'This tiny island will sink with so many people': Dame Joan Collins reveals why she's backing Brexit
- Joan Collins says she thinks that Britain has become overcrowded
- Here she explains why she thinks we should leave the EU
- Joan caemos in Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie is out on 1 July
Dame Joan Collins has just returned from a whirlwind 26,000-mile journey around the world. She took in Los Angeles, New York and Miami, the Caribbean island of St Barts, then Chile’s capital Santiago, where she opened a 1980's fashion museum, before flying on to Australia.
She also fitted in a visit to Peru, where for the first time she met the extended family of her husband Percy Gibson, who was born there.
‘I’d never met them,’ she says, ‘and after 16 years together it was important for me to do that. I had a bet with Percy that I could travel with no more than three suitcases, which is not a lot for me. But I did it, so I won.’
Joan Collins says she thinks that Britain has become overcrowded and wants us to leave the EU
She describes herself as a gypsy. ‘I can’t stay in one place for long. I just can’t. I have to move around. I think it’s because when I was a child during the war I was moved around constantly to avoid the Blitz and went to 13 schools.
'I’d just get used to one school and then I was moved back to London. Then the bombing would start again and off I’d go. It was literally Brighton, Bognor, Chichester, Norfolk, Ilfracombe – those are just the ones I remember.
'I was all over the place. So I think my restlessness became ingrained in me. In my last book, Passion For Life, I wrote a chapter about the different houses I have, and as a child I pretended I had four houses all over the world.’
Now she really does, of course. For the moment though, she’s back home in London’s Belgravia – her proper home, she points out, in spite of having places in LA and New York and a villa in the South of France – and we meet for a very English lunch in that most English of hotels, Claridge’s, where she and Percy married 14 years ago.
Joan with her beloved sister Jackie (in 2009) before her death in September last year
All eyes are on her as she makes her way to the discreet corner table the management always reserves for her. People imagine she’s tall from her screen appearances, but in fact she’s 5ft 5in, her stilettos adding a further three inches.
Joan is soon re-living a particularly sad part of her trip. She and Percy spent four days in LA mostly seeing Tiffany, Tracy and Rory, the grown-up children of her sister Jackie, the novelist, who died last September from breast cancer.
‘It’s been terrible for all of us but they’re doing better now and we have to learn to live with it.’ One of the reasons she wanted to visit Miami was because she was thinking of leaving LA as it held too many sad memories of Jackie.
‘Wasn’t she so much fun? LA is so synonymous with Jackie, even though I’d spent so much of my working life there, making movies and filming Dynasty. But in the past ten or 12 years, whenever we were there we’d see Jackie maybe five times a week. So you know, you have immediate gut reactions when somebody dies.’
Her large green eyes cloud over as she speaks of the void she feels. ‘The more I think about it the sadder I get. But Tiffany and Tracy found something the other day that Jackie had been talking about for years: stories we used to write about teenagers in the 1950s, when we were young ourselves. Jackie said she’d been looking for them.
'It’s three books written in Jackie’s handwriting, with 40 or 50 characters illustrated by me. I originally wanted to be a fashion designer, so I did the fashion and she had the most amazing writing gift. She started at 11 or 12 and she could tell these incredible stories. She’d never been to America or France, but she wrote about those places as if she had. We’re thinking of maybe having them published.’
After she died, Tiffany, Tracy and Rory gave Joan some personal mementos they felt their mother would have wished her to have. Joan’s also using two Chanel bags that Jackie gave her. ‘Actually she gave me many Chanel bags. She would always give me one for my birthday.’ She reflects for a moment.
‘I find that when you lose someone so close it gives you a wake-up call about your own life. You realise, “Don’t waste any time. Do what you want to do.” Percy and I now want to travel more and go to places we wouldn’t normally see.’
Joan had no idea Jackie had breast cancer until almost the end. ‘But I used to nag her about getting mammograms as our darling mother Elsa had succumbed to breast cancer in 1962 when she was in her early 50s.
