Selena Gomez

Selena Gomez & Chrissy Iley

Selena Gomez arrives to meet me for dinner at a cosy restaurant in the suburbs of LA. She’s alone, no entourage, no fuss. She is newly skinny in a cream plunging V-neck, leather jeggings and black-strapped stilettos.
Her face is endearingly shaped like a moon.  Her skin impeccable, her eyes orbital.  Her lips poufy and juicy in a pale crimson lip balm. She exudes sweetness and poise in equal measure.
You can see why she was credited with being the stabilising influence in Justin Bieber’s life when she was his girlfriend for two years until 2013. And there were a few hook ups after that. She is incredibly calming. She has always had focus, graduating from the Disney school of child stardom to become a fully fledged actress as well as pop star.
The video for her latest single, Good For You, showcases sexiness and devotion; how she likes to be with her man. Shot partly in virginal white T-shirt and partly naked and pouting in the shower.  Except “I was covered from here to here,” she gestures from her cleavage downwards.
I read that the lyrics on her album Revival were inspired by her relationship with Bieber. I say his name.  She doesn’t flinch. And that his upcoming album is about her?  “It’s difficult for people to separate us. The internet wants to freeze this moment in time and constantly repeat it.  There are a couple of songs, Every Step and Closing, that are inspired but it’s also just about two people.
“I want people to see that there is strength in it and there is pain. Hopefully the album will speak for itself.  I’ve had no movie or album out for a year. What else are they going to talk about? The same thing over and over again.  There’s going to be a day when there’s a new young person who is hip and I’ll be married with children and it won’t be as bad. This industry does not dictate my happiness. If I lost everything tomorrow I’d be devastated but also know that my self-worth is not based in this industry. I’ve seen how it destroys people.”
We are now sharing some ravioli, which is delicious.  Is she in love right now? “No. I’ve been working my butt off. I’m dating but I don’t really want anything right now.”  Does she fall in love easily? “No,” she says firmly.
She was 23 in July, a Cancer. “I’m true to the sign. I am very nurturing. I take care of my friends, I’m sensitive and emotional and I love being at home.”  She lives with some flatmates, her mum and stepdad Brian close-by. For a while her mum helped manage her. Now they are producing partners.  Her parents were only 16 when they had her. As they are close in age, did she and her mum feel more like friends? “Never, not at all. She’s always been my mother. She’s the reason I’ve never succumbed to the bad part of what this industry is. She gets very scared for me, when I get criticised, when I had helicopters above my home. Helicopters?” She shrugs. “Absurd. My past relationship was a hot topic.
“I don’t draw a lot of attention to myself when I’m in public. I don’t travel with an entourage.  Of course there are ways in which I have to edit my life. Even just leaving my house I might take separate cars and bend down in the back seat because I don’t like to have photographers if I’m trying to have a nice day out.   It’s absurd wandering around with 12 people taking your photo.  They think if you have success they can do whatever they want to you. And that is a scary place.   But I am not the kind of person that likes a fuss. I never say ‘I can’t do this’”.
She stays grounded by keeping the same best friends that she grew up with. She grew up following in the footsteps of Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift. A specific generation of good girls who had to navigate growing up and their sexuality in public. Gomez has cited Britney Spears as a role model – which is weird because Gomez’s transition from being a poppet in the Disney empire has been far more graceful than Spears’s.
“I can count on one hand the people that I could call and they would be there for me. Taylor Swift I’ve known for seven years and she’s one of the greatest people. When I split up with my first boyfriend (Nick Jonas of the sibling then squeaky clean pop group The Jonas Brothers) and I was really sad about it, she flew into town with homemade cookies and a bunch of junk food. She was 18 and I was 16 and to this day if I call her she would do the same thing despite being one of the busiest people in the world. I knew her when I was with Disney. “Disney was good training. It prepared me for so much.. I was grateful.”
Why does she think she has such drive? She recalls, ‘I love Texas, my biological father lives there. (YES HE IS ALIVE) I moved here (to LA) when I was 13. I was excited but I would also sob every day because I missed home so much.  My mum would ask me if wanted to go home.  And even though I felt there was a hole in my heart I said ‘I can’t go home’ and I don’t know why that was.”
She intends to continue balancing a music and acting career. “I want to be challenged. I’m thirsty for that.”
Her fans call themselves Selenators. She has 39 million Instagram followers. ‘I feel like as well as the fans I’ve grown up with, there is an older audience as well.” Her voice on Good For You is a raspy purr.
She is such an interesting mix of innocent and wise. Her father used to take her to Hooters [a sports bar famous for it’s buxom waitresses in skimpy uniforms] when she was growing up.  “My father had me at 16. What do you expect a young guy to do? It wasn’t bad. I still go to Hooters today, I go with my boyfriends. I would sit there and colour in pictures and that’s when I fell in love with basketball because he would got there to watch sports. My dad loves me, I was his world.”
When she was dating Nick Jonas in 2006-7 they wore purity rings. “I did and I’m not embarrassed to say that.  I’m also not embarrassed to say that that ring has come off. I got it when I was 13 and I respect so much what it represented. But it isn’t for everyone.” She was massively made fun of at the time. “Sometimes you have to lie to yourself to get through the criticism and then you’re in your closet crying. It’s been like that for me a couple of times.  But I only want to learn from those things.  Make them a part of me but not let them define me.
“At school I was not popular. I was not focused on my looks. I wasn’t a girly girl. I wore my hair in a ponytail and a hoody. It was vicious. I got through it because I was obsessed with Ab Fab. I walked around gesturing the martini and the cigarettes. The sarcasm and timing taught me to get through a lot of awkwardness in conversations.” She gestures the martini and cigarette. Laughs.
Gomez is even more beautiful in person than in pictures. Yet on a recent radio show she rated herself only a six or seven. “Every person has days when they wake up feeling super sexy and there are days I look like a hot mess. I want people to know that I don’t think that I am perfect.” She flutters an eyelash and looks at me rather pleadingly. She wants people to like her, she wants to be ordinary yet from a very young age she has lived an extraordinary life.
She was born in Prairie, Texas in 1992. Her father Ricardo is of Mexican descent and mother Mandy of Italian heritage. Her parents split when she was a few years old. Her mother struggled financially. When she was nine she got a role in Barney and Friends which led her to the Disney TV show, The Wizards of Waverley Place, when she was 15.
It seems that she has been working her entire life. She seems much older, an old soul. “I have been called that before.” Does she think she’s lived on this earth before? “Maybe. But I also think my work ethic has made me understand how the world works.  I’m very much an observer. Maybe I was here in a past life but I also know that I’ve learned so much in this life and I have so much still to figure out.”
She has a teeny-tiny musical quaver tattooed on her neck.  “That was my first, I have six now. My mum’s birthday on the back of my neck, G for Gracie, she is my little sister.  And there’s a quote about finding your own strengths.”
Feeling strong is something that Gomez aspires to. Although there have been days where she admits to feeling “pressure” like the couple of times she found a helicopter above her garden trying to spy on her and her then boyfriend Bieber. She’s not a person who moans about the paparazzi.  She accepts it comes with the territory. Does she Google herself? “Yes, sometimes,” she tells me.  “Not everyday. But if I think there is something I should be aware of because people are talking about it.”
A few months ago, there were pictures of her looking like she had gained a few pounds. Today she looks super-svelte. “I have definitely been taking care of myself. I’ve been hiking and I have been cooking a lot.  Before I was able to eat just what I want but that doesn’t happen anymore.  I’m from Texas so I love fried food.  Sometimes I make fried chicken and waffles for breakfast but I’ve had to cut back.”
She is wearing a solid silver collar. It looks like a dog collar.  And a little S&M. It’s a statement piece of jewellery that says, ‘I have transitioned from being a Disney screen princess.’
“Most people have such a misconception of child stars, they think they are thrown into it and don’t want it. I think younger stars get targeted because it’s easier. I’m trying to figure my life out. I’m not saying I won’t make any mistakes but I am going to make my work a priority and stay extremely focused.”
Does she find it hard to navigate her sexuality and love life in public? She nods solemnly. “No one signs up for that. Every experience I have had has been beautiful genuinely.  But it’s also been a huge factor that almost destroyed me.”
She’s referring to Bieber. “It was people having an opinion on a choice that you make and you don’t want to be criticised for that. I didn’t think I was doing anything bad by falling in love. There’s such an emphasis on people being the perfect thing and then destroying them because it’s good press.   Also throw in the fact that you are a teenager it makes it more difficult. Now, at 23 I am able to step back and know that there are things that I will have to accept that are different in my life.  The next relationship will be something dear to me…” Her voice trails off. She offers me some of her tuna tartar.  “There is no way I will ever hide my life…”
It’s a tricky navigation, to be honest and try to preserve privacy.   “Some days I wake up and I hate it.  I wish I were never in the spotlight. Then I say ‘this is a life I chose.’  I work really hard, I love my job more than anything. It goes back and forth.”
I have interviewed many celebrities who have given me the ‘I don’t want to talk about my private life speech’, but never one so heartfelt.  Besides, she’s not closed, she’s open. Choosing a role in Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers in 2012 was the first indication of her transition. The film was about debauchery on a spring break: sex, drugs, darkness, bikinis. Gomez was the only one who kept her bikini on.
“Spring Breakers was a crucial decision because I wanted to change the dialogue of who I am.” It was a rites of passage movie.  “Yes, I was in that place for sure.  Harmony wanted me to audition for one of the other girls’ parts. But I didn’t feel comfortable doing that.” (The other girls’ parts were more sexually overt, more reprehensible).  “I was 19 and I could relate to (her character) Faith. I’ve lived her life a little bit. More innocent than the other girls.” And she never got naked.  “That was a plus. I thought ‘I will save that for later’”.
Is faith still important to her? “I’m proud of having faith. The quote on my Instagram is ‘By grace through faith’ – one of my favourite lines from The Bible. It’s about handling every decision as gracefully as possible.”  And with that she graciously orders the bill and insists on paying for dinner.

