging from Gambon’s previous statements, he would likely have been dissatisfied even with the obligatory two or three sentences about his life beyond acting that were included in his obituaries.
Similar to his cherished character Albus Dumbledore, Gambon seldom divulged details about his personal life. In a 2010 Q&A with The Arts Desk, he remarked, “I’ve always thought, the less people know about you the better.” Nonetheless, he acknowledged that his profession and personal life were deeply entwined, confessing, “Everything else in my life relates to being an actor, and if the acting isn’t going well or I’m not working, then everything else goes into a blur. It’s a terrible thing to say, but it’s true.”
Despite Gambon’s efforts to keep interviewers from gaining insight into his personal life, it was revealed that he engaged in an extramarital affair and maintained two families.
Gambon expressed his desire for an affair with a fellow actor. At 22, in 1962, he married mathematician Anne Gambon (nee Miller). That same year, he falsely claimed to have starred in a West End play to secure a role at the Gate Theatre in London. This fabrication led to a successful stint with Laurence Olivier’s National Theatre Company, culminating in the birth of his first son, Fergus Gambon, in 1964. Anne received the title of Lady Miller when her husband was knighted in 1998.
While Gambon was notably private about his marriage to Miller, he openly admitted to being unfaithful. In 2015, at BFI Southbank, he disclosed his pursuit of an affair with his co-star from “The Singing Detective,” Joanne Whalley, when she was 22 and he was 46. Gambon confessed, “I tried it but no luck,” expressing his affection for Whalley. He recounted that Dennis Potter, the series creator, supported his inappropriate behavior, even fondly recalling a scene that required Whalley to apply lotion to him. “The greasing was good. We rehearsed it 10 times,” he remarked. Eventually, he found someone willing to engage in an affair with him.
He remained married while beginning a relationship with Philippa Hart. In a 2004 interview with The Guardian, when asked about his marital status, Gambon simply replied, “I don’t talk about it.” Speculation about his marriage to Anne arose due to rumours of an ongoing relationship with set designer Philippa Hart, which reportedly began during the filming of the 2000 historical drama “Longitude.”
By the time he worked on the 2001 dramedy “Gosford Park,” Gambon made no effort to conceal the affair. He and Hart portrayed a contented couple while mingling with co-stars. It was known that Anne was aware of the affair and distressed by her husband’s infidelity. Nonetheless, she seemed determined to maintain the marriage, potentially due to her devout Catholicism.
Anne and Michael continued to present themselves as devoted spouses, appearing together on occasions when Michael visited Meopham, Kent, where their marital estate was situated. According to a local, “Anne is a lovely woman, very humble and not at all ostentatious. She is very supportive of Michael. They go to quite a few events together in the village.”
Gambon’s living situation mirrored the complexity of his romantic entanglements. He appeared to divide his time between the roles of husband, boyfriend, and bachelor. As reported by the Sunday Mirror, Gambon continued to reside with Anne in Kent until news of his affair with Philippa Hart became public in 2002. He then established his own residence in London, without extending an invitation for Hart to join him there. Instead, Hart secured her own place in Chiswick. A friend remarked, “He has no intention of giving up his freedom. He likes to fly his plane at weekends.” Gambon also delved into hobbies like membership in learned societies centered around firearms and collecting antique cars, including a Ferrari, BMW, and an Audi R8 humorously dubbed “Teutonic Viagra.”
In 2008, Michael reportedly purchased matching Mercedes for himself and Anne Gambon as a gesture of reconciliation, and he began spending more time with his wife. A friend attested, “When he is at home, which he often is, he and Anne are like any other husband and wife I know.”
Gambon welcomed his third child in 2009 with Philippa Hart. While maintaining appearances with Anne in Kent, Hart was the woman by his side during social events in London. One of his close friends was “Top Gear” host Jeremy Clarkson. In London, Hart gave birth to their second child, a son named Will, in 2009. At the time, Gambon was 68 and Hart was 43. Despite occasional rows, Hart’s delivery was reportedly uncomplicated.
Gambon remained guarded about his sons in interviews. When asked in 2013 whether his boys knew he portrayed Albus Dumbledore, he firmly responded, “Ooooh no, no! Keep them apart.” Yet, co-star Hetty Baynes provided a glimpse into his role as a father, emphasizing his affection for his sons. She stated, “Michael was never happier than when his boys were on the set. They were so sweet and you can see he absolutely adores them. But I’m sure they run him ragged. Having a child in later life can be an exhausting thing, but it brings so much joy.”
Fergus Gambon, understandably, was not pleased when his father engaged in an affair with a woman around his own age. When Michael was absent from events with Anne, Fergus would accompany her, potentially to mitigate the conspicuousness of his father’s absence. Like his father, Fergus developed an interest in antiques, though of a more delicate nature. Michael praised him for his expertise in Welsh porcelain and his unique membership in a dolls’ house society. Fergus became the Director of British Ceramics and Glass for Bonhams auction house, also appearing as an appraiser on “Antiques Roadshow.”
When Michael Gambon passed away, his family’s statement emphasized his role as a beloved husband and father. Anne and Fergus were with him at the time of his passing, while there was no mention of Philippa Hart or their two sons together.
Though Michael remained an active father at 70, images of Michael, Hart, and their son Tom were rare. They were photographed attending playwright Tom Stoppard’s 80th birthday celebration, as published by the Daily Mail in 2017. In 2015, Hetty Baynes noted that while Michael was an affectionate father, he wasn’t able to evenly split parenting responsibilities with Hart. She commented, “Philippa is amazing. She does an awful lot of the work and she’s absolutely delightful.”
It appears that Anne Gambon may have been willing to extend some degree of forgiveness for Michael’s establishment of a new family