Monday, January 13, 2014

Interview Joan Collins

Joan Henrietta Collins, OBE, granny, and timeless star of stage and screen, is still very much in her prime, thank you, and looks even more fabulous in person than in the pages of the glossy magazines she’s been frequenting for more than 60 years.
She also turns out to be warm, funny and wonderfully combative, particularly when conversation turns to her recent run-ins with, among others, the film star Toby Stephens (‘what a c***!’); the ‘disgusting’ Left-wing protestors who disrupted Baroness Thatcher’s funeral (at which she was a guest), and the ‘bloody stupid’ political correctness brigade attempting to outlaw the word ‘actress’.
‘How dare they! I mean, how dare these people say I must use the phrase “female actor” to talk about what I’ve been doing for most of my adult life,’ she declares. ‘How dare they try to tell me that “actress” is sexist!’
Like many a veteran of her trade, Joan’s a great raconteur. In fact, our 90 minutes together is jollified by a succession of zingers, put-downs and fruity anecdotes from her deliciously eventful career in the public eye.

She’s particularly indiscreet when discussing the five husbands and (by my count) roughly three dozen boyfriends clocked up during a soap opera love life ‘fuelled by pheromones and hormones’, which has been filling gossip pages since the Fifties.
But first: lunch. At Joan’s request, we meet at San Lorenzo, a hideously expensive Italian restaurant near her flat in London’s well-to-do Knightsbridge.
The place is full of foliage, expensive artwork and pleasantly obsequious waiters. It used to be one of Princess Diana’s favourite haunts, so (much like our Joan) became hugely fashionable in the Eighties. In recent years (again, like Joan) it has come to be regarded as a venerable British institution.

She’s carrying a voluminous designer handbag and a snakeskin-covered iPhone on which she regularly dispenses such pearls of wisdom as: ‘People who twerk look like a berk!’ to her tribe of 110,000 Twitter followers.
Also in tow is Joan’s beloved husband, Percy Gibson, a handsome half-Peruvian theatre producer who at 48 is 32 years her junior (‘if he dies, he dies!’ she once quipped in relation to their age gap).
Shortly after I arrive - and having checked she’s sitting comfortably - he beats a polite retreat.
Joan and Percy met when he produced a touring play she appeared in back in 2001. She ‘thought he was attractive, but didn’t fancy him at first’, she recalls. ‘So we became friends long before we became lovers.’
Joan's beloved husband, Percy Gibson, is a handsome half-Peruvian theatre producer who at 48 is 32 years her junior
Joan's beloved husband, Percy Gibson, is a handsome half-Peruvian theatre producer who at 48 is 32 years her junior

Things didn’t turn romantic until several months into the tour, after she had sent Percy to buy some eyeliner. He came back with mascara. ‘You can’t be gay then!’ she told him.
A few months later, they were married. It’s been 11 years now; longer than any of Joan’s four previous hubbies lasted. So what’s Percy’s secret?
‘He’s just much nicer than all the other ones,’ she replies, in that magisterial, stage-schooled voice that will be familiar to viewers of any of the 118 films and TV shows on her CV.
‘Really, Percy’s just a great bloke, a really nice bloke. Everybody adores him. My children worship him, and the grandchildren, and my sister (bonk-buster novelist Jackie) and brother (Bill, a businessman). We all just think he’s a really wonderful, kind, giving man.
‘I don’t want to sound maudlin, but he’s changed my life.’
These days, Percy is part husband, part professional collaborator (he’s the impresario behind the one-woman stage show she takes round British and American theatres every now and then) and part personal assistant.
He advises Joan on upcoming projects and runs their portfolio of homes: flats in New York, Los Angeles and London, and a large pink villa in the South of France.
They certainly share a glamorous existence. Last month, Joan and Percy were summering at the villa, which is near St Tropez.
By day, they played poker with Julian Clary, his boyfriend Ian, and a rolling cast of house guests.
By night, they were partying with model Kate Moss and artist Tracey Emin in the clubs and restaurants of ‘St Trop’, pausing only to record the occasions for posterity on ‘selfie’ photographs Joan uploaded to her Twitter feed.
One afternoon, they posed by the swimming pool for Hello! magazine, in delightfully camp ‘his and hers’ patterned shirts. Later, they shot a family portrait with Joan’s beloved grandchildren. Her social worker daughter Tara Newley has a girl and a boy, while artist son Sacha has a girl.
Earlier this month, it was back to London (‘farewell to paradise’, Joan tweeted) before a whistle-stop trip to New York, LA and Boston, where Joan’s youngest daughter, writer Katy Kass, lives.
The only clouds on Joan’s horizon, in all this time, were an unplanned visit by a French burglar (Percy is handling the insurance claim) and an encounter with some paparazzi in St Tropez, who sold ‘a bunch of [swimsuit] pictures of me on a boat’.
She also endured a minor public spat with Toby Stephens, who wrote an ungallant newspaper article recalling his time - as a drama student - taking tickets at a West End theatre where Collins was starring in a production of Noel Coward’s Private Lives.
‘She just wafted around the stage being Joan Collins,’ Stephens recalled of her performance, adding that she ‘came in on a wave of hair lacquer’.
Several weeks on, the jibe still resonates. ‘Toby Stephens. What a c***!’ Joan declares. ‘It was terribly unnecessary. One of the rules about being an actor or an actress is that you never diss other actors or actresses; particularly when you don’t know them.’ 

