I had only experienced great loss when my mother died. It was desperately harrowing, but not as harrowing as the news that my sister Jackie had passed away. My mother had suffered a long lingering illness but Jackie only told me about her cancer two weeks before she died. It was a shattering, heart-breaking blow that I still haven’t assimilated and I don’t know if I ever will really get over it. I expect one learns to live with loss but she remains as vivid in my heart and my mind as if she were still alive. Jackie was a special woman, not because she was my sister but because of her indomitable spirit, amazing energy, generosity, kindness and warmth. To have written five books after being diagnosed with cancer seven and a half years ago was a major achievement, not to mention the journey to London last year to receive her well-deserved OBE, and again in March to celebrate my DBE. Jackie was not just a star, she was an entire galaxy.
I didn’t think I would be able to continue with the preparations for my husband’s surprise 50th birthday in October, but I threw myself into it, and made sure no one leaked the news. It was as clandestine as if I were having an affair, but it was all worth it when Percy arrived in the private room at Quaglino’s to be greeted by 35 family and guests yelling ‘Surprise!’
More recently, holed up in bed with the godmother of all colds, surrounded by balled-up tissues and piles of newspapers, I tried not to feel too sorry for myself at missing a couple of fun dinner parties. Percy contracted the same cold at the same time, so we were able to sympathise and rub each other’s backs with Vicks, while dosing up on honey and lemon drinks and echinacea pastilles. Whatever you do, the bloody cold is in control, so you just have to suck it up and surf the TV (only to discover endless re-runs of Bruce Willis in multiple Die Hards, and Godfathers 1, 2, 3 etc).
There are so many wonderful movies from the 1940s through to the 1970s and 1980s, but all the networks offer are the same more recent films on repeat. Occasionally there will be a gem, like Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity with the great Barbara Stanwyck. That was aired at 3 a.m. and a large Technicolor bloke in a red shirt took up a third of the black and white screen making hand signals, which I realised was for the hearing-impaired, but it distracted from the suspense. I couldn’t get the image of the Saturday Night Live sketch — where the broadcaster screams ‘AND NOW HERE’S THE NEWS FOR THE HEARING-IMPAIRED!!’ — out of my mind. I’m amazed so many people under the age of 40 haven’t heard of most of the great movies, let alone the great movie stars, of the golden age of cinema. Mention Bette Davis, Marlon Brando, Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire and you get blank looks. I probably look just as blank when I skim through celebrity magazines, though I’m beginning to recognise the ones from Strictly Come Dancing. Now that’s real entertainment and deserves its millions of viewers.
I travelled to the glamorous Grand Hotel du Cap in Antibes to shoot a cameo in the movie of Absolutely Fabulous. I was sworn to secrecy by the publicity department, so my lips are sealed about the plot. However, I can say Mesdames Saunders and Lumley looked extremely fetching in their gloriously overdecorated caftans, adorned with plenty of bling. We shot in the pool area, which we had to travel down to by funicular over a steep and rocky incline. I’m somewhat nervous about funiculars. They seem terribly rackety and dangerous, but I arrived safely, played my scene, then retired to a shady spot to observe the two fabulous actresses do a very funny scene. When I was about to make my way back to the hotel, the AD ruefully informed me that the funicular had broken down.
‘Oh, I’ll walk up then,’ I chirped.
‘Five hundred steps?’ he inquired.
‘I’ll wait then.’
They brought me lunch. I had mentioned I was allergic to shellfish, but as I pushed the lettuce around, I spotted a tiny shrimp nestled between the leaves. Luckily, the funicular resumed working. Had I partaken of just one little shrimp, I could have gone into anaphylactic shock.
Remarkably, my new novel takes place in the south of France, where not only does a funicular break down but it bursts into flames; and not only are some guests at a party served tainted shellfish, but one woman actually dies from eating it. Is this a case of life imitating art or vice-versa? After all, I wrote it first!