Ian McKellen (May, 2015)

Ian McKellen and Chrissy Iley

The first thing you notice about Ian McKellen is the blueness of the eyes.  It’s almost other worldly in its sparkle. One can’t use the phrase ‘piecing blue eyes’ because they do not pierce you they do not even look at you.  He in fact looks out, as if on a stage, to the view at the large window that overlooks The Thames.

We are seven floors up in his hotel suite in Canary Wharf, which is just around the corner from his home.

I remember those eyes. Specifically I remember them gleaming out on stage where I have seen him in Macbeth, Richard III, Bent. He has this unque ability to make everyone in the audience feel he is looking at them and make them understand Shakespeare even though they went just to see him. They are the eyes of Gandalf the kindly wizard from Lord of the Rings epics.

He is tall, slim handsome.  Dark grey skinny jeans, black boots, blue shirt.  He doesn’t dress like a man of 75 (76 on May 25). He looks much younger than I expected but that could be because I’ve just seen him play the 93-year-old Sherlock Holmes in the exquisite film, Mr Holmes.

I wonder did it unnerve him to play someone so close to death?  “I am 76 this month.  People you know very well die all around you, so you discover you do think about death quite a lot; theirs and your own.  So to play someone who at the onset, who is so old and is trying to find some sort of elixir of life to remember everything – I can understand it.

“Playing old used to be a matter of deciding which foot to limp on. But it’s up here,” he points to his head. “You have to tell your brain how old you are.  It’s a cliché isn’t it? But inside you don’t feel your age but you are reminded when you take your pills or in particular when friends are dying, that at last mortality becomes reality.”

I find this strangely emotional, even though he didn’t mean it to be. I’ve read how he completely underplayed his need for hearing aids, dental implants and the removal of cataracts from his eyes. He even shrugged off his diagnosis of prostate cancer assuring us he was completely fine.  I shudder. Mortality is horrible. “I don’t know about that. It’s what happens?

“I’ve seen quite a few people at the ends of their lives and they all seem ready for it. I think the preparation has been going on for some time.  You are frightened aren’t you? And as you get older you accept it. Deaths of friends that are accidents, mistakes are dreadful for them and the people they leave behind. But if I saw an obituary that said Sir Ian McKellen died aged 76 you would think ‘well he had a good life.’”

What? There’d be a nation in mourning. And yes, we would be shocked because 76 doesn’t seem especially old. “Young people say he’s really old, he’s well into his forties.”

Does he hang out with many young people? “Sometimes. Sometimes not. If I have a party there will be people my own age and younger ones. Friends who have children. For them the younger generation is a big part of their lives. I do have young people I’m fond of….”