'I had regular check-ups, religiously, but Jackie refused because she didn’t like going to the doctor. We were so close and I loved her so much. I know Jackie would want me to be strong, but it’s hard to lose somebody so loving. I was extremely upset for a long time. But you have to live with it because we’re all going there. If we’re lucky enough we can keep going until we reach a great age.
‘Look at Prince Philip. He’s about to turn 95. It’s extraordinary. And the Queen. How fabulous is she? She’s 90 but she does things women of 50 can’t do. Standing on her feet for hours, shaking hands with everybody.
'She’s a great example to us all.’ Joan recalls spotting in the Daily Mail that Lady Killearn, who died last October, had lived to l05. ‘I wonder what her secret was?’ she says. ‘Probably six tots of whisky a day!’
Joan was at the Palace last year to collect her Damehood from Prince Charles, and she wants to make one thing clear: she’s not a tax exile, and there’s no money secreted in offshore funds.
‘A lot of people think I don’t live in England. But I pay my taxes in the UK and I’ve never taken anything out. I paid my National Insurance from 1950, when I was 17 and started working in films, and only stopped paying it 25 or 30 films later when I went to do Dynasty in the 80s because I took out private health insurance in the States.
'I don’t qualify for a state pension though. I know many people who have a great deal of money and also get a pension from the Government. They shouldn’t. I don’t think I should either.’
Joan and her husband Percy Gibson in February 2015
In spite of earning millions, Joan didn’t invest in a private pension. ‘No, no, no. My whole financial affairs are confusing. Percy’s brilliant with the money. He looks after the houses and runs our life.’ However, she’s in the driving seat when it comes to politics.
'Joan has strong views and isn’t shy about expressing them, and now she’s weighing into the EU Referendum debate, tweeting the word Brexit together with three Union Jacks, a thumbs up sign and a heart.
‘Yes, I do feel we should leave,’ she says of the EU. ‘I think we want our sovereignty and we want to make our own laws. This country is very different from the country I grew up in. I’ve seen a big change. This is a tiny island. There are too many people coming in and we’re going to sink into the sea with so many people.
‘I remember walking down Oxford Street when I was four or five and there were quite a lot of people, but today you can’t move. It’s too many people and I don’t see how this country can afford it. One of the reasons for quitting the European Union is that we give them £350 million a week, which adds up to several billion a year. Think of how many schools and hospitals we could fund with that money. And where is all the housing coming from?’
But with her inherent zest for life, Joan’s also brimming with optimism. ‘Don’t look back. You know, carpe diem, seize the day. I try to make every day count. You achieve something and you enjoy something.’
She’s preparing for her four-month holiday at her luxurious villa in the hills of St Tropez, the setting for her latest novel The St Tropez Lonely Hearts Club, every word of which was written by hand as she hasn’t mastered a keyboard.
It’s a thriller with several murders that ‘captures the sheer decadence of St Tropez’ says Joan, and features a handsome gigolo named Fabrizio. ‘He’s so naughty he goes round trying to bonk everybody, but underneath you like him because he’s such an idiot.’
One intriguing character is Sophie Silvestri, an ageing 60s sex goddess who hates anybody young. Did Joan base her on any actress she met when she was a film starlet? ‘There were certain actresses I worked with who were very unkind to young people, particularly young pretty girls,’ she recalls.
‘I was one of Bette Davis’s ladies-in-waiting in The Virgin Queen with six other beautiful girls, all between 18 and 20, and she didn’t like us at all. She was quite mean to us and told us to get out of her way. But then she was mean to everybody. She wasn’t a particularly nice person.
'Joan Crawford was the same. There are a lot of actresses who resent getting old and resent the younger actresses coming up. I’m not like that. I’ve always tried to be as friendly as possible to everybody I work with.’
When Joan arrived in Hollywood, Marilyn Monroe warned her to look out for the ‘wolves’. So how did she handle the casting couch?
