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Saturday, April 20, 2019
I owe my life to fireman Percy: JOAN COLLINS says she and her husband are 'lucky to be alive' after he battled flames as their home was devastated by fire caused by sun rays reflecting off a mirror....
Conjure up a mental image of Dame Joan Collins and what springs to mind? Glamour, wit and crystalline enunciation all wrapped up in an elegant couture gown.
We certainly do not picture her standing shoeless in the street, bereft of make-up, in her M&S jimjams and dressing gown.
But this is precisely what she was doing a week ago. Poor Joan was shivering outside in the chill of a spring evening in her nightclothes while her husband, Percy Gibson, was fighting a fire in their Belgravia flat.
‘It was freezing last Saturday and I was standing outside in thin socks, cotton jammies (from M&S) and my bathrobe, which I’d just grabbed on the way out, feeling quite terrified,’ she sniffs (she has a ghastly cold). ‘I didn’t think: “What would I save?” I didn’t even bring my handbag.’
Inside, meanwhile, the valiant Percy was battling through a blanket of smoke and dousing the flames with a fire extinguisher. ‘I couldn’t really see much, so I was spraying blindly. It was very hot, my eyes were stinging and I couldn’t breathe very well,’ he admits.
‘It was overwhelming and terrifying because the smoke was acrid and cloying. I had to gasp for air.’
Joan, meanwhile, had called 999: ‘They said: “Are you alone?” I replied: “My husband is in with the fire.” And they said: “Just tell him to get out of there.”
‘The smoke alarms were beeping and by then the burglar alarm had gone off, too. The place was a cacophony of noise.
‘I went back to the flat and the smoke was so thick in the hallway I couldn’t take a step in. I yelled at Percy to come out, and eventually he did.’
‘I don’t think you really have time to think in situations like that,’ says Percy. ‘The shock pushes everything to the back of your mind and you just deal with the here and now. You try to put out the fire. That’s your immediate thought: “How does the fire extinguisher work?”
‘And then, of course, the firefighters came and they go into the worst of the worst situations and are so selfless. They’re worthy of such high praise. In fact, I think they shouldn’t have to pay taxes!’
‘The thing is,’ reflects Joan, ‘if Percy hadn’t gone in with the extinguisher the entire flat would have been consumed by flames. What he did, in fact, was save the whole building. Percy’s a hero. I know a lot of guys who wouldn’t have gone in. He made a great sacrifice.
‘And we’re lucky to be alive. I keep thinking: “What if we’d been asleep and hadn’t heard the alarm? What if we’d gone to a movie?” ’
We’re chatting in the aforementioned flat — in a stately, early 19th-century building in one of London’s most expensive and prestigious squares — just three days after the drama. A distinct smell of smoke still hangs in the air.
In the guest bathroom, where the blaze began — and ended (thanks to Percy’s ministrations with the extinguisher and the prompt arrival of the firefighters) — all is devastated, charred and black. A window is broken; a lintel, burnt like firewood, has fallen to the ground. Lampshades and curtains have been consumed by the flames.
And in the adjacent bedroom, where Joan’s daughter, Tara, (one of two children from her marriage to her second husband, Anthony Newley) would have stayed last weekend if she hadn’t been detained at her home in Somerset, all is smoke- blackened and desolate.
Percy guides a brief tour of the devastation, proffering little blue plastic shoe protectors so smuts from the floor aren’t trodden throughout the rest of the flat.
He points out the portable mirror, believed to have caused the blaze when bright sunlight was reflected on to it. ‘Apparently this isn’t an uncommon cause of fires,’ he says. (Cautionary note: never leave mirrors on window sills.)
When my daughter rings during our interview — he sees her name pop up on my phone screen, even though it’s on silent — he insists I answer.
‘Joan would answer if any of her children called. You must! It might be important,’ says Percy, 53, a film and theatre producer who is 31 years Joan’s junior.
When he and Joan were married at Claridge’s in 2002 — she wearing a lilac gown by Nolan Miller, the Dynasty costume designer, he in Gibson tartan kilt and black Prince Charlie jacket — few thought that it would last.
But here they are, 17 years on, so effortlessly at ease in each other’s company that they finish sentences for each other.
Dame Joan is emphatically an actress, not an actor — she belongs to an era when no female referred to herself as such, and she scoffs at political correctness — and in her seven decades of fame she is perhaps most feted for her role as ‘superbitch’ Alexis Carrington in the Eighties soap Dynasty (for which she won a Golden Globe award).
She is also a writer and columnist and today she sits in her favourite corner seat on the sofa in her snug, surrounded by her books and family portraits framed in ornate silver.
She is slender, fine-boned and mesmerisingly beautiful. I’m fascinated that she does not look ‘done’; when she frowns, her brow corrugates. Her smile is dazzling.
Around her neck she wears a large heart pendant inscribed, ‘P loves J’, designed by Theo Fennell.
