The toyboy who called me his beautiful monster... then wanted to take half my house
By Joan Collins
Yesterday, she told how marriage to a cocaine addict almost ruined her.
Today, in the final part of our series, she reveals how — after several romantic diversions — she finally found true love with a man who is 32 years her junior .
Romance: Joan Collins dated the younger old-Etonian antique dealer Robin Hurlstone for 12 years
The man on my right at lunch was 6ft 1in, with sandy hair, twinkly blue eyes and a muscular physique. And he was staring at me, looking puzzled.
‘So what do you do?’ he asked. Bill Wiggins — or Bungalow Bill, as he was affectionately known — was ostensibly in property, but seemed to spend most of his time playing squash or golf, and having four-hour boozy lunches with a group of scallywag chums.
He’d stay up all night telling jokes, carousing and drinking. Boy, could he drink! How he survived night after night, day after day, without becoming an alcoholic, I could never fathom.
Family feud: Robin made no secret of his dislike for Joan's family and once said the only time he would see her daughter Tara was at Joan's funeral
But he was just what I needed in 1987. After the misery I’d been through with my fourth husband, Peter Holm, I’d announced to my friends: ‘I’m not interested in anyone long-term, and I never want to get married again.’
I was lonely and fed up — yet I spent so much time giggling at Bill’s stories over lunch that I developed a few more laughter lines.
Plus it didn’t hurt that he bore more than a passing resemblance to Jeff Bridges, one of my favourite actors.
Though I was 14 years his senior, Bill asked me out and we joked our way through the next three days, as I batted away his attempts to bed me.
Not that I wasn’t sorely tempted — but fear of Aids was rampant, and my friends had warned me Bill Wiggins was a ladies’ man par excellence.
Our romance didn’t begin properly until the following month, when he flew over to stay with me in Beverly Hills. It was then that I discovered what his ‘Bungalow’ nickname signified: not much on top but all below. Bill, I soon realised, was so attractive to women that they seemed to crawl out of the woodwork to approach him wherever we went.
Even when we were at the nightclub Annabel’s in London, they’d slink over and ask him to dance.
Over the next few months, when I wasn’t filming, we travelled round the world — New York, Paris, the South of France, Morocco, Las Vegas and LA — but we kept the relationship light.
It was the best he’d ever had, he said. But I knew full well that lots of goodbyes, separations and trips to exciting places were helping to keep it vibrant.
The end was already in sight by late 1987, when I was spending a lot of time in LA filming Dynasty.
Indeed, I was annoyed with Bill by then, as he’d persuaded me to invest a large sum in a property venture that had failed. I was also getting fed up with his womanising ways.
Seeing the writing on the wall, my friend Davina Phillips decided to do a bit of match-making. There was a poetic young man she wanted me to meet, she said, inviting me to dinner at her flat in Belgravia.
‘How old?’ I asked.
‘About 29,’ she said.
‘Good God,’ I exclaimed. ‘I’m over 50. Isn’t that age gap a bit much?’
Opening up: Joan Collins has revealed all about her romantic past in new autobiography Passion for Life
From the very start, I was aware that he’d been part of the gay monde. It was common knowledge, for instance, that he’d been the boyfriend of the notorious John Jermyn, 7th Marquess of Bristol — best known for his drug addiction and frittering away a £30 million fortune.
Initially, our relationship was platonic — after all, I was still seeing Bill. Then Mr Macho did a really spiteful thing: he gave a tabloid newspaper a story in which he said I was almost bald!
I was so utterly furious that I refused to speak to Bill. Naturally, he denied being the source of the story, but I simply didn’t believe him.
Plus I knew that, pleasurable as our brief romance had been, it would never have lasted.
DADDY SAID MY CAREER WOULD BE OVER BY 23
Of course, the first man to make a big impression on my life was my father, Joe, a successful showbusiness agent.
Daddy was quite dismissive of my sister, Jackie, and me when we were growing up — he believed the culmination of a young girl’s life should be marriage to a good man (ha!) and motherhood.
But he did encourage me — albeit reluctantly — to follow my dream of becoming an actress, even if he barked in his brusque way: ‘You’d better make all the money you can when you’re young because by the time you’re 23, you’ll be all washed up.’
