I was as excited as a kid going to Disneyland to be invited on Concorde’s last flight from New York to London. I’ve always regarded it as one of Britain’s greatest ambassadors, and we considered that being a part of its final journey was too important a historic event to miss. Percy and I thus arrived at a darkened and seemingly deserted JFK airport at 6 a.m. for a 7 a.m. flight. Are we the first?, I inquired of the charming special services representative. ‘No, you’re the last,’ was the reply. ‘The party’s been going for hours.’ We checked in without luggage, which for me is itself a historic event, but I still managed to pocket a couple of Concorde luggage tags, which I understand are now selling for £17 on e-Bay along with various other mementos from the iconic aircraft, including memorabilia catalogues, safety cards and a bathroom sign. God only knows how they took that off.
Going through security I beeped — too much bling-bling — and so was then subjected to a rather undignified and barefoot body search, which would have been normal except for the mass of New York press that awaited us. Fortunately they gallantly declined to photograph the humiliating experience, but that did not prevent them from gawping. Into the departure lounge we went, where there was a party atmosphere as luminaries and celebrities quaffed champagne and gave interviews right, left and centre to the eager American and British press. I said how tragic I thought it was that this magnificent piece of cutting-edge technology was going to be phased out and that I hoped that another company, perhaps Virgin Atlantic, could keep it going as had been reported. Just before embarking I popped into the loo and while combing my hair was asked by a nervous BA press officer if I would do her a big favour. ‘But of course!’ I replied graciously: ‘Do you have a pen?’ ‘Oh, I … I don’t want your autograph,’ she said. ‘But would you mind not mentioning Richard Branson any more?’
Shortly after my return the flight was called and the entire New York BA staff lined up to say their goodbyes to everyone, many of them with a tear in their eye. It was still dark outside, but it seemed as though the entire airport ground staff had stopped what they were doing and stood on the tarmac to wave and cheer. On board, the champagne was passed around lavishly as we privileged few buckled up and prepared for the last ride. I clutched my husband’s hand as the brakes were released and the power of a sudden 250-mile-per-hour acceleration threw us against the back of our seats, like some insanely powerful hot-rod competition, and then majestically soared into the air like a beautiful and graceful prehistoric bird.
On board was an eclectic group: one couple who had paid £40,000 for the privilege, several businessmen who had crossed the Atlantic at least twice a week for God knows how many years, and a few prizewinners. Back in steerage (although all seats are considered equal) sat some distinguished members of the press, along with a sprinkling of ageist hacks (see final paragraph). Darcey Bussell helped start the autograph-collecting frenzy as the staff did a game job of manoeuvring trolleys and trays down the tiny aisle while battling TV cameras and photographers. In the back, Jeremy Clarkson in a snit threw a glass of water all over Mirror editor Piers Morgan, and there was so much hilarity that Piers implored us to come back and join the fun. Up for it, we attempted, but there was such a crush of flight attendants, revellers and media that it was impossible to get there.
But as we approached Heathrow, the announcement brought a sense of solemnity through the cabin. Everyone fixed their gaze intently out of the windows, seeing London pass underneath, cars stopping on the M4 and people waving at us from fields. The flight attendants walked down the aisle, bidding Godspeed to the regular faces they had become so accustomed to seeing once or twice a week on that NY–LON run, thanking them for the memories shared. Everyone felt slightly choked up when we landed, seeing those hundreds of thousands of people who had turned out to say goodbye to their favourite airplane. It was a truly memorable experience.
My friend Liza with a zee hasn’t had a lot of luck in life and love recently. We attended her wedding in NY last year, wondering if it wasn’t a bad omen to have ten bridesmaids dressed in sombre black. Certainly, many of the guests (some of whom had never met either bride or groom) were taking bets on how long these nuptials would last, spurred on by that ghastly X-rated kiss, which has since firmly planted an image of David Gest as a catfish stuck against the side of a fishtank.
And now he, whom some wag at the wedding described as a boiled egg with sunglasses, is suing for £7 million because apparently little Liza bitch-slapped him so severely that he has become distressed and brain-damaged, without even a passing acknowledgment of the possibility that such a state could be ascribed to growing up with Michael Jackson. Having myself had a vicious ex-husband angling for funds I sympathise with the feisty 5ft 2in diva. How could she possibly inflict such lasting facial damage to a stout 5ft 7in man? And even if she had, how could anyone tell?
I’ve always admired the New York Times for its integrity and accurate reporting. Though it sometimes seems to wield uncomfortably excessive power — its theatre critics can make or break a show — it is usually reasonably objective in its reporting. Last year, when I was in a TV series in NY, I was very kindly given a sizeable feature, including a photo through two pages of the Arts section, which is generally considered a press coup, and though the report had its catty moments, it was on the whole fair and an entirely good read. Imagine my surprise, then, when the NY Times reporter, a Mr Wong, who interviewed me on Concorde, referred to me as the former actress Joan Collins. Shame on you, sir, and I hereby emphasise my indignity with a particularly grand ‘Don’t you know who I am?’ I invite you to come and see me in Full Circle, a new play which opens in Bromley next year, or perhaps Yankee reporters don’t regard actresses who work in the UK as being employed? I demand a retraction, a personal apology and if possible his head on a platter. Although it could have been worse: at least he didn’t call me a former female actor.