He seemed to become super friendly with Harry Styles when they met on the Graham Norton Show. Did they stay friends? “We exchanged emails. He wanted to see the latest Hobbit film and because of who he is he couldn’t easily go to the cinema so I arranged a screening for him in New York. Since then he has had other things to do…

“I think it’s a mistake to restrict your friends by age.  You wouldn’t say I only act with people my age.”

The Mr Holmes he played was a brilliant man who was losing his mind and trying to remember everything. Was that frightening to connect with?

“No. Most parts you play you have some connection with. You just say he’s that sort of man, I’ll adjust to his way of thinking. The work has been done, the lines have been written.  It can sometimes be enough just to say the lines. You don’t see the significance of what you have said until you see the film.”

It was perhaps more poignant for me because my father had a brilliant mind that he lost to Alzheimer’s.  McKellen suddenly looks up and at me, right at me for the first time. “Was he miserable?”  No he was angry. He wanted to know the details, the minutiae of his mind unravelling and how long it took. I notice he is much more animated, much more comfortable talking about other people than himself. But then again he is much more comfortable being other people.

“Mr Holmes doesn’t have dementia, he’s got most of his faculties.  He’s just trying to gear himself up with energy and solve problems, which I think is very optimistic.  And you feel at the end of the movie that he’s a better person for what he has discovered and for what he goes through. So for me it wasn’t depressing at all, it was a sunny film.”

I wonder has he seen the other Sherlock Holmes’s, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Downey Jr. Which was his favourite? “I’ve not seen Robert Downey Jr’s. I’ve seen little bits of the Benedict one which was clever and witty.  My favourite was Jeremy Brett for Granada Television. He took the character very seriously. It’s a detailed performance, very black, upsetting and not comfortable and I think that’s what I like about it.

“There have been so many actors  that have played Sherlock Holmes you can’t worry about how good other people have been otherwise you would never play anything, Hamlet or Macbeth. I’m quite used to playing parts other people have played,” he says demurely.  “Of course they didn’t play this particular Holmes. It is mine, I’m the oldest Holmes so far.” He smiles as he says the word “oldest” with relish.

The movie meshes the past and the present. It’s rather haunting when it trails back, searching and nostalgic. Does McKellen himself look back or live in the present or future?

“I just had a very nostalgic three days with my cousin Margaret. We worked out quite quickly that even though we don’t see much of each other, we are each the person the other has known the longest.  There’s nobody who’s known Margaret longer than I and vice versa.  Is that nostalgic?  We spent a lot of time remembering things that happened and talking about our parents.

“I wish I had been more nostalgic for the past when my sister Jean was alive.  She was five years older than me and died six years ago.  Together we would have remembered things about our childhood that now I’ll never know. Things that happened in the war. I was thinking about writing a memoir so I’m trying to remember the evacuees that stayed with us.  We lived in the north and they were evacuated from Middlesex. The father was a fire fighter so he didn’t come but the mother and her two children came, Tony and his younger sister, I can’t remember her name, and we lived together for a year.  Can you imagine, a little house, four of us and then suddenly three strangers moving in.”

McKellen was born in Burnley, grew up in Wigan and later went to Bolton School for Boys where he was head boy.  His father Dennis was a civil engineer and a lay preacher, his mother a theatre lover and home maker.

“I try not to think of the future, I catch myself thinking I’m glad I didn’t have any children. I would worry for their future. Besides I don’t think I would have been a very good parent. I don’t think many people are. I think it’s the most difficult thing anyone can do.”

Did he never think about being a parent? “I’m a gay man. In my generation you would never imagine having children. Some people want that. But I see my friends struggling with being a parent. You have to be so generous don’t you?”

Does he mean gay or straight friends? “Both, I don’t think there is any difference except perhaps if you are a gay parent you must have thought really hard about having children. It would never have been a quick night in the sack.

“I don’t think gay man of my generation ever thought about it.  We didn’t think about getting married. The state wouldn’t allow gay relationships to be declared.  And then they pointed at us and said look, they are irresponsible, they are not like us, they don’t have families.  No we don’t because you tell us we can’t. It’s silly.” He says all this matter of factly, the anger sucked out of it. It’s an inner dialogue that must have gone on for so many years of his life. He knows its every twist and turn.

He came out when he was 49, almost by accident on a Radio 3 talk show when he was discussing Clause 28, the 1988 bill that said no public servant, including teachers, could be seen to be promoting a gay lifestyle. He has always talked about coming out as a huge relief. Of course his friends and theatre family knew he was gay and he was fully established in his career but letting the world know was not just an emotional milestone it paved the way for other actors to declare themselves.

At the time he was Britain’s most famous theatre actor. It is only after this date that what were to become his most renowned film roles started to come in – The Lord of the Rings movies, the X-Men franchise, The Golden Compass, The Da Vinci Code,  Gods and Monsters.

Perhaps it was easier because at 49 the romantic lead roles were dwindling and many of his characters were asexual. When Rupert Everett came out he said that he regretted it because then he was never taken seriously as a heterosexual romantic lead again.  “Rupert is a bright man and that was how it seemed to him. But I would not say that is true for me. When an actor’s career doesn’t go in the direction they want it too it’s not just down to one particular reason. I suspect his views have changed now. I would take acting out of the equation. I have not met anybody who thought that coming out wasn’t the best thing they had done in their life. It was the most important thing, life changing and life-affirming.”

I wonder if coming out is an old fashioned phrase as things have moved on immeasurably.  “I know people who are not at ease saying they are gay but I don’t know many young people who have problems with it.  I hope in fifty years we will look back and wonder what all the fuss was about.”

For him and his generation things were much harder. Life was closed and full of stressful secrets. It is perhaps easier to come out to your friends then siblings and parents last.

McKellen’s mother died when he was twelve. “That relationship is irreplaceable. When my father married two years later I think one of his motives was to provide me with a mother, which she never was.  She was Gladys and I had a very different relationship with her. I ended up being very close to her. But she wasn’t my mother and I would love to have known my mother as an adult.

“My father died when I was 25 (killed in a car crash). We weren’t that close and for the previous four years I’d been at university.  I don’t know how different my life or my thinking would have been if they had both been alive.  There would have been a lot for them to get over. In that we weren’t a family who….” He pauses, even now finding it difficult to find the right words.

Confronting who you are and telling your parents in a time when it was illegal would have been so hard. His first proper love affair was with history teacher Brian Taylor from Bolton. It began in 1964, coincidentally the same year his father died. It endured until 1972. Six years later he met Sean Mathias at the Edinburgh Festival and they were together as a couple for a decade. They still work together. Mathias directed him in Waiting For Godot (2009) and together with another businessman they purchased the lease on The Grapes pub in Limehouse, close to where he lives.