He never came with us on family holidays, as he said he was too busy at work.
Later, I came to realise he was probably too busy dallying with various showgirl dollies, as he was very attractive to women and no doubt had his fair share.
Even so, I believed he loved my mother — though he often treated her like a slave. Watching him hurl a plate of fish and peas across the dining room onto one of Mummy’s precious Knole sofas was one of my most harrowing childhood memories.
Looking back, I suspect my childhood was like most of my generation: somewhat of a rocky road because of the war.
But I believe that having a strict, disciplinarian father and a loving, domesticated mother instilled in me the values by which I have lived very happily — most of the time!
Together, we spent hours exploring antique shops in search of furnishings and pictures for my flat in London and house in the South of France. His most frequent comments were ‘hideous’ and ‘ghastly’.
Soon after Robin and I became lovers, he also started criticising my clothes and even my hairstyle. What was it about me, I once asked him, that he loved?
‘You’re a beautiful monster,’ he said, grinning. ‘And I love to collect beautiful monsters.’
We were together, on and off, for a dozen years; but though he was officially my boyfriend, he had his own flat in Kensington and I had mine in Belgravia. I never asked him what he did during the daytime or when we weren’t together, but in retrospect, I think he had a whole life I knew nothing about.
Rather unfortunately for me, he loathed the Press, especially the paparazzi. His mother, he said, had told him that a true gentleman or lady appeared in the Press only three times: at birth, marriage and death.
I thought that a somewhat archaic point of view, particularly as he was dating a very famous woman from one of the most popular TV shows in the world.
But we got along really well for a while. I admired his impeccable eye and slightly bitchy sense of humour. But he was always adamant about what was and wasn’t right — and his perfectionism frankly irritated me.
A mirror had to be called a ‘looking glass’ and a mantelpiece was always ‘a chimney piece’. As for the word ‘settee’ — quelle horreur!
He only enjoyed socialising at small dinners, and derided my liking for Art Deco and Art Nouveau. In essence, perhaps, Robin Hurlstone was more of a 19th-century dandy than a modern man.
True, he was pleased to be introduced to Elton John and the designers Valentino, Gianni Versace and his sister Donatella — and adored hanging out with them.
But, sadly, Robin didn’t take to my sister, Jackie, or my daughter, Tara. In fact, he made no secret of his dislike for them, so they reciprocated by cold shouldering him, too.
Number five: Joan has been married to half-Peruvian theatre producer Percy Gibson since 2002
‘That will never happen,’ he said firmly. ‘The only time I will ever see Tara again will be at your funeral.’
I was so deeply hurt and shocked that my feelings for him started to change radically. Yes, I was fond of him, but his insistence on everything being perfectly correct was becoming wearing.
He didn’t like my hair when I wore it down, insisting I wore my short wig from Dynasty — which he liked, but I didn’t.
By the summer of 2000, my sister and my closest friend, Judy Bryer, were telling me I was a fool to stay in such an unfulfilling relationship.
‘Habit, I guess,’ I’d sigh. ‘It’s easier to stay together than to break up.’
‘Remember when he refused to escort you to Buckingham Place to receive your OBE from the Queen?’ asked Judy. ‘Have you forgotten that?’
Actually, I had forgotten. I have the kind of memory that wipes out distressing events.
However, I did recall what Robin had said. He’d have been delighted to escort me to the Palace if I’d been receiving a Damehood, he’d told me — but not for a mere OBE.
Our relationship had begun to disintegrate in spring 2000, when he refused to come with me on a two-month North American tour of the play Love Letters.
Even more hurtfully, he had not sent me flowers on the opening night in San Francisco.
When I asked him why, he told me that since the tour was piddling and unimportant, it hadn’t been worth the bother.
Meanwhile, I’d met the company manager for Love Letters. My first impression was that Percy Gibson was tall, dark-eyed, handsome and well-dressed, with a wonderfully endearing smile.
He had an exotic background: a Peruvian father and Scottish mother. He was also good at his job.
When I arrived with my daughter, Katy, at my suite in San Francisco, I discovered that my favourite Casablanca lilies were on the table, as were the British newspapers, which Percy had found out I liked to read every morning.
