Roma Downey: How Husband Mark Burnett’s Valentine’s Day Gift Inspired Her New Book

Roma Downey and Mark Burnett - Box of Butterflies Book Party - Getty - H 2018
Vivien Killilea/Getty Images

The 'Touched by an Angel' star spoke to The Hollywood Reporter on Tuesday night at a Beverly Hills party celebrating the release of her faith-based collection of essays, poems, quotes and scripture.

Roma Downey didn’t have to look far to come up with the title of her new New York Times best-seller Box of Butterflies.

“Some years ago, my husband Mark [Burnett] gave me a beautiful gift for Valentine’s Day,” the Touched By an Angel star said Tuesday night during a party for the book’s release at the Beverly Hills estate of billionaire businessman Alec Gores and his wife Kelly Noonan Gores, director of the Deepak Chopra-starring documentary Heal. “He gave me a white box with a flower on the top and suggested that I open it very gently in the garden, so we took it outside into the sunshine and I took the lid off the box and out flew a beautiful group of butterflies. It was the most meaningful gift, knowing how important butterflies have been in my life. At the time I was writing this book, I thought, Box of Butterflies. That seemed like a good title.”

Burnett stood smiling toward the back of the party as his wife spoke at the intimate gathering, which took place in the grand entranceway of the Gores’ French chateau-style 42,000-square-foot manse.

Earlier in the evening, Downey told The Hollywood Reporter that butterflies began to have special meaning to her shortly after her mother unexpectedly died when she was just 10 years old.

“I was laying flowers on her grave when a butterfly flew overheard and my father said, ‘Look at that little butterfly. That could be the spirit of your mother right here,’” said Downey, with a blue butterfly necklace hanging around her neck, a perfect match for her springtime-infused flower-printed cocktail dress. “For a 10-year-old child, the idea that this beautiful butterfly could represent my mom was tremendously comforting. So all through my life, they have shown up and usually when I’ve needed them the most. And not only in a garden — they’ve shown up as a tattoo, a piece of jewelry or on a billboard and they’ve always brought with them a message of reassurance. I love the symbol of the butterfly, remembering that it’s the struggle that creates the strength that gives it wings to fly.”

The 244-page tome is a collection of short stories, personal essays, poems, quotes and Scripture.

Downey said the world could use more hope, especially in the U.S., where politics and religion seem to be tearing people apart.

“I grew up in Northern Ireland,” she said. “I know what it’s like when people use God as a stick to beat each other with. I really feel what is needed at this time are bridge builders, bringing people together and reminding us that we belong to each other and we belong to God.”

Added Downey, “My father always said, ‘If ya have nothin’ nice to say, say nothin’.”

Tuesday night’s book party was co-hosted by Town & Country editor-in-chief Stellene Volandes, Irena Medavoy and photographer John Russo.

Guests included Gordon Ramsay, Sylvester Stallone and Jennifer Flavin, Jack Huston (the actor had just flown in from South Carolina, where he’s been filming the second season of AT&T Audience Network’s Stephen King series Mr. Mercedes), vegan lifestyle guru Kathy Freston, E! News host Jason Kennedy, Bill Bellamy, Linda Thompson, medical medium Anthony Williams, stylist Shani James and Agape International Spiritual Center founder Michael Beckwith.

“We love you so much, Roma,” Medavoy said during a brief toast. “You make our lives better. Anytime that any of us have ever had a problem in our lives, you lift us higher and we want to say thank you. … You actually make us become butterflies when we feel like we’re nothing but caterpillars.”

Before leaving, guests were given a copy of Downey’s book in a bag printed with — what else? — butterflies on it.