There is nothing about him that seems extravagant.  He is not over the top with his emotions?  Does he do anything that is excessive, luxurious? “Compared to other people my house is luxurious, but it’s within my means. And I’m never tempted to live anywhere else. It roots me.”

It is in this moment that I wonder how different he would have been if his mother had not died. What if he could ever have confronted his feelings? He would he have ever have come out at all? Did his parents easily access their emotions and talk openly?

“There was a lot of love and caring and no-one ever lifted a hand in anger. But they were not emotionally open. It never became a problem but I think it would have done if they had been alive. We didn’t seem to talk about things that were important. I would have to have come out and God knows how that would have gone down.  It’s a deep regret that I didn’t have the chance to tell them.”  He has stopped looking out of the window. The conversation is suddenly important to him.  As his mother died when he was twelve, surely he didn’t know then if he was gay.  “No I didn’t.”  Post war Britain didn’t encourage introspection, it encouraged getting on with things.  He nods.  “Clearly there are a lot of families that don’t really nurture each other and some that do.”

Perhaps the fact that who he really was had to remain hidden and disconnected from his parents. It informed his desire to be an actor where you are connecting with everybody. “That is an astute observation and there is some truth in it.  One of the things that strongly appealed to me about acting was that it was a substitute for real life.  I know more about acting and what it involves, it’s effects, it’s craft than I do about anything else in my life.  I think I’m a good actor but I couldn’t say that I have a strong grasp of other areas.  So initially it was a substitute, a lot to do with being gay, unable to be myself in real life because the law said you couldn’t be. That suppression is cruel and barbaric.

“Within the theatre, one could not only express emotions publicly, although not your own – they were your own but filtered through a character. So that was an outing, a healthy one within the community of theatre. There was acceptance and love that you didn’t get anywhere else.”  Does he mean the theatre was his real family?  “That is right.  Acting is not about ego and drawing attention to yourself, it’s about getting on with people and doing it together… but then I have to come and talk about myself,” he says with a gently raised eyebrow.
He really doesn’t like revealing. It’s not in his make-up.  He’s learned too well to keep important things hidden.

When he was 18 he won a scholarship to St. Catharine’s College, Cambridge, to read English Literature. A grammar school boy suddenly mixed in with very posh people.  Was that alienating?

“There were a lot of divisions when I was university between men and women, between boys who had come from doing their National Service and those who had come straight to university.  They had killed people and now they were coming back to the rules of the university.  There was a division between north and south and I was mocked for my accent.  There were scholarship boys like me and those from southern public schools.  Many divisions, and that was just one of them. Those divisions helped you to find yourself and find your friends.”

Trevor Nunn, David Frost, Corin Redgrave and Derek Jacobi were all at Cambridge around the same time. He had a secret crush on Derek Jacobi, the actor with whom he stars in the ITV comedy series Vicious where they both play outrageously mean and camp individuals. Back then it could not have been more different. “I wouldn’t take it any further then, you just didn’t. We didn’t ever talk about being gay, it was a secret.”  They didn’t even come out to each other.

“My best friend at school qA David Hargreaves. We acted at school, we went to the theatre a lot, we were inseparable in the way kids could be. Right thorugh school. He ended up a professor of education at Oxford and Cambridge and he was gay. We never knew, we never talked about it. Isn’t that interesting?”

They were kindred spirits and didn’t realise why.  “Even my friendship with Derek we never called ourselves gay. I can’t remember what we did call ourselves. I remember I was meeting people like myself and many of them would go to the theatre but I didn’t wake up sexually until after Cambridge.”

Did he ever have a girlfriend.  “Who I had sex with?” He looks a little shocked.  No, had feelings for, who he kissed, who he felt maybe he could go there with?  “Yes, a little bit.  It didn’t seem quite right to me. I had a few who were a bit sweet on me and of course I couldn’t tell them I wasn’t attracted to them so I went along with it, a little bit.  I was experimental as many straight men were experimental. I don’t mean to make it sound clinical. I had some very close relationships with girls that had I been straight would have led onto a serious relationship. Of my closest friends there are as many women as there are men.” Does he want to fall in love again?  “No it’s nothing I would like in my life. My passion in life is that I know a bit about the status of gay people in this country and around the world.  It’s nice to have something that I have a strong feeling and connection with.”

I’m slightly haunted about his mother.  About if she hadn’t died when he was so young how he would ever have come out.  And what a difference that would have made in his life and what a difference that would have made in the rest of the world as so many gay men have looked to him as a mentor.

“I didn’t know my mother was dying. She was sleeping downstairs and had been in hospital. I didn’t know she had a mastectomy until after she died. I was away on a school camp.  I thought she was ill but she was going to get better. I didn’t see her in any distress.”

The 12-year-old McKellen chose not to come back for the funeral which seems to illustrate just how separate he could be from his emotions and the deep places he found to bury them. Emotions that later would be filtered through characters that would dazzle us.

He did once go back to the house they lived in growing up and talked to the woman who had bought it. “We had moved from Wigan to Bolton and that was where my mother died.  The woman who bought the house (in Wigan) claimed that on the day my mother died, she felt a presence.  She didn’t know that my mother had died but she found the lights being turned on and off and then she thought she saw someone come up the stairs. She had the idea that my mother would have gone back to the house where she was happiest at the moment of her death.”

In 1998 he did a one-man show called Knight Out in which he discussed his life and career. The speech that he would do at the end was called Letter to Mama by Armistead Maupin.  It was the letter that Maupin wrote to his mother when he came out.  It would touch everyone in the audience. Perhaps because he was using it as his channel. Perhaps it was the letter he would have written to his mother telling her things that he could never have done.

“I’d been watching some little films that my uncle took. My cousin Margaret bought them down. My father was a handsome bugger and my mother was pretty. You see them as kids just getting married. They couldn’t have known what they were letting themselves in for.”

From whom did he inherit the electric blue eyes? “I am colour blind so eyes don’t register with me. It must be the blue shirt that makes my eyes look more blue.” The eyes, his mother’s eyes, twinkle, the same other worldly twinkle.

