Notebook

Joan Collins: The politics of Christmas trees

19 December 2020

9:00 AM

19 December 2020

9:00 AM

To say that the past nine months have been tough is like saying a hurricane felt like a spring shower. For many people it must have been utter hell, particularly those who own hospitality businesses. I simply cannot imagine how they could plan and manage ahead when our government refused to give anyone a clue whether either of the lockdowns was genuinely going to end.

It all reminds me of the silly children’s game Grandmother’s Footsteps, in which players attempt to creep up behind ‘Grandmother’. If she turns and catches them moving, they must return to the beginning. We always seem to be returning to the beginning. Lockdown all over again. Except the rules of Grandmother’s Footsteps are at least clear. Boris Johnson kept saying: ‘Go out’, ‘Stay at home’, ‘Wear a mask if you go out’, ‘But you can’t go out, so go home’. Frankly I didn’t understand any of his rules and I didn’t feel we had to obey them. They weren’t actual laws, after all. On the other hand, I wasn’t keen to get fined for whatever unintentional misdemeanour I might commit, so Percy and I just stayed at home in our ‘bubble’. Whatever a bubble is.

So I tried to keep busy. My closets and wardrobes are now immaculate. Every dress, shirt and jacket is cleverly colour-coordinated and my shoes stand to attention on the shelves like brave little soldiers. Underwear, stockings and sweaters are folded in drawers as neatly as an assistant at Selfridges would do it. And then — what to do next? I was one of the lucky few in the entertainment business. I worked on a TV series, shot a couple of commercials, did a few photoshoots and press interviews and made lots of videos for charities and friends’ birthdays. Then, it was back on the sofa to read or watch TV.


I’ve discovered this year that there’s only a limited amount of time one can gawp at the television. I can now rattle off the names of all the dancers on Strictly and all the announcers and anchors on breakfast news and morning chat shows. I’ve also become a news junkie, reading four newspapers a day, including the American ones. But I find most programmes on terrestrial trite or dull. So we watched, yet again, Sleepless in Seattle, Philadelphia, Big (basically, anything with Tom Hanks) or any of a dozen or more old favourites from the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, which look great on our new 85-inch screen and make it seem like we’re in our private cosy cinema. Percy and I even broke open a box set of Dynasty and started binge-watching! I was amazed that I hadn’t seen many of the episodes and astonished by the number and variety of outfits I wore — none of which I remember.

As the second lockdown wore on, I sought solace at the chocolate and the cheese counter at Waitrose (masks and gloves on, of course). It’s amazing how rapidly one’s lifelong dedication to healthy eating and eschewing junk food goes out the window. The pounds piled on, but I steadfastly ignored them even as my zippers broke, one after another.

To cheer me up and brighten our lovely flat, near the start of November Percy schlepped all our boxes of decorations and lights down from the attic, complaining: ‘It’s much too early for this!’ I spent a delightful weekend dressing the tree with all the baubles and decorations I’ve collected for years, and then started decorating the sitting room and dining room, sprinkling garlands, candles and various colourful arrangements around. I proudly posted the photo of my completed tree on Instagram with a caption saying, ‘What else should we do during #lockdown?’

The next day I found myself in the centre of a national furore on television, in print and on the radio — not to mention on all the social media platforms — as to whether I was too quick off the starting block. Various presenters offered their critiques on my style and substance. Should one have a fake tree or a real tree? Was the tree pre-lit or, as my husband’s raw hands can attest, painstakingly lit by hand? Personally, I’m against cutting down forests to satisfy the real-tree lovers, but I do not judge (safe space, safe space). Once the tree has been heavily decorated, one can’t tell if it’s real anyway, and the advantage to fake is that you don’t have a million needles to contend with daily and a balding tree by the time Christmas arrives — especially when you’ve fired the starting gun early.

Making the most of the joyful time London has spent in Tier 2 (sorry, my northern brethren), I booked multiple lunch and dinner reservations at our favourite restaurants, grateful that we were able to go out, not only for Percy and me, but for our many friends who own these establishments and have been suffering brutal financial hardship.

I’ve always liked to plan ahead my days and my life, but that has now become a thing of the past and we live on tenterhooks, wondering what the next arbitrary rule will be. But whatever happens, my husband and I are looking forward to sitting in front of the tree with some American-style eggnog and toasting the end of this terrifying, hideous, rotten, awful year!

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