Arnie mania struck the capital last night. A thousand fans crowded into the Lancaster London Hotel to see Schwarzenegger in conversation with Jonathan Ross. He came bounding on stage, in a Club Class business suit, and peered out at us with a glazed, lipless smile. He has dark tufty hair, an ochre tan, and a hint of cruelty about the anvil jawline and the small unflickering eyes. A deferential Ross gave him an effusive welcome. They sat opposite each other, like bores in a Pall Mall club, in matching armchairs upholstered in blood-red velvet.
Arnie compels our attention because his career is unparalleled. He began as a bodybuilder which is technically a sport even though it looks like narcissism communicated to the muscles via steroids and dumb-bells. There are sportsmen who have moved into films (Johnny Weissmuller, OJ Simpson), and there are actors who have moved into politics (Ronald Reagan, Clint Eastwood), but no one has done all three, and with such success. Like Mrs Thatcher, he has the virtue of being a philosopher whose deeds reveal as much as his words. His life is a self-help book.
He was born in small-town Austria, in 1947, and his parents expected him ‘to marry Heidi and have five kids.’ His father, a policeman, was baffled that Arnie wasted time lifting weights when he might have turned that energy into cash by chopping and delivering firewood. He belonged to the flower-power generation (he’s the same age as David Bowie), but he was industrious, disciplined and ‘unbelievably driven.’ He won the Mr Universe crown in London in 1967.
When he moved to America to chase a movie career he also ran a mail order firm on the side.