Mr Holmes is out June 19

Sacha Newley (Sunday Times Magazine, March 08, 2015)

I first met Sacha Newley over a decade ago at an exhibition of his paintings. The paintings were graphic, sad, disconcerting; spectres from his Hollywood childhood that seemed to haunt him. The gilded family of Joan Collins, Anthony Newley with their young children Sacha and Tara peering out into fake happiness in the golden Californian sun.
Sacha still paints, largely portraits. He’s just finished one of Jeffrey Archer. And he’s also written a memoir, Hollywood Child. The title sounds like one of his Aunt Jackie’s novels, but it couldn’t be more different. The characters are all dark and shadowy, most of them self-involved and there is no happy ending.
It’s the story of a childhood spent in big houses in Beverly Hills and London. It’s the story of his relationship with his father who when he was born in 1965 was at the apex of his stardom. Anthony Newley was complicated and largely absent.
His father and mother divorced in 1969 when he was three. Throughout most of Sacha’s childhood Dame Joan struggled. She had initial fame as a Hollywood starlet but her husband had wanted her to give up acting. After their divorce she networked with a passion for little else.
His surrogate mother was his nanny Sue Delong, a giantess who would wrestle him to the ground and sit on him when he misbehaved and grind him. It was the only physical contact throughout his childhood.
Sacha Newley, huddled into an armchair in a London members club, has the hooded eyes; the big brown grey wells that carry all the sadness of the world just like his father. But there’s a fineness, an elegance to his face. You see the beauty of his mother Dame Joan Collins.
The book has been optioned for a film by Donald Rosenfeld, producer of Remains of the Day and Room With A View. The original publishers recently pulled out because they feared it would offend their best-selling author Jackie Collins because of its unflinching tales of her sister Joan. ‘They admitted they were worried about a conflict with one of their biggest selling authors and they said we would advise you to find a publisher with no family ties.’ Dame Joan has in fact read the book and said she enjoyed it. ‘She hopes Felicity Jones will play her in the movie.’
I am not sure if his mother’s skin is as rhinoceros thick as it appears on one of his early portraits of her, or she has got caught up in the idea of Felicity Jones playing her in a biopic. Mommie Dearest for the 21st Century.
Sacha says all the time his mother doesn’t analyse much. ‘All that baggage is what ages people. She just lets it go,’ he says in a way that’s only partly admiring. Dame Joan and her son have a fascinating relationship. No matter how selfish and unempathic she was in his childhood, he always describes her as beautiful, particularly as she is dealing the most terrifying emotional blows.
His childhood was by turns extraordinary and excruciating. He was the son of one of Hollywood’s most shimmering golden couples. In the early sixties Newley’s musicals were the Tony’d toast of Broadway. His shows in Las Vegas were events. And his mother of course was impossibly glamorous.
They were both such extraordinary people. Although I wasn’t aware that my life was extraordinary at the time. I didn’t know what normality was. I was aware of being in a whirl of light, of electricity. They were generating a great deal of buzz, so my world was on fire. It was like being in a movie. Although I only realised that later.
‘My father was a genius. There’s no other word really. That kind of protean talent that encompassed so many different fields and areas in a way that nobody has touched since. If he had been less gifted he might have made his mark deeper in one particular vein. To my mind he is the third in the holy trinity of Sinatra and Sammy Davis. But he never achieved that status because he wanted to do everything, and that was his undoing. And also the fact that he was what nowadays be called a sex addict.
‘The libido was outside the box, off the chart. Girls were his thing. Some men of that kind of stature are into drugs or booze. For him it was the girls. If you wanted to indulge in psychobabble you could say he was looking for a connection that he never really found. The Don Juan motivated by his lack of fulfilment.’
They seemed ill matched from the start, Anthony Newley the intellectual, sensitive actor, singer, composer, lyricist, and the out of work starlet Joan Collins. ‘In many ways they complemented each other. He had great depth…’ And Joan Collins had great shallow? Her son laughs, not even a little embarrassed.
‘He was the introvert. She was the extrovert. He lived the examined life and she is not prone to self-examination. She acts, he reacts. He has endlessly second-guessed his every motivation. She would never do that. He said that being with her was like hanging on to the tail of comet – exciting. Her energy was incandescent.
‘He would sleep all day to accumulate energy, and she was a broken pipe gushing all the time. He was fascinated by her.’
Does he think they ever really loved each other? ‘She loved him deeply, deeply. When he left he truly broke her in a way that she’s never been broken.’
The impression I have always had about Dame Joan is that she is unbreakable, so I was startled when in the book there is a letter that Sacha found in his father’s boxes after he died in 1999. ‘I couldn’t believe the letter when I read it it’s so powerful. It’s a cry in the wilderness that I had never heard from my mother.’
In the letter dated February 13, 1970, she talks about looking at the empty closets that used to contain her husband’s clothes. She writes:
“I am desolate and destroyed…
You are gone, to another house and another life…
And I – I – who wanted and wished for an end to our 8-year farce am utterly miserable…
There is – or would be no chance for us anymore – right??…
What the fuck happened to us?? —
Certainly I loved you terribly…
It’s like crying on someone’s grave – it’s gone gone gone – you and me – Tony and Joan – Finis.
It’s such a waste and I’m so sad—You’ll never know how sad, miserable, bereft I felt coming to the end of our marriage. You think I’m cold or don’t care—“
‘I was profoundly moved by it because it showed me an aspect of my mother that I had never connected to. There was a pulse of emotion that I just didn’t expect. She was 29, 30. A young woman easily fooled. He totally betrayed her and broke her heart because he was a womaniser, a sex addict. And also due to his problems. He could never enter a room without watching himself do it. He was like the witness of his own life. He was never there and so his experiences were never real to him.’
Anthony Newley peaked in the late 50s, early 60s. His film career thrived with acting roles in Dr Doolittle and with his collaborative partnership with Leslie Bricusse. They wrote the stage show Stop The World – I want To Get Off, which was also made into a film with the hit song What Kind Of Fool Am I? They also wrote Goldfinger.
Bricusse was a Cambridge educated composer and impresario. Newley a Cockney Jewish kid from the wrong side of the tracks who grew up without knowing his father. ‘In many ways Leslie was like a father figure and dad was like the upstart son. Leslie knew he had found a Vesuvian talent in my father and he knew exactly what to do with it. They wrote the score for Stop The World – I Want To Get Off in three weeks in a bathroom because the house in which my father was living was being renovated. My father laid in the bath and Leslie sat in the toilet. Evie Bricusse used to say that the laughter that emanated from the toilet was thrilling to hear because she knew their synergy was incredible.’
