When I was 11, I moved from the banks of the Boyne in Ireland to a comprehensive school with 2,000 kids in Putney. Almost immediately I developed a crush on a girl called Angela. It ended badly: over the free milk at break a boy made fun of me for liking her, an altercation ensued and I ended up in the headmaster’s office – and thus began my education of love and life in London.
I was supposedly the handsome one out of my buddies, but somehow it never really worked out for me. I was too reserved. I didn’t have the witty patter. My first sweetheart was Carol who lived across the river in Fulham. She bedazzled my 15-year-old senses: her hair, her brown eyes, her soft cheeks, the delightful way she smiled.
I’d walk her home and kiss her goodnight on the doorstep. As for my demise, I seem to remember another boy who played soccer better than I could came into the picture.
Time went on and I was at drama school. I lived with a lovely girl for three years until she had to go back to Canada. I was supposed to join her but life never took me in that direction. I only ever saw her again once – many years later – by which time I was James Bond.
I’ve never gone looking for advice. I’ve just stumbled into love and stumbled out of love. Luckily I’ve stumbled into love with some great women. I was very fortunate to marry really strong women who I made laugh and who made me laugh. These days I’m happily married for the second time. I met Keely on a beach in Mexico 20 years ago – which reminds me, our anniversary is just around the corner.
The greatest wedding I’ve ever been to is ours. I’d wanted a simple affair on Malibu beach but Keely wanted to do it properly so I found her an abbey in Ireland. The reception was a fantastic affair in Ashford Castle, County Mayo: 120 people, three days of the Chieftains, Loreena McKennitt, fireworks…
“Happily ever after” is an illusion. People break your heart. People move on. People leave you. You just have to know how to roll with the punches. A sense of humour doesn’t go amiss, either. I still don’t think advice is much use when the heartstrings have been plucked, but I would say to that bedazzled 15-year-old boy: “Don’t rush. Take your time. Life is long and you want to have as many chapters in the book as possible.”
My first kiss was upside down, hanging off a clothes horse at Beckford primary school. A boy called Matthew Fox and I were playing rabbits in the school play and he just leaned in… But if we’re talking tongues, it was with Sam Campbell at the village disco. I was 12 and he was 17. I followed him around for the rest of the Easter holiday and he was so embarrassed because he’d had no idea how young I was!
A year later, my friend Patrick Spottiswoode (he runs the Globe theatre now) took me to see The Poseidon Adventure. It was the perfect choice for a first date thanks to that scene where the man’s face is burnt off: I was able to make a noise of distress and he was able to put his arm round me. What Paddy didn’t realise was that I was desperately in love with Gene Hackman in that film – I cried buckets when he died.
The first time I properly had my heart broken was when I was 16. He was a New Zealander who said he was going back to go to university, but he wasn’t; he went to university here and I found out. I’ve had my heart broken quite a lot, actually. For me, broken means that feeling of: “I will never ever recover from this.”
The notion of “happily ever after” is bonkers. People aren’t honest because of the desire to maintain the romantic ideal. Recently, I was talking about Alan Rickman’s adulterous role in Love Actually and I got into trouble for daring to ask: “Don’t you think we might have become desperately punitive about monogamy?” And, my goodness, the furore I provoked!
I avoid weddings because I don’t like parties. Having said that, I enjoyed both my weddings – very different though they were. My grandmother used to say your heart is no good until it’s been broken ten times. I know what she means: the cicatrices shape the way in which you navigate all your relationships. So what wise words would I impart to my younger self? “If whoever it is says he doesn’t love you, believe him! Do not think that you will somehow manage to persuade him to love you.”
My enduring memory of my first kiss is that I wasn’t mad about the tongue business. I was 11 and a terrible innocent. “What’s going on now?” I wondered. “God almighty! I’m sure this isn’t right…” When I was 14 or so I fell for Clark Gable in Gone with the Wind. Cary Grant followed hot on his heels because he was funny and that twinkle has always made me weak at the knees.
The truth is I can’t remember my first date but I do recall my mother palming me off on a boyfriend of hers when I was 17. I’m sure he was a spy. He lived in this very chichi flat in Sloane Square and plied me with dry martinis. I remember thinking: “Christ, where’s the door? Thanks, mum.” I got out, but it was all rather peculiar. My mother was like Mrs Bennet in Pride and Prejudice and I am the only one of four sisters who hasn’t got married. I’ve rather determinedly not. I think I’m rather a coward because I fear a trap.
The actor’s life is glorious but it is not normal to be always going away, meeting new people, kissing each other. This sounds terribly pretentious but it’s true: being an actor is like having two lovers who get jealous of each other. I wouldn’t be very good about having a lover on a film set, for instance. I can’t because I can’t mix the two. I love what Bette Davis – my all-time heroine – once said: “Never rely on somebody else for your happiness.” And if I could go back and advise that adolescent swooning over Cary Grant, I’d say: “There is no harm in flirting, Celia, but do be careful.”