Deborah Ross

True to herself

Joan Collins is as glamorous and game as ever

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I meet Joan Collins at Waterstone’s in Harrods, where she is signing copies of her latest novel, Misfortune’s Daughters. There she is, behind a big table and, although it pains me to say it, she is very much starting to look her age, the poor clapped-out old thing. And her fan base is not what it used to be. Sadly, she signs only one, maybe two novels during the full hour she is there, while the manager and I hop from foot to foot with embarrassment. Believe me, I take no pleasure in saying any of this, especially as Joan is not only a regular Spectator diarist but also an avid and devoted Spectator reader. Chances are, she is reading this, right now, in which case ...ha! Got you, Joanie! Has the adorable Percy helped you off the floor and back on to your chair yet? I hope you didn’t take too much of a bump. Is the wig back on straight? Just yank it to the left a bit, love. OK, no more silly naughtiness. I’ll start for real now.

I do meet Joan Collins at Harrods where she is signing copies of her latest novel, and the queue is quite something. It goes past Harrods Recommends and past Children and through Fiction and right into Travel. And Joan, of course, looks a total knockout in the full femmy works: diamonds; bouffant wig; eyelashes that could open the batting for England; pouty lips painted a hot, hot red. The husbands may come and largely go (Percy is her fifth) but I think she’d agree that the diamonds and wigs and eyelashes and sizzling lipsticks have always stood loyally by her. She signs a zillion books, and then we’re off to the Georgian Restaurant on the top floor for tea. I get to walk though Harrods with Joan Collins! Me! Here are some of the things I’ve always dreamed about doing:

1) Walking though Harrods with Joan Collins and

2) Nope, that’s about it.

The nudging, whispering crowds part for us. Joan, now 71, still has an amazing, almost cartoonish sex-bomb figure. She’s all big breasts and tiny waist. Is being a great beauty ultimately an asset or a burden? I ask later. ‘I think it’s an asset at the beginning if you know how to use it properly, which I never did. I never thought I was very beautiful and so I didn’t realise what a powerful tool it was then. But as you get older it’s like being rich and getting poorer; it doesn’t last. That’s not really true. It lasts in a different way. There are beautiful people of 90 but everyone strives for the beauty of a 25-year-old and they shouldn’t.’ She is wearing a silver-threaded skirt of her own design (‘I would love to bring out my own clothing range’), a little white top bought in St Tropez and the most beautiful Gucci leather jacket. Hang on — beautiful Gucci leather jacket? How much is that double-crossing Boris paying you for those diaries, Joan? Now don’t fib because I shall march into his office first thing and demand to know. ‘About the same as you, darling,’ she insists. Well, I say, if I find out different I’ll send him back to Liverpool. On the first train. Standard class.

We have to, by the way, go to the restaurant via a side-office because Joan somehow managed to bang her leg on the way in and she would like one of the Harrods first-aiders to have a look at it. The first-aider turns out to be a male security guard. He takes Joan into a little private room and then emerges looking very happy. Here are some of the things I bet he’s always dreamed about doing:

1) Attending to Joan Collins’ leg and

2) Nope, that’s about it.

How is the leg, Miss Collins? I ask. ‘Quite painful,’ she says, pursing those red hot lips bravely.

We enter the restaurant. A table has been reserved at the back. The waiters fuss like mad. Joan says: ‘Would you mind paying for this, darling? It’s just that my publishers won’t and you’ll get it back from The Spectator, won’t you?’ She’s a cunning little minx. No wonder she can afford beautiful Gucci leather jackets. She has also, I think, commandeered a lady from Waterstone’s to find out how many copies of her book their various branches have in stock. Joan is not pleased to discover that Birmingham has only 11. She may even be outraged. ‘Birmingham have 11, you say? I’m not going to get on the bestseller list with that! I think that’s pitiful, actually.’ The lady returns to say Newcastle have 17. ‘I think I’m going to change profession,’ says Joan glumly. I don’t know if she’s going to march into her publisher’s office first thing and demand more books be sent out, but I wouldn’t discount it. Joan does look after her own interests marvellously. And I say that worshipfully, with complete admiration.

From the moment we sit down she is bothered by autograph hunters every few minutes. I’d find it very tiresome, I say. ‘It’s just part of the package,’ says Joan. Why do you think the public love you so much? ‘Do you think they do?’ she says. Yes, I do. ‘I think it’s because I’m totally honest. I don’t bullshit and I don’t really tolerate fools gladly and I think a lot of my opinions are opinions people agree with and I think to some extent there is the glamour. People like that. And there is possibly the fact that I went to America and made a name for myself when I was a very young girl, and then came back to England and then went again when I was in my forties and made another name for myself. Also, I think there are still a lot of people around who remember me when I was a teenage pin-up girl. A lot of ancient old guys still come up to me.’