In many ways it was a troubled showbusiness marriage. ‘They were competitive and that sometimes sparked genius and sometimes just a fight.’
Newley was insecure but with a towering ego. ‘My father was very much the It Boy and he pursued my mother hard.’ They met when Collins was dating Robert Wagner. Wagner took her to see Stop The World and then they went backstage and that’s when Newley decided he was going to seduce her.
Collins had previously been engaged to Warren Beatty and in the book Sacha says she even got pregnant by him. ‘They were both young stars under contract and a child coming along would have been a problem so they made the decision.’ To have an abortion? ‘At least he pushed it in that direction. She wasn’t entirely suited to motherhood. That’s certainly true.’ Indeed she wasn’t.
It seems that she constantly ignored the emotional needs of her children in her relentless ambition. That said, the picture that emerges of her is that she had a lot more grit than you would expect.
The Seventies were a nightmare for her. She was in her forties by the time she returned to LA in 1975 and a nobody. She was on that treadmill, working it, going to every party she could. She was also with a man who was a non-starter in terms of supporting her.’
On the rebound she married Ron Kass who was an accountant at Apple Records, but for most of their marriage he was looking for work. ‘He used to squirrel away a lot of her money and waste it but she found out too late when guys in jump suits came to collect the television and the Bang & Olufsen. I was in England at boarding school at the time.’
Collins had to endure the horror of downsizing her Hollywood home although she still managed to make modifications to the new house, a 10 x 20 walk-in closet and a fibre glass jacuzzi in the garden for Kass. He comes over as a rather grasping man.
‘He was the first good-looking American wearing chunky jewellery to come along. He still had the job at Apple with The Beatles when they met. He had this wonderful town house in Mayfair and it was intensely glamorous. It was the time of The Beatles final albums. They were all at the house.’
After he lost his job they would have moved back to California. ‘I didn’t know why daddy wasn’t there any more and I didn’t know why my new step daddy was there. I didn’t connect with him at all except over his car. He had the most marvellous Maserati convertible. He already had three children and once he’d had a child with my mother there was no feeling that he needed to connect with me.’
Kass and Collins had a child, Katy, who was involved in a terrible accident. When she was eight she was hit by a car when playing with a ball. She was in a coma for a month while her parents lived in a Winnebago in the parking lot at the hospital. ‘Katy never really recovered. She faces lingering challenges. Katy’s accident was one of the factors in the marriage ending. Instead of bringing the both of them together it drove them apart as grief can do sometimes.’ Soon after they separated Kass got colon cancer from which he did not recover.
At the time the young Sacha could only sense frustration, anger, loneliness, unhappiness and upheaval. Just as he had settled at the progressive King Alfred’s School in Hampstead he was moved back to California. He was given a Dalmatian puppy called Pirate when he was in London but the puppy savaged a Tiffany lamp and was promptly taken back to the pet shop.
‘I was devastated. It’s an emotional beat in the boy’s story.’ Suddenly he is referring to himself in the third person. But perhaps it’s not so suddenly. He has quite often painted portraits of himself looking down on a young self or another self, or in some way outside of himself. And now referring to the boy without the puppy he says, ‘He is lonely. And I don’t think he understands what has happened. Nowadays I think parents explain everything to their children, almost to a fault. But my mother never felt that was necessary.’
Much later on he realised that his mother was not without her own stresses. As she tried to assert authority his elder sister Tara had a teenage rebellion and refused to be told what to do. Collins said, “I’m your mother. I can tell you what I want to.” And Tara responded, “Well, why don’t you act like one.”
‘Tara was more forceful and connected with her feelings and emotions. I just wanted mummy to love me and I wanted a connection with the mummy I found so dazzling. She nourished me in the way a muse nourishes: at a distance.’
When he was 14 he and Tara went to live with his father on the other side of Beverly Hills. He felt he was punishing his mother because she had abandoned him. ‘So we abandoned her right back. Our dad at this point represented Shangri-La. His world was full of warmth, fire lit and granola. We could talk about our feelings here. It was night and day from being at my mother’s. They were living very different lives.
‘My mother’s house was like a streamlined vinyl cigarette, a speedboat. And my father’s was an old creaking galleon. My father’s world felt loving by comparison. But the house soon became too small for us all and we were yet again looking for another home, looking for the place where we would all finally feel happy and get along. And of course that never happened.’
His father sank his millions into a mansion once owned by Joan Crawford. He claims it was haunted and doomed, unlucky for everyone who bought it. His mother and Kass started working on The Stud together and that briefly re-cemented the marriage. ‘When we left to live with dad my mother went into a spiral of drinking quite heavily and Ron would take Polaroids of her when she was asleep or drunk and he would threaten to publish them if she ever tried to leave him.’
Throughout his childhood, with its constant shifting of emotional sands and changing locations, he didn’t feel he had a connection to anybody. The big space around him was to be filled by the big butch nanny Sue. ‘She was big in every way but her story weirdly does not appear in any of my mother’s biographies. She is lightly airbrushed out of the narrative.
‘Sue held it together. She held the world together as far as I was concerned. She was my continuity.’ There is a pause as we sip tea and venture into another corridor of pain. The relationship with Delong seems strangely S&M. ‘It was, yes,’ he laughs, a haunting laugh. ‘There was quite a lot of S&M. She would not just sit on me but sit and grind me into the carpet. I loved it, I didn’t love it. It was like the relationship boys might have with their older brothers, but in my case it was with a woman who was employed so it had a different frisson about it.’
Her presence in the book is visceral, shocking. After all the complex and taut emotions of the over thinking father and the never pensive mother, Delong’s physical presence and sheer physicality must have literally shaken his world. There is no description of his mother ever kissing or hugging him, yet this woman seems to be always chasing him, grabbing him.
‘Sue was an orphan and grew up as the eldest girl in a family of three boys. She was a giantess. Very butch, short haircut. Had a lady friend now and again who would pop by for a glass of beer and a chat. I think she was probably bisexual.’
Could she be more different to his mother who always looked so extremely feminine? He nods. ‘I think it’s true to say my mother didn’t receive a great deal of affection from her father. In fact he was a glacier. My mother didn’t get physical warmth from her father and a girl needs that.’
Is he saying she didn’t receive warmth so she didn’t know how to give it? ‘I think so,’ he nods sadly. ‘I think so. Sue was always standing by to sit on me if I acted up. And Sue I think understood the unspoken brief from my mother which was “I am overwhelmed. I am in a new marriage with two kids from a previous marriage and the boy is acting out. Manage this for me.” And Sue was only too happy to do that.’