Enter a waiter. Joan orders a glass of fresh lime juice and a salad that consists of a chunk of mozzarella, a tomato and a whole avocado (with extra dressing, served on the side in a small jug).
This, it emerges, represents her entire meal.
‘I eat an avocado every day,’ she informs me. ‘It’s amazing for your skin. It’s one of the super-foods and I’m just so into eating properly and healthily.’
Joan almost never touches meat, since it’s ‘full of hormones and hardly digestible’. She ‘isn’t mad’ about fish, so lives on ‘a lot of vegetables and fruit’. She further keeps trim by taking a bit of light exercise every day and keeping her face out of the sun.
It may sound a touch joyless. But, in purely aesthetic terms, this regime also happens to work - for it goes without saying that Joan looks terrific.
She turned 80 this year, but has never lost the sparkle which, as a teenage swimsuit model, catapulted her from modest background (her father, Joseph, was a moderately successful London theatrical agent) to Hollywood stardom.
‘I was voted the most beautiful girl in the world in 1958, and courted by every young, available man in Los Angeles, most of whom I didn’t go out with, by the way.’
Dripping in jewellery, she still has the glamour-puss smile and the whirlpool eyes of old, and is still able to do the splits, she thinks - ‘though I haven’t tried for a while’.
She turned 80 this year, but has never lost the sparkle which, as a teenage swimsuit model, catapulted her from modest background to Hollywood stardom
She turned 80 this year, but has never lost the sparkle which, as a teenage swimsuit model, catapulted her from modest background to Hollywood stardom

In the flesh, Joan could pass for a woman decades younger - despite, as she often observes, having never gone under the surgeon’s knife.
‘I’ve never had plastic surgery. Come to think of it, I’ve never had hip surgery, knee surgery or a boob-job.
‘I have a needle phobia. I mean, I had Botox once. I’ll admit to that. But it was agony. And it also happens to make you look awful. It’s why a lot of actresses today just look ridiculous.’
Joan’s sole concession to vanity is a carefully applied layer of make-up (an assistant once said: ‘I never wear make-up, but at the end of a day with Joan, I’m caked with it’) and an extensive collection of wigs.
‘People think I wear wigs all the time,’ she tells me. ‘Well, I don’t. But I do wear them when I go out to an event, because getting my hair like it looks right now takes two and a half hours and I usually don’t have the patience to sit under the drier for that long.’
Joan fails to see why hair extensions are ‘accepted’, whereas ‘wigs carry a stigma. I find it very strange; a double standard’.
As if to underline the point, she’s launching a range of own-brand wigs in a host of mostly bouffant styles. Yours for roughly £100 each. It’s called the Joan Collins Dynasty Collection, in tribute to her most famous alter ego, Alexis Carrington.
Her dress today also recalls Alexis, the short-fused super-bitch from the Eighties soap opera. It’s made from pale blue embossed silk and adorned with what one might call Joan’s ‘trademark’ shoulder-pads.
Like much of her wardrobe, Joan designed it herself and had the garment knocked up by a seamstress whose identity is a secret.
‘I gave my dressmaker’s details to Cilla Black once,’ she says. ‘It was a terrible mistake. After that, every time I called, I was told: “Sorry, but I’m making something for Cilla.” So that was the last time I gave her name to anybody.’
But we digress. We’re meeting because Joan has written a new book, what she calls a ‘photographic memoir’ of her life and times, introducing readers to her entire collection of friends, husbands and ex-boyfriends.
The autobiography, Passion For Life, to be serialised in the Mail next week, is frank, fearless and at times rather outrageous. It may even get her into a bit of trouble.
We get the lowdown on dozens of former loves, in unrelenting detail.
Among them are Nicky Hilton, the American hotel heir, who was ‘inordinately proud of his manhood’, and ‘Bungalow’ Bill Wiggins, the socialite who squired her for 11 months in 1987 and owed his nickname to an alleged lack of intellect (‘not much on top’, as Joan puts it).
We also hear about her flings with Ryan O’Neal, Harry Belafonte and Warren Beatty, who ‘needed to have sex several times a day, which often wore me out’. Beatty made her pregnant in the early Sixties, resulting in an abortion; these days, they’re great friends.
Then there’s Arthur Loew Jr, a Hollywood mogul she dated in the Fifties. He ended their relationship on the dance-floor at a New Year’s Eve party by whispering into her ear: ‘You’re such a f****** bore!’
Joan replied with the words: ‘And you are such a boring f***!’
‘It’s a great line,’ she says, proudly. ‘In fact, Roger Moore, who is a good friend, called me the other day and asked if he could use that line in print. He’s writing his autobiography.‘
The autobiography, Passion For Life, gives the lowdown on dozens of former loves, including Bill Wiggins (left) and Warren Beatty (right)
The autobiography, Passion For Life, gives the lowdown on dozens of former loves, including Bill Wiggins (left) and Warren Beatty (right)
The autobiography, Passion For Life, gives the lowdown on dozens of former loves, including Bill Wiggins (left) and Warren Beatty (right)

