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Friday, April 5, 2013

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Why my friend Joan Collins is a REAL lady

As Joan Collins starts a new one-woman British tour, our bestselling columnist Barbara Taylor Bradford reveals why her friend is a survivor

Barbara with husband Bob and Joan..
By Barbara Taylor Bradford
It’s a strange thing, isn’t it, how some things just stay in your mind? But I have never forgotten the first time I ever saw Joan Collins. I was leaving a Mayfair hairdressing salon. She walked past me and as I stared after her, I thought: ‘Gosh – that’s Joan Collins!’

That was about 45 years ago. It struck me that she was more beautiful in life than on the screen, with glossy, dark hair, swept up on top of her head; a peaches-and-cream complexion, and sparkling green eyes.

What’s even stranger is that I can even remember what she was wearing. It was an oatmeal-coloured wool coat with a fur collar, which I think was lynx.

Several years later, my husband Robert and I were at Heathrow Airport. Suddenly, there was Joan, walking across to the carousel to collect her luggage. She spotted me and came over, even though we had yet to properly meet.

‘I’m Joan Collins,’ she said, as if I didn’t know, ‘and I just want to congratulate you on your extraordinary career as a writer.’

As I thanked her, she smiled and swept away to a mountain of luggage. I remember thinking that it was a fantastically generous gesture.

We finally met properly in New York, where we were introduced by a mutual friend. I quickly realised that she was a normal, down-to-earth woman. Of course, she was – and remains – well put together and well dressed. In fact, she still puts many younger actresses to shame. But she has her feet firmly planted on the ground.

Joan is also witty, outspoken and intelligent. Good for her. I like women who have something to say for themselves, are self-possessed and independent.

She’s certainly a charmer. Two years ago, Joan invited me to the London launch of her book, The World According To Joan. The wonderful thing for her was that everyone she had invited had arrived. Laughing and giggling like a young girl – and wearing one of her beautiful wigs – she was surrounded by all these admirers. She was in her element. It was Gore Vidal, the late American writer, who once said that his friend Joan Collins was frequently underestimated by people and that he thought this was unfair. So do I. Just because a woman is beautiful, it doesn’t mean that she is a dummy.

Joan often says that she has had a roller-coaster life – and she has. There have been numerous husbands, and plenty of ups and downs. But whenever I meet her, she is cheerful and positive, and obviously determined not to quit. A real lady.

Barbara Taylor Bradford on Joan Collins

Looking at her life overall, it seems that she has overcome all the disappointments, often turning them to her advantage. She is not a woman who feels sorry for herself. She has three children, to whom she is close – Sacha and Tara (by Anthony Newley) and Katyana (by Ronald Kass) – and a loving husband of 11 years, the handsome and supportive Percy Gibson. It is Percy who has worked with Joan to create her one-woman show, which opens in the UK on 6 April.

I have seen this show and I loved it. Joan invited us when it opened in New York. She plays it for laughs, and frequently pokes fun at herself. There are clips of her movies and television series and lots of jokes. Nostalgia laces the evening. But there was one moment when I held my breath – because the most remarkable thing is that Joan can STILL do the splits. That night, at dinner, I commented on this extraordinary feat and she said with a big grin, ‘There aren’t many women left who can do that, you know’. My answer was that I would certainly never try it – especially not in public.

Aside from the one-woman show, Joan still makes films and does television and has written beauty books, novels and memoirs. She recently told me that she is writing another autobiography.

A few months ago, Bob and I saw Joan, Percy and her sister, Jackie Collins, in a Manhattan restaurant. Since they hadn’t seen us, I wrote a note and sent it over, pointing out that you don’t often find three famous English women in the same New York restaurant. They all waved. Jackie came over at once to chat about her new novel, and we certainly had a few laughs.

Later, we joined Joan and Percy, too. Joan and I were both born in May. I am Taurus, she is Gemini and I am actually 13 days older than her. She asked me at one point: ‘What are you going to do about your birthday this year?’ – and gave me a rather worried look.

‘Nothing,’ I answered. ‘Nothing at all.’

‘I’ll do the same,’ she said, smiling and sounding relieved.

I reminded her that age is just a number and added that she looks 59 at the most.

My comment brought a cheerful laugh from Joan, one of the world’s most photographed women who is still glamorous and a genuine survivor of the best kind.

One Night With Joan starts its nine-city tour on 6 April at the Royal & Derngate Theatre in Northampton and runs until 28 April. Details at: www.joancollins.net

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