I recently had to spend a great deal of time attempting to clear my name from a ludicrous assertion in an actress’s memoir that I and my then husband Anthony Newley had invited her and her then husband to strip off and watch some porn together. She continued that I had very kindly presented the couple with chicken, steak and fish for dinner, all of which, due to the convenient absence of my maid for the evening, I had single-handedly concocted. I’m no Nigella in the kitchen and allergic to seafood, so I wouldn’t know how to cook a fish if it stood up on its fins and issued instructions. Now, my culinary talents were the least of my concerns with the offending mention, and I’m pleased to report my name was immediately removed from the story. But I was stunned that her publishing company — a major one at that — had not instructed their lawyers to run through the manuscript with a fine-toothed comb before publishing it, which by contrast my publisher has done extensively with my next book, Passion for Life.
I have just finished reading Peter Evans’s engrossing new book The Secret Conversations, about his chats with Ava Gardner when she was considering writing her autobiography. As a child I adored Ava Gardner, and when I was a young actress she became my idol. She was known as ‘the most beautiful animal in the world’ and was a true original, whose salty, expletive-ridden dialogue and intimate but hilarious descriptions of her marriages to Mickey Rooney and Frank Sinatra contributed to her status as a movie legend. They don’t make ’em like that any more, and Peter’s book paints a fascinating picture of a once beautiful woman living practically in anonymity in London, after a stroke at 64 destroyed her looks. Sadly, Peter died the day he delivered the manuscript, a bittersweet but fitting end to an affectionate relationship between author and subject.
In the book, Ava recalls the junior studio publicists who were instructed to station themselves at all the 1950s hotspots and saloons like Mocombo, Ciro’s and the Coconut Grove to prevent photographers taking unflattering photographs of their contract players. Nothing but the most attractive snaps of their stars would be allowed to make their way into the movie magazines. How things have changed since then! Now the most popular photos of celebrities are those in which they look the fattest, drunkest or ugliest.
An oldie but a goodie from Benjamin Franklin: ‘Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.’ I love my house guests and family who regularly visit our villa in Provence, but I have wielded my scythe on those who have irritated me intensely. We have a very relaxed ambience in the house, minimal staff and just a few rules: only plastic glasses down by the pool; lock the bedroom doors in case of the odd roaming burglar wants to help him- or herself to your valuables and passports; and don’t recline on the new pool mattresses unless you put a towel beneath your wet or sweaty body. Quite reasonable, we think, but I’m amazed by how often these simple rules are utterly ignored. ‘Do you mind not putting your shoes on the mattress?’ I asked one older gentleman. ‘Why? They’re clean,’ he snapped as one of his feet shot out, leaving a grass stain behind.
Another guest, after having breakfast, lunch and dinner chez nous for four days, was reluctantly press-ganged to contribute with the rest of the group in taking us out to dinner one night. ‘God, this is a fortune!’ he exclaimed loudly at a restaurant we frequent, causing much craning of necks from fellow diners and then addressed the waitress angrily, ‘I wasn’t looking to buy the restaurant, you know!’ I’m also quite surprised that some houseguests, when we are lunching or dining out because of their desire to sample a Saint-Tropez hotspot, say to Percy ‘Oh shall we share this?’ when the check comes. But most of our guests are fabulous, and I’d much rather spend time with them than attend the overcrowded parties that proliferate in the Saint-Tropez haute saison.
We did attend a few parties this year, most of which were pretty dull — they serve masses of the dreaded shellfish and are populated by far too many people who consider themselves the dernier cri of the beau monde. And why do most of the men shake hands with manly-man vice-like grips that make your fingers crack? I may have to convert to Islam, so that a nod of the head and a hand to the heart is considered a polite greeting. I don’t know how the Queen does it. Watching some of these men dance is pretty hysterical. They say you can tell how a man makes love by the way he dances. If that’s the case, then most of the Saint-Tropez partygoers must be pretty sorry in the sack.
According to a television programme I watched recently on the subject of waste, many councils are now insisting that householders divide their garbage into no less than nine separate containers. They must also check each individual piece of trash to ensure it’s the correct one for the bin. Isn’t that taking anal retention too far? Sometimes, for example when colleagues desperate for attention criticise me in the papers (or accuse me of sordid sexual practices), I feel like that harried housewife in the days when rubbish was collected door to door. When she answered the door and the bin men announced ‘Garbage!’, she replied, ‘Send it up!’