‘He’s so considerate,’ I remarked to Katy, as we unpacked.
‘And cute, too!’ she said, with a giggle.
Backstage, Percy would often join Katy and me as my co-star George Hamilton regaled us with his endless supply of anecdotes and jokes. Indeed, as the tour continued, I began to realise that the company manager and I were very compatible.
New love: When Joan met current husband Percy she felt 'butterflies' for the first time in years
‘Isn’t that it?’ he asked on his return, as I opened the package to find a mascara wand.
‘No,’ I said with a smile. ‘I guess you’re not gay.’
‘Afraid not,’ he smiled back.
And that, as Claude Rains said to Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Percy had been married for eight years and was legally separated, while I was still in a relationship with Robin, which was frankly going nowhere.
After the tour ended, Percy and I met in New York and went to see the romantic stage musical, Kiss Me, Kate. When the stars sang So In Love, Percy’s eyes met mine and I experienced the sort of butterfly frisson in my stomach that I hadn’t felt for years.
Nothing happened between us until the following year, when he volunteered to help me type my fourth novel. At the same time, I received an offer to appear in the sitcom Will And Grace.
However, my character was ludicrous: she’d set her heart on an operation to get her shoulders extended by eight inches.
But the producers refused my agent’s request to rewrite the part — and I broke down in tears when he told me.
Mercifully, Percy was there. Before we knew it, we were in each other’s arms — and what we’d both been thinking about for the past seven months finally happened. He was quite simply the best lover I’d ever had.
Soon we were having a fully fledged, passionate affair. It was giddy, it was fantastic, it was all the romantic fairy tales that young girls dream about — but I was not a young girl. I was a woman in her 60s, in love with a man in his 30s.
As a South American Latin male, Percy had none of the hang-ups that North American and British men have about age.
‘If a woman is beautiful, it doesn’t matter if she’s 16 or 60,’ he told me. Well, I was firmly in the second category — and he was only 34.
We tried to keep our affair a secret, but it was impossible to hide the heady glow that comes from being in love — and my friends were becoming suspicious.
More pressingly, Robin was coming to visit me in LA.
I was in a frightful bind. Should I tell him before he flew out? Should I wait until he arrived?
|PERCY, JOAN & TRACEY EMIN|
In the end, he sort of guessed. The night he arrived, he accompanied me to a film screening where Percy was one of the guests. When the pair of them met, I sensed that male feeling of two stags at bay.The following afternoon, I confessed everything. It was one of the most difficult things that I’ve ever had to do. But I felt so strongly about Percy that nothing else mattered.
Robin didn’t take the news well: he became upset and started insulting Percy and me. But he packed his toothbrush and, shortly afterwards, Percy and I began our new life together.
Subsequently, Robin told many of our mutual friends that I had ‘dumped’ him, horribly and unceremoniously, without a care for his feelings or well-being, which was absolutely untrue.
I’d cared for him a great deal. However, I didn’t feel I owed him anything by way of a cash settlement, which is what he wanted.
He also told many people that I should sell my villa in France and give him half the proceeds so he could buy his own house.
He also started referring to me as ‘that ghastly woman’ and instructed his coterie of close friends not to have any more contact with me. Oh, really!
It’s always puzzled me that a man feels he’s entitled to money from a woman when a relationship ends — or, indeed, vice versa.
But I still think of Robin fondly, though I doubt he feels the same.
As for me, after spending so much of my adult life in tumultuous and unhappy marriages and relationships, I’ve finally found my soul-mate.
After being happily married to Percy for more than 11 years, I finally know the definition of true love. We are each other’s best friend and accomplice.
On top of that, Percy has become the glue that binds our extended family together.
Yes, we have our rows, of course, but they’re part of a true relationship.
I know Percy loves me for who I am, and not the ‘Joan Collins’ some people think I am.
And when people say to me ‘What about the age difference?’, I simply reply: ‘Well, if he dies, he dies!’
Adapted from Passion For Life by Joan Collins, published by Constable & Robinson on October 24 at £25. © Joan Collins 2013. To order a copy at £20 (P&P free), tel: 0844 472 4157.