The former beau likely to be most upset by Passion For Life, however, is Robin Hurlstone, the bisexual, Old Etonian antiques dealer she dated for most of the Nineties. Joan has never previously said much about the relationship. But in the book, she makes up for that, in spades.
Robin comes across as a man who loathed Joan’s celebrity and disliked her children so much that he refused to spend Christmas with them. Their relationship hit rock bottom in 1997 when he declined to accompany her to Buckingham Palace to collect her OBE, saying he’d only bother to turn out for a proper gong, such as a Damehood (her son Sacha was required to be her arm candy instead).
Has she warned Robin about his impending public mauling? ‘No.’
What will he think?
‘He’s not going to like it one bit. Oh my God, he’s not!’
Does that worry her?
‘No. But anyway, we haven’t had any contact since we broke up.’ Then there are the ex-husbands, who each get the full treatment in the book. Actor Maxwell Reed (1952-6) raped her. Fellow actor Anthony Newley (1963-71) was a serial philanderer, as was Swedish singer Peter Holm (1985-7). Music executive Ronald Kass (1972-83) was a cocaine addict.
As a result of their time together, Joan says: ‘I’m very anti-drugs. Super anti-drugs.’ She speaks from personal experience. ‘I took cocaine once, with [the actress] Natalie Wood in St Tropez in the Sixties and it was horrific. We all went out to a disco and the next thing I knew it was six in the morning and I was dancing by myself. Never again. Another time, Sammy Davis [Jr] passed me a spoonful and I said “I’m not going to do it. I’m not going to do it,” and then I blew it all over his green velvet dinner jacket.’ 
Joan has not previously said much about her relationship with Robin Hurlstone. But in the book, she makes up for that, in spades
Joan has not previously said much about her relationship with Robin Hurlstone. But in the book, she makes up for that, in spades

Instead of becoming another Hollywood casualty, Joan devoted her life to hard work and motherhood.
That certainly brought ups and downs. Having first tasted Hollywood fame as a teenager, her star was in deep decline by the late Seventies.
Indeed, it wasn’t until Dynasty hit the big-time that she would enjoy financial security. To pay the bills during this tricky period, she posed for Playboy and disrobed for a string of movies she would perhaps rather forget — most notably 1978’s soft-core hit, The Stud.
‘I was paid £18,000 for that film,’ Joan recalls, with an eye-roll. ‘Nice, huh?’
For her kids, it perhaps wasn’t. Sacha was mercilessly teased at boarding school about The Stud, with its famous, shrieky  sex scene, in which a naked, 45-year-old Joan was publicly ravished aboard a flying swing.
These days, Joan is hugely protective of her children. They are almost the only people close to her who are largely absent from the warts-and-all memoir.
‘They don’t really like to be talked about. Tara doesn’t. Sacha doesn’t.’
Our time is almost up. Joan orders coffee (an Americano, with cold milk) and unlocks her iPhone with a perfectly-manicured finger, to summon her chauffeur-driven Mercedes. ‘Anything else you need to ask?’
We talk about future plans. Joan will be launching Passion For Life at Selfridges soon, and is also busy renovating her London home. After that, she’s got cameos in a couple of children’s films. And in January, she’s taking her one-woman show back on tour.
Then there are the constant requests for speaking engagements and reality TV appearances to rebuff.
‘I’ve said no to Celebrity Big Brother, Strictly, and the American one, Dancing With The Stars,’ she declares. ‘I don’t feel it’s right for me. I’ve been asked to do reality TV a zillion times. No way. No way.
‘Nobody’s going to get into my living room and see me there.’
Quite right, too. For the Joan Collins she allows out in public is surely magnificent enough.

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