‘Percy gave it to me for my birthday five years ago,’ she says, ‘And I always wear it.’
Her jungle-print jacket is from Zara. ‘Do I wear High Street? God, yes!’ she cries.
She and Percy tell me about last week’s fire, Joan beginning: ‘It was exactly a week after we’d come home from the U.S. I still had a cough and cold from the plane, and I had been busy opening a charity shop for my children’s charity Shooting Star, and had a photo shoot.
‘Then, on Saturday, we had lunch with a granddaughter [Tara’s daughter, Miel]. Afterwards, we’d thought about going to a movie — I wanted to see Wild Rose — but instead we decided to go home. I needed to rest, to get over this cold. My granddaughter told me that it’s called the 100-day cough . . .’
‘Only 93 more days to go!’ jokes Percy.
Joan takes up the story: ‘So we got home and I put on some pyjamas and socks and there was nothing on TV, so we decided to watch — as we often do — one of our favourite old movies in our bedroom, As Good As It Gets — which is ironic, considering — starring Jack Nicholson. I’ve known him for years; since he worked in the mail room at MGM . . .’
And he kept asking you out,’ puts in Percy, smiling.
‘Anyway,’ continues Joan, ‘after about ten minutes, we heard this high-pitched beeping.’
Percy adds: ‘Frankly, if it hadn’t been for the fact you’ve got hearing like a lynx, I don’t think I’d have thought much about it.
‘But I paused the movie and the beeping went on and I assumed it was alerting us that the batteries in the smoke detector were dead. But when I opened the bedroom door there was a blanket of smoke at the end of the hallway.
‘I must have said: “Oh my God. It really is a fire!” ’
‘Then you screamed: “Call 999 and get out!” ’ remembers Joan. ‘So I started heading for the front door, and the smoke was getting thicker by the second.’
Percy says: ‘And I grabbed the fire extinguisher and ran down the corridor. I could see flames inside the bathroom, and the door was half-open so I sprayed through the gap, then kicked open the door and saw that the window was broken.
‘The heat made my eyes sting. I couldn’t see or breathe very well. That’s why firefighters tell you: “Don’t do this because you could be overwhelmed.”
‘I used up one fire extinguisher, then went downstairs to see Joan. I kept worrying that a spark could ignite another fire, so I grabbed a second extinguisher and went back upstairs, and the towels were on fire, so I tore them off the rail and sprayed them. By this time the firefighters had arrived and they told me in no uncertain terms to get the hell out of there.’
Two fire engines with crews of ten fought the blaze for more than an hour, finally bringing it under control by 5.36pm.
‘They came from the showbiz fire department,’ says Percy. ‘It covers theatreland. Luckily, there wasn’t much traffic and they got to us fast.’
‘And did a fabulous job,’ adds Joan.
Meanwhile, police had sealed off the street. ‘The NHS crew were so helpful,’ she says. ‘They examined our noses, ears and throats to see if we’d inhaled too much smoke.’
Later, she tweeted her gratitude to them, the firefighters and the police. ‘They were just wonderful,’ she says. ‘I was a wreck and they comforted me; no make-up on, in my dressing gown.’
‘Everyone knew it was you, but they didn’t want to say anything and that was thoughtful because you felt less self-conscious,’ adds Percy. ‘I didn’t feel self-conscious,’ counters Joan. ‘I didn’t care. I was alive!’
‘They asked if we wanted to go to hospital, and we didn’t feel it was serious enough,’ continues Percy.
Joan says: ‘They were saying we shouldn’t really stay in the flat and my brother, Bill, and sister-in-law, Hazel, who live just two blocks away, wanted us to stay with them, but I really like my own bed, so we stayed here.
‘Percy was fast asleep by 9pm — he’d been firefighting after all! — but, needless to say, I hardly slept. I just kept coming out to check that everything had been turned off. I walked around. I went back to bed. I dozed fitfully.
‘But I don’t want to complain. We just feel so grateful and thankful we’re alive.’
She pops out to the kitchen to fetch some Easter chocolates — a posh box given to her by her daughter, Tara — ‘to cheer us all up’. We all choose one and chomp away.
Dame Joan belongs to a stoic breed, raised during World War II, who regard moaning as weakness. It turns out that she has already endured several fires: the first, when she was a baby, completely destroyed her childhood home.
‘I don’t remember it, but my parents came back to find our entire flat on fire. They talked about it a lot. My mother was always terrified of fire, which was why she went round turning everything off at night.’
There was another, in a Paris hotel where she was staying on the sixth floor with the then newborn Tara.
‘It started above us, and the firemen told Tony [Newley] and me to crawl downstairs on our stomachs. I was terrified,’ she recalls.
Then, in the hills above their French Riviera home, heatwaves sparked blazes, one of which came perilously close. ‘Eleven of us — family and friends — had to evacuate the house. I just grabbed my passport. Luckily we were all safe.’