He was totally accepting of being punished by Delong and being disconnected from his mother. To complain that he was unhappy or lonely never occurred to him. ‘I think to have made that connection with my feelings would have been dangerous.’
His mother never discussed feelings. ‘She was always concerned to hold things together, give the impression that things were good. Stiff upper lip. Keep calm and carry on… Maybe I’m continually apologising for her.’
He is of course continually apologising for her. It is as if he wants her to be understood, to come over well, even when she’s behaved without sensitivity. Collins of course never wants to explain.
‘She is very realistic about her shortcomings. She said: “I was never a porridge stirring kind of yummy mummy. That’s not who I am.” And she is at peace with that.’
Even for someone who eschews analysis and introspection, this book must have been a gruelling read. She didn’t even ask him to change the references to her wearing a wig. ‘I think it’s common knowledge that she wears wigs. Her real hair is frail and thin so the wig has always been a way to enlarge the aura.’
Has she always worn wigs? ‘Yes. Maybe she did the odd beehive in the Sixties but it was mostly wigs.’ Has he ever seen her hair? ‘Yes. When she’s in the South of France and comfortable she’ll walk around without make-up. She has great bones. Her actual hair is thin. It hasn’t seen oxygen or light for 50 years, like various parts of psyche which also haven’t seen enough light. If she goes out without a wig there’s always a headscarf or a hat.’ Quite incredible to think that she was undaunted by her thin hair. Sacha shrugs, ‘Into every life a little rain must fall.’ He smiles benevolently and I can’t get the image of frail-haired Dame Joan out of my head.
She did point out one factual inaccuracy. It was an episode about his sister Tara nearly drowning in the pool of their house in Beverly Hills. It was not Tara at the bottom of the pool. It was Sacha himself. ‘I think that’s a good metaphor for my childhood. Drowning in a pool in the middle of a party.’
I think the false memory is a more interesting metaphor. The fact that he was drowning and he thought it was someone else. Perhaps he has inherited his father’s ability not to be present in his own life. ‘Exactly. All too often I witness my life rather than live it. And why does one absent oneself? Because of pain.’
The conversation morphs into talking about his father’s pain which was ongoing throughout his life and how he hired a private detective find his father. ‘He took Tara and I along for their first meeting which occurred in 1973. We went to this forlorn pebble dashed estate north east of London. In this dingy house a little man with National Health specs answered the door. Inside his little house it was a shrine to dad, all the cuttings and posters. I think it crushed my father. All I sensed at the time was a kind of confusion from him. I think he was very disappointed by the man he found because in his imagination he’d built up his father to be wonderful and then he discovered this puny little man. As much as he tried to restage the love affair between his mother and father it didn’t work.
‘He flew George out to Los Angeles and he went to live with grandma at the beach. After three weeks it was all over because he was grasping and difficult and rude.’
Sacha’s childhood was filled with characters who were difficult and disappointed, all alienated from each other. And in the background always a party with a smattering of A-listers. ‘It’s the only antidote to alienation: have a party. The thing about showbusiness is unless you have a regular gig there’s no security. You are serving a profession which is highly selective, highly judgemental and withering to your self-esteem at all times. The human soul is fragile and showbusiness is not good for it, but it is an addiction, a drug. It gives you a form of fulfilment which is illusory. It doesn’t last and it doesn’t build anything in the self.
‘Performers, entertainers, have to stay in touch with their inner child. It behoves them not to grow up. That keeps them in touch with their fantasies. My father was doing that on stage and mirroring that back to my mother. So she would feel that she wanted to be in that magical state as well. Her best friends Natalie Wood and Dyan Cannon were in the make-up chair at 20th Century Fox and she was at home being a mum. She wanted to get a piece, and he didn’t really want her to go back to work. They had huge rows. That first row I remember vividly as I heard it through the intercom. I was three. It was like static booming. We couldn’t make out the words, we just knew there was a tempest in the house coming from mummy and daddy.
‘That’s why when my father’s movie Can Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? came along she was desperate to work. Her agreeing to it gives you an idea of how naïve she was.’ Basically Anthony Newley had created a porn film where she starred as Polyester Poontang.
‘Flower was his nickname for her and it’s hard to square Flower with Alexis Carrington but they are in fact the same woman. Joan had her head well in the sand when she arrived on a beach in Malta to shoot the movie. It was a porno with my father as Casanova. Much later than that she realised what he was doing was confessing to the world he was a sex addict. There’s a scene in it where Heironymous played by my father has a serpentine line of women stretching out in to the distance and my father is in a bed with a tent around it saying, “Next.” And one by one they go in.’
He never really found what he was looking for. After Joan he married an air hostess from Texas called Dareth Rich. ‘I was very attracted to her. She was a sexy woman. I think a lot of young boys get hung up on their stepmothers although she wasn’t very charitable in the end to me.’
He has two half siblings from this marriage; Christopher, who is sailing around the world in a small boat, and Shelby, a nurse. He doesn’t see much of them. ‘It’s an oil and water thing. It never quite works and I don’t think they need or want the connection.’
It was after she became pregnant with Christopher in 1979, when they had been together seven years, that Rich demanded Newley marry her. Soon after the marriage Vegas stopped employing him and his wilderness years started.
‘His show Chaplin did not transfer to Broadway after huge expenditure and then he got cancer. To salve his despair he started an affair with a 19-year-old and that was the end of the marriage. She threw him out, so he went to live at grandma’s house firstly in LA and then back in the UK.’
When he left California he had a yard sale where he sold his $3,000 suits that he wore to perform in Vegas for $15 each. ‘A big pick-up truck full of Mexican gardeners jumped out and started trying on the suits and bought the lot. The same suits that my father wore on stage at Caesars Palace were now being worn by Mexican gardeners.
‘When he came back to England in the late 80s he and grandma lived in an attic flat off Kensington High Street. My father always had great anger towards grandma because she allowed him to be evacuated during the war. He was billeted with an old crone out in the provinces and they had to share a room and a bed. She would wash naked in front of him every morning. He was eleven and she stank and one night she rolled over on top of him and almost suffocated him. For the rest of his life he could not share a bed with anybody he was so traumatised by the experience. Even in his late sixties when grandma was 94 carrying his porridge up the stairs while he was sick he would say to me, “I’m so angry with her I can taste it.”’
