LONG before Marianne and Connell from raunchy BBC drama Normal People steamed up our screens, it was Joan Collins who set the nation’s pulse racing.
During the late Seventies the British Hollywood star starred in erotic movies The Stud and The Bitch, based on the novels by her sister Jackie.
Yet despite posters for the The Stud showing Joan romping on a sex swing above a pool, she believes today’s Normal People, and the three Fifty Shades Of Grey films, are far more shocking and X-rated.
Joan, now a dame, says: “The Stud was pretty tame compared to today. Yes, I was wearing panties, and perched on a swing, and filmed some love scenes, but for most of these scenes I was still wearing stockings and a garter belt.
“I didn’t see Fifty Shades Of Grey or Normal People, although I’ve read the hype obviously, but there’s a lot more sex and nudity around now than there ever was in my time.”
But instead of binge-watching that in lockdown, Joan has been feasting on black-and-white films of yesteryear.
So I ask Dame Joan if she has been watching new Netflix series Hollywood, based on the “golden age” of Tinseltown — and how true to life it really is. “Well, I wouldn’t know, would I?” she retorts. “Because it’s based around the Hollywood of 1947 . . . and I wasn’t there.”
She may be an octogenarian but Joan clearly remains Gillette-sharp and certainly does not suffer fools, such as me, gladly.
I then remind her of the time we met in Los Angeles — where she and her Peruvian-born husband Percy Gibson have a home — and how she politely refused to shake my awkwardly dangling hand.
Years before the current Covid-19 restrictions, Joan was already an air-kisser.
She explains: “Shaking hands is the way germs are passed on. I shall never shake hands again — and those dreadful selfies with strangers will have to stop.”
But refreshingly she admits she and husband of 18 years Percy have struggled with lockdown — and their confinement together at home.
She says: “Luckily we are largely very agreeable with one another and like the same things — watching movies, playing cards.
“Percy doesn’t like going to the pub or watching football with the boys, so we spend most of our time together.
“But we have had spats. Our largest row came after I received flowers and Percy opened the card on them, which was clearly addressed to me.
“I was pretty annoyed. But most of the other rows I’ve forgotten. I don’t dwell on the small things — they’re not important.”
Like the rest of us, Joan’s new normal involves Skype and Zoom calls with family. But she draws the line at online pub quizzes. “God, no. I hate them,” she says. “We play Scrabble, though.”
Chatting from her London apartment, she adds: “I’ve lost five jobs since lockdown started and have had to cancel trips. It has been hard — and I feel so sorry for families cooped up in high-rise flats. It’s abominable.”
Joan also admits piling on the pounds at the moment, like many of us. She has been working out with her personal trainer, online, three times a week but says: “I’ve been eating a lot more and sitting a lot so I’ve put on weight around my middle and waist.
“With my Fitbit I’ve been trying to do 10,000 steps daily but it’s hard, so it’s down to around 6,000. I am fit and active, though, and try to stay away from doctors.
“I also keep away from Botox and fillers. I don’t like this look so many girls have now, it’s scary.
“My granddaughter got me to watch Love Island last year. They all have amazing bodies but these similar-looking faces. That show isn’t for my generation, I didn’t particularly enjoy it.
“My advice to young people tempted by injections is you’ll never be as good-looking as now, in your twenties and thirties, so it’s best not to mess.
“A lot of sadness and angst young people have is because of Twitter trolls and various Instagram horrors. People are Photoshopping their pictures and it’s ridiculous.
"I don’t mind someone else Photoshopping my pictures for me but don’t do it myself and don’t know how to.
“I saw an actress friend on a TV show recently and was appalled by how she looks. She’s had so much done, it was really sad, she used to be so beautiful. There’s nothing wrong with getting older.”
Joan swears by a daily dose of vitamins D, E and B12, as well as turmeric and “MSM liquid, terribly good for joints”.
MSM, by the way, is a naturally occurring compound containing sulphur, which has anti-inflammatory powers against arthritis and is said to aid recovery post-exercise — but is only available in the States.
Despite those lockdown tiffs, she seems to be blissfully happy with Percy.
With a vast back catalogue of stage, film and TV work, she also has no intention of retiring. There is a one-woman show in the making, she is writing at least one screenplay and, pre-Covid, was due to begin work on a TV series called Stateside.
The offers keep rolling in but Joan is picky. She says: “They’ve stopped asking me now to go on Strictly Come Dancing — they know I won’t.
"And I was asked to do that desert island thing . . . no, I mean the jungle. I was asked if I wanted to go into the jungle for I’m A Celebrity.
“But when you get to a certain age it’s ridiculous to do these things. I’m an actress, not a celebrity per se.”
Joan was made a dame five years ago in recognition of her charity work, and she is an ardent royalist. But like much of the nation, she is less keen on the Duke and Duchess of Sussex after their desertion to LA.
The couple’s Californian mansion is a few miles from Joan and Percy’s LA apartment but they will not all be meeting up for cosy dinners any time soon. She says: “I have no interest in Harry and Meghan.
“I love the Royal Family. The Queen is the greatest woman in the world and William and Kate are fantastic — with those lovely children. Charles and Anne, I also like.”
But she adds of Harry and Meghan: “I feel sorry for people who decide to live a life in Hollywood because there will be plenty of paparazzi.
“Any time I go to a restaurant there are paparazzi — and that’s just me. I imagine the Sussexes will find tons of people taking pictures.”
She revealed: “The NHS saved my daughter’s life when she was eight. She had a terrible accident which we don’t much like to talk about, and was in hospital for six weeks. The NHS was marvellous.
“Every Thursday night I’ve been out clapping or ringing a bell for the NHS. They should get a substantial pay rise. What about the millions that the wonderful Captain Tom raised — why can’t some of that money go to them, for example?”