‘I just said “No!”’ she says emphatically. ‘Because obviously as I was young it was fun to go out on dates to all the fabulous restaurants. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you wanted to go to bed with the guy. Yes, some of them became extremely pushy. But I have to say it’s not just Hollywood, it’s everywhere. It still goes on.’
When the part of a young English girl in Of Human Bondage came up, Joan went to see the producer at his home, which was also his office, in New York.
Joan as Alexis in Dynasty
‘The secretary sent me in and he was lying naked in a bathtub. He said, “Why don’t you jump in?” I was trying not to look at what was in the bath as he was talking to me. He asked, “How old are you?” I said, “I’m 25.” He said, “25? That’s not young in Hollywood any more.”
'I looked at him and I thought he was 50 if he was a day. He got more and more outrageous, really. Finally I said, “I’ve really got to go. I have to meet my boyfriend Warren Beatty.” He said, “Who’s that?” I said, “He’s a young actor making his debut on Broadway.” He then said, “Why are you wasting your time on young men?”
'And again he asked me, ‘Are you sure you don’t want to come in?” I said, “No thank you” and rushed out. I remember walking along the street almost crying. I was so offended. I knew I wasn’t going to get the role because I rejected him. Kim Novak got it, and Kim’s as American as apple pie, you know.
‘But I’m not bitter about any of this. These were experiences many girls had. When I was doing my first movie at Ealing Studios the wardrobe department had to hide me in cupboards because some of the producers would try to grab me. I’d taken a lift home with them a couple of times, but they were like octopuses, hands all over. So the wardrobe people used to hide me then I would get on the Tube. Yes, I used to get the Tube and the bus. Of course, I don’t do it now. I think it’s changed a bit.’
Joan had been prepared for such encounters by her parents. Her father, a showbusiness agent, warned her from a young age what could happen. ‘He just said, “Beware.” Mummy used to say, “Men, they’re only after one thing,” so I had it in the back of my mind, and I wasn’t about to sell out.’
She arrived in Hollywood as its golden era was on the wane, but soon learned how important it was to dress like a star. She was given make-up tips by Monroe’s make-up man and she’s never forgotten them.
‘Most of today’s actresses don’t know how to do their own make-up and hair. Elizabeth Taylor, Natalie Wood, Sophia Loren, we all did our own. Now somebody like Julia Roberts wouldn’t have a clue how to do it. And also, the way the world is today, actors and actresses want to look the same as everybody else. They don’t want to stand out.
‘I love glamorous women. There were so many in Hollywood. They cared about the way they looked. I enjoy being a woman, I like looking good. I like wearing nice clothes. Why do you think so many men are trying to become women? Because it’s fun being a woman!’
She’s preparing for her one-woman show, Joan Collins Unscripted, which Percy is producing. It will tour the UK in the autumn with a night at the London Palladium on 30 September. And soon she’ll be seen in the new Absolutely Fabulous film in a cameo. She plays a woman relaxing by a pool in the South of France who has a confrontation with a group of French policemen. ‘I have to wear a ridiculous dressing gown!’
But whatever she does, by her side, as always, is Percy, making sure life’s running smoothly. Percy is her fifth husband and they’ve been married for 14 years – her longest marriage. ‘It’s a total love match, but also a friends match,’ she says.
‘We simply love being with each other. We laugh at the same things. He makes the children laugh. And we have separate bathrooms, which is very important. We’re always together.’
Percy gets teased about being a toyboy, but Joan says the joke has run its course. ‘I think it’s terribly insulting to call somebody a toyboy at 50,’ she says. ‘Even at 40, quite frankly. A toyboy is somebody in their 20s.’
Percy confesses he has trouble keeping up with his wife’s energy and drive, but Joan insists retiring isn’t on her agenda. ‘I don’t feel any different from when I was 40, to be honest,’ she says. ‘You’ve got to keep working. I intend to go on until I drop.’ n
The St Tropez Lonely Hearts Club is out now in paperback (Constable). Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie is out on 1 July. Joan’s tour starts on 9 September, see joancollins.com. Her make-up range Joan Collins Timeless Beauty is at M&S and M&S online.