Tributes to 'fearless and magnificent' former Queenswood School pupil and Peaky Blinders star Helen McCrory

Helen McCrory with her OBE in 2017.

Helen McCrory with her OBE in 2017. - Credit: PA

Tributes have been paid to "gifted" Peaky Blinders star Helen McCrory, who went to school at Queenswood in Hertfordshire.

The award-winning actress, who appeared in three Harry Potter movies, has died from cancer aged 52, her “heartbroken” husband Damian Lewis announced on Friday.

Star of stage and screen, the much-loved Skyfall actress was theatre patron at Brookmans Park school Queenswood, which she attended as a pupil from 1980 to 1986.

A studio theatre at Queenswood is named after Helen McCrory. She also opened the Clarissa Farr Theatre at Queenswood, and returned to the school in Shepherds Way in 2014 to adjudicate its drama scholarship auditions.

Queenswood School tweeted: "We are devastated by the terribly sad news of OQ Helen McCrory's passing.

"An astonishing talent on stage and screen, a generous patron of the arts at Q and beyond, and a selfless and inspirational fundraiser for NHS staff. Our thoughts are with her family at this tragic time."

Damian Lewis, who filmed World War Two miniseries Band of Brothers in Hatfieldannounced the death of his wife in a statement on Twitter on Friday afternoon.

Most Read

He wrote: “I’m heartbroken to announce that after an heroic battle with cancer, the beautiful and mighty woman that is Helen McCrory has died peacefully at home, surrounded by a wave of love from friends and family.

Helen McCrory and her husband Damian Lewis

Helen McCrory with her husband Damian Lewis. The actress had died aged 52. - Credit: PA

"She died as she lived. Fearlessly. God we love her and know how lucky we are to have had her in our lives. She blazed so brightly. Go now, Little One, into the air, and thank you.”

Lewis and Old Queenswoodian McCrory married in 2007 and share a daughter, Manon, and son Gulliver.

Last year the couple spearheaded the ‘Feed NHS’ initiative to get hot meals to NHS staff fighting coronavirus on the front line. 

Helen McCrory studied drama at Queenswood School in the 1980s under the tutelage of Thane Bettany, the father of Marvel Avengers actor Paul Bettany, who plays Vision in the superhero movies and TV series WandaVision.

Helen McCrory, who has died aged 52, appeared in TV series Peaky Blinders and three of the Harry Potter movies.

Helen McCrory, who has died aged 52, appeared in TV series Peaky Blinders and three of the Harry Potter movies. - Credit: PA

Younger audiences will know her as Narcissa Malfoy, mother of Slytherin student Draco, from the final three Harry Potter movies.

Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling paid tribute saying: “I’m devastated to learn of the death of Helen McCrory, an extraordinary actress and a wonderful woman who’s left us far too soon.

“My deepest condolences to her family, especially her husband and children. Simply heartbreaking news.”

She was also familiar to millions of TV viewers for BBC series Peaky Blinders in which she played Aunt Polly, the matriarch of the Shelby family.

Actor Cillian Murphy, who starred alongside Helen McCrory in the gangster crime drama, paid tribute to the late actress.

In a statement to the PA news agency, he said: “I am broken-hearted to lose such a dear friend.

“Helen was a beautiful, caring, funny, compassionate human being. She was also a gifted actor – fearless and magnificent. She elevated and made humane every scene, every character she played.

“It was a privilege to have worked with this brilliant woman, to have shared so many laughs over the years.

“I will dearly miss my pal. My love and thoughts are with Damian and her family.”

The Peaky Blinders Twitter account also tweeted a picture of Helen as Aunt Polly along with the words: "Helen's performance as Polly Gray was inspirational, joyous, transgressive, hilarious and incredibly moving.

"As a person she was off-the-scale charismatic, and deeply caring. We feel so privileged to have worked with her over the last decade.

"All our thoughts and love are with Damian and family."

Regarded as one of the finest actresses of her generation, Helen McCrory appeared in 007 movie Skyfall alongside Daniel Craig and Dame Judi Dench. 

James Bond producers Michael G Wilson and Barbara Broccoli paid tribute to the actress.

In a statement tweeted by the official James Bond account alongside a photo of her starring in Skyfall, they said: “We are devastated to hear of the passing of the extraordinarily talented and gracious Helen McCrory.

“We were honoured to have worked with her on Skyfall and send our heartfelt condolences to Damian, Manon and Gulliver.”

Her other credits include twice playing Cherie Blair, wife of former Prime Minister Tony Blair, in The Queen and The Special Relationship.

She also appeared in hit ITV drama Quiz as Sonia Woodley QC, the BBC political series Roadkill, Penny Dreadful, MotherFatherSon, the title role in TV miniseries Anna Karenina, and the recent adaptation of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials.

Actress Helen McCrory, who went to school at Queenswood in Hertfordshire.

Actress Helen McCrory, who went to school at Queenswood in Hertfordshire. - Credit: PA

Piers Wenger, director of drama at the BBC, said: “Helen was one of the finest actresses this country will ever see.

“From Potter to Peaky, from Blair to Bond, Helen’s fearlessness made every part she played unique and unmissable. Her body of work speaks of her extraordinary talent, what it doesn’t speak of is her kindness, intelligence and sense of fun.

"This is too soon, too cruel. Our thoughts are with her family and friends at this incredibly sad time.”

Born in Paddington, London, she spent a year living in Italy after attending Queenswood, before returning to London to study acting at the Drama Centre.

She was made an OBE in the 2017 for services to drama.