First of all he did an ill-fated show at the King’s Head pub theatre in Islington, Once Upon A Song, which was a disaster. He got a few episodes of EastEnders playing a crooked car salesman. ‘After that Scrooge came along. It hurt his pride that it was a Leslie Bricusse musical because he always wanted to think he could make it without Bricusse.’
He received great reviews but it was to be his last act. He had cancer which started off in the kidney but ended up in the liver and brain. He had eleven years of cancer treatments and finally died in 1999. His last words were, “It’s all a book.” Anthony Newley, it seems, was not present in his life even in death.
Sacha’s nanny Sue Delong also met with a tragic end. ‘After Sue was fired she went to work for Jackie (Collins) until Jackie discovered her trying to smother one of her daughters and then she went to work for Natalie Wood until things started going missing in the house. Then she went to the East Coast and worked for an art dealer until her terrible boundary issues got the better of her and she was let go.
‘At this point she checked herself into a low rent rooming house in Lower Manhattan and swallowed a bottle of pills but she was so enormous her body absorbed the poison and she woke up three days later with a terrible headache. Then she promptly put on her clothes and went back to the pharmacy and bought double the dose but by the time she got back two detectives were waiting for her so her second suicide attempt was foiled. (The police had been called by concerned neighbours).
‘She then came back to England where she had all kinds of health problems and she wrote to all of her former employers begging for money. One of the letters was to me. She asked for a drawing. I still feel guilty about it but I never replied. She was dead a few weeks later by asphyxiation. She locked herself in her car and fed the pipe in. We scattered her ashes in the East River. A surprisingly tiny amount of ashes for such an enormous woman.
‘Sue gave me something. When she first arrived I said I wanted to climb the tree and she allowed me even though my mother screamed from the top window to stop me. She encouraged me to climb higher and I did and unaccountably I burst into tears. Sue gave me continuity, she gave me a human sense of home. She let me climb trees and she gave me a toughness and self belief as a boy which I could never get from my father because he was a very feminised man. This woman gave me my boyhood self. I was physically revolted by her.’
In the book he dedicates as much time to describing Delong’s wobbling mountains of flesh as he does to his mother’s ravishing beauty. ‘Sue wore ghastly clothes, Spandex trousers and Spandex T–shirts. She looked a sight. Compared to this my mother was such a goddess. I was so polarised in my vision of women – with no middle ground.’
Being the son of a woman generally recognised as a world class beauty must your expectations of women. In one of his paintings, Mother and Child, the woman looks a little bit like Joan and a little bit like his first wife Angela Tassoni. Does he think he was searching for his mother in his first wife? He nods sadly, ‘Without question. I was under the deluded belief that they had similar energy but because of Angela’s Italian heritage I felt there was a yummy mummy thing and she held out hope that I could have some kind of synthesis of the two things I wanted.’
Is he saying that he wanted his mother and wife to be the same person? ‘Well, I guess yes.’ I needed to be hit squarely across my nose with a baseball bat and wake up.’
Before his marriage to Tassoni he was in a relationship with Diandra Douglas, former wife of Michael, nine years his senior. ‘Definitely seeking the mother and seeking the connection to the glamorous woman in the big boudoir.’
He is all about finding the connection that was missing in his childhood. Perhaps while looking for his mother he became his father because of the constant introspection. He had a therapists as a kid. But the therapist did not never last long because he was always moving or his mother ran out of money. One of the therapists offered art therapy which turned out some snakes ‘This was of course phallic so I could connect to my inner male. It was very powerful for me. I had a pet snake, Baxter, that my father bought me. When I was at school he tried to escape his aquarium and slit his throat.’ The snake is a recurring image in his paintings.
‘I’m not sure I have survived. But one hopes I can put the pain into my painting and writing, which is not always easy.’ After his marriage broke down three years ago he moved back to Britain. He now has a new partner Sheela Raman. ‘She is an extraordinary woman and she has given me a clear vision of myself, no longer the funhouse mirror version, and that’s really helped me. She is a writer working on a novel and a journalist.’
Being a long distance daddy to his daughter Ava (by Tassoni) seems torture to him but moving back to Britain has brought him closer to his mother physically and emotionally.
‘Mum and I of late have been recalibrating. I suggested we have a series of lunches together, just us, so that we could really talk about stuff without any distraction and we’ve achieved a level of connection that we’ve never had before. She is extremely well. Her life is still far too dramatic by half. There’s always something going on but I don’t think she could handle peace.’
Does he love her? ‘Beyond. My love for her goes deeper than I could ever really process and her importance to me is profound. I think of my childhood as a gift as much as it caused me difficulties.’
Just as it can’t have been pleasant to see her son’s vision of her looking way more troubled and lined than the world has ever seen her, she gamely hung the picture in the dining room. Michael Caine referred to it as “the picture of Doreen Gray.” ‘It’s very honest. She hung it up perhaps because Robin insisted.’
Robin (Old Etonian art dealer Robin Hurlstone) was her partner at the time. ‘He was magnificent in his sensibility and intellect.’ Why does he think that relationship didn’t work? ‘Because he didn’t want to play the game. He didn’t want to be Mr Joan Collins. But it did not end well. My relationship with my mother improved dramatically under his watch.’
Dame Joan has had five husbands. The first she married when she was 19 was movie star Maxwell Reed. A few months ago she announced she was raped by him before the marriage.
‘Doesn’t that tell you everything you need to know about her. He was a big movie star. Glamorous and a bully. He bullied her into marriage when she was 19. She was a stupid little girl and she wanted to get away from home, from her father.’ She wanted to get to Hollywood and Maxwell Reid was her ticket there. ‘Maxwell Reed wore more eyeliner than she did. He was a very questionable man. She’s always gone for the questionable, my father included.
‘When she was with Peter Holm, husband number four, I think that was an attempt to find her real father again. The discipline, the lack of emotion. He was actually a deeply nasty individual.’
Has she finally found happiness with Percy Gibson (He is 32 years younger. They married in 2002). He and Sacha are the same age. (49)A raised eyebrow: ‘They seem to get on incredibly well and I have a good relationship with him too.’ Perhaps at 81 she is finally a little less relentless, a little more peaceful. ‘Her life still seems far too dramatic. There is far too much happening. She is always dealing with some disaster. As much as she says she longs for a peaceful life I don’t think she can handle it.’
How does she feel about becoming a dame? ‘Delighted, of course,’ he says without a hint of sarcasm.