Aside from this, she retains the uncomplaining perspective of the Blitz generation: ‘Our home was hit, but I was protected from the ugly truth about exactly what had happened. I was six or seven. All my toys were gone.
‘We came out of Marble Arch Tube after an air raid and our home wasn’t there any more.
‘But,’ she reflects, ‘you can’t get attached to things. I realised this when my sister died.’
Novelist Jackie Collins died of breast cancer in 2015, just before her 78th birthday. ‘She was a big collector. Her house was full of statues, paintings and photo albums, but it’s all just stuff. Eventually it’s all going to be owned by someone else.
‘My mother said: “Never miss anything that doesn’t miss you.” She meant that people are important; things aren’t.’
It is quite a catalogue of disasters and, when I comment on her forbearance, Joan says that this latest fire came after a flood last year in which water poured from an upstairs flat through their ceiling, deluging their dining room, which had to be completely refurbished.
‘We had to move out for nearly a year and we’re still unpacking boxes full of papers, DVDs, books; all the garbage you accumulate over the years,’ she says.
I joke that they must now be girding themselves for the pestilence. ‘Yes! We haven’t had the plague of locusts yet,’ laughs Percy. ‘But we’ve had moths.’
They’ve weathered it all with a blend of grit and good humour, and Joan — who is, after all, a trouper of the old school — comments: ‘I’m a positive person. I probably got that from my parents.
‘We were never allowed to feel sorry for ourselves. I went to 13 schools during the war. I had to be resilient: a new kid, a new school. I went to some of them for only five or six weeks.
‘So I don’t dwell on the negative. People who are too introspective become rather boring. We just get on with it,’ she says, adding crisply, ‘people from my era do.’
‘Yes,’ agrees Percy, ‘she has the ability to bounce back much quicker than the average bear.’
Joan arches a finely shaped eyebrow. The joshing affection they share is touching.
On the wall beside her, an interpretation of the rose window at Notre Dame Cathedral reminds us of the epic destruction fire brought to Paris last week.
Today, she says: ‘I was almost crying when I watched it burning, especially when the spire went down. The Eiffel Tower. The spire of Notre Dame: two icons of Paris.
‘I don’t think people know how dangerous and terrifying fire is — how easily it is started — until it happens to them. So, like boy Scouts, we must all be prepared.’
She and Percy have some wise counsel for us all: Get fire alarms and extinguishers. ‘And if the worst happens, get an independent loss assessor; someone who is on your side,’ adds Percy pragmatically.
It is time to say bye-bye and Joan, who is loath to pass on her cold germs, gives me a fist-bump while Percy ushers me out.
In the gracious travertine-floored hallway — all glistening white marble and chic grey paintwork — I think of Dame Joan a week ago, standing there shoeless and vulnerable, and the image abides.
Even the most impossibly elegant and stylish among us endure disasters. And have days when only a cosy pair of pyjamas and an old film will do.
Thursday, April 11, 2019
Joan now back in London direct from LA where she enjoyed catching up with family and friends among other things, took time out of her busy schedule to open the new look Shooting Star Childrens Hospice Charity Shop in Surrey which houses over 300 items donated by Joan from her personal wardrobe.. Joan is a patron of Shooting Star and does all she can to support this worthwhile Charity..
SHOOTING STAR CHILDREN'S HOSPICE CHARITY
SHOOTING STAR CHILDREN'S HOSPICE CHARITY
Monday, April 8, 2019
Sunday, April 7, 2019
She’s the A-list’s favourite lunch date – famously entertaining, devastatingly sharp – and has remained Hollywood royalty for seven glamorous decades. Time waits for no man, but it wouldn’t dare take on Joan Collins
Saturday, March 23, 2019
Why Dame Joan Collins is spring's ultimate style muse..
ollins' original Dynasty wardrobe perfectly sums up the mood of the spring/summer 2019 season. The eighties trend kicked off during New York fashion week with Escada, a brand which was a go-to for eighties corporate working women, staging an on-schedule catwalk show for the first time in the brand's history. In celebration of the brand’s 40th anniversary, global design director Niall Sloan's collection saw eighties films including Working Girl and Pretty Woman appear on his moodboard. The results? Plenty of oversized silhouettes, polka dots and languid colour blocking.
|Dame Joan Collins photographed in Tatler. See the full feature in the May issue of Tatler available via digital download and newsstands on Thursday 28th March.|
arc Jacobs also made reference to the eighties era, and in particular Yves Saint Laurent's signature cuts, but this time around Jacobs took them to the extreme with supersized shoulders and billowing pleated trousers.
Thursday, March 21, 2019
Check out Friday's issue of the 'Daily Express' which features Joan on the cover and an article inside..
When it comes to pure Hollywood glamour, nobody does it better than Joan and in the May issue of 'Tatler' magazine Joan goes all out to dazzle with this sensational cover and an exclusive interview inside with more sensational shots.. Grab your copy next Thursday!