I say I’d read that she was once voted Bird of the Year, beating Bardot and Raquel Welch. She says she doesn’t remember that. ‘But I do remember being voted Sexiest Woman in the World.’ Well, I say, as you know full well I wasn’t available to compete that particular year. ‘Of course, darling,’ she says kindly.

The tea arrives. It’s one of those three-tiered jobs with crustless sandwiches, scones, dainty cakes. ‘Oh wonderful,’ says Joan, ‘fabulous. Thank you! There is nothing like an English tea, particularly since all I had for lunch was a naff coronation chicken that I picked up in Marks & Spencer. I think it was past its sell-by date. Do help yourself.’ I think I rather might, darling, as I appear to be paying for it.

She is proud of her book. It is a dynastic family saga peopled by women who look up through ‘forests of lashes’ and are called Venetia or Atlanta or Stefania but never, for some reason, Pam or Betty or Vera. She loves to write. ‘When I’m writing I see the scene. I even say all the dialogue and act out the parts.’ Misfortune’s Daughters, page 206: ‘Her notorious tongue was in his mouth, her notorious hands were pulling down his trousers, and her notorious breasts were being rubbed against his shirt.’ No, I’m afraid I didn’t have the guts to ask if she acted that out and, if so, if it made Percy’s day. I like to think so, though. As for her writing heroes, they include Charles Dickens, Gore Vidal, Truman Capote and ‘I love a really good thriller.’

I ask her if she is still a Ukip person. The conversation goes as follows:

‘What is a Ukip person?’

‘A supporter of Ukip.’

‘I’m not a supporter. I’m a patron.’

‘And the difference is?’

‘Patron means they put my name at the head of their paper. And it means I could be a supporter but it doesn’t necessarily mean I’m going to vote that way. I understand there have been some changes.’

Well, Kilroy’s trying to turn it into the United Kilroy Independent Party.’

‘I’m not that politically orien tated.’

‘Would you vote for Ukip?’

‘I’ve got to know a bit more about their policy. This was four months ago [when she agreed to a Ukip photocall] and, to be quite frank, I have not been concentrating on British politics too much. Would you vote for them?’

‘Nope. They’re just anti-Euro, anti-immigration, and that’s it. They have no real policies to speak of.’

‘I thought they did have quite reasonable policies, but you know what, Deborah, I really don’t want to get into politics. Have a sandwich.’

I think I’ve basically been told to shut up, but then she re-introduces the subject herself. ‘I don’t know why everyone is so fascinated with me and Ukip,’ she says. I say it’s possibly because it’s a side to Joan Collins that people haven’t seen, this political side. ‘Really? I was always going on about how much I loved Maggie Thatcher. I don’t remember that causing much of an outcry. I was a huge Thatcherite and nobody seemed to give a damn, so why all of a sudden this whole thing with Ukip? It doesn’t make any sense to me.’ OK, what do you think about the Blair lot? ‘Not a lot. Somebody told me last night he dyes his hair. Is that true? God we need a leader, don’t we? Desperate, desperate, desperate for a leader...look, I’m eating all the clotted cream.’ I’m guessing I am now definitely being told to shut up, which is a shame, as I wanted to ask her why everything about Ukip — You-Kip, Roger Knapman — seems designed to put people to sleep.

Our time is nearly up, as I’ve been allotted only a short space. So we briefly chat about recent films she has loved (De-Lovely), those that were ‘ghastly’ (Stepford Wives) and her own acting career. There’s work she’s been proud of, like Tonight at 8.30 for the BBC, and work she would happily incinerate, like the film The Empire of the Ants. ‘I know it’s a cult film but I think it’s one of the most schlocky, ghastly pieces of crap. I did it to pay my children’s school fees. There is this misconception that I was born with unlimited amounts of money, but the only money I have has been made.’ We are interrupted by a store executive who wants to introduce herself. ‘We are all so excited to have you here today,’ she says. ‘Do you think my book will sell well here?’ asks Joan. She is reassured that it will. ‘Good, because half the shops don’t have it in!’

Joan Collins is smart, but not always smart. She has married some awful creeps and I’m not sure her appearance at the Ukip photocall was especially well thought out. But she has always been absolutely and relentlessly true to herself, which is what I think people love and respect. Anyway, Joan has to call it a day. ‘My leg hurts and I need to go and lie down.’ I get the bill, then I walk out alone, which is a shame. I liked it better when I walked through Harrods with Joan, although God knows what people were thinking. What’s that wonderful glamourpuss doing with that dowdy old frump? Oh, poor Ms Collins.

Misfortune’s Daughters is published by Robson Books at £16.99.