Joan Collins is not in the best of moods. Her London flat has been flooded and developers are turning Belgravia into Bedlam, according to her Twitter feed.
She can’t go to her other home in New York, or the one in Hollywood, or even her villa outside St Tropez, because she has to plug her latest film, The Time of Their Lives. And that means she has to tolerate whippersnappers like me asking questions she thinks are either inane or unacceptable. Questions like, “Has age made you calmer?”
“Certainly not. Not when my f***ing ceiling’s fallen down.”
I should have known. I should have known not to chew the end of my glasses (she’s making me nervous). “Why are you doing that? Have you got an itchy mouth?”
I should have known not to make much of her age, even though she’s nearly 84, and it’s the point of the movie we’re discussing. “Everybody’s so incredibly ageist in this country! Anyway, how old are you?” Seventy, as it happens. “What have you got that’s wrong with you?”
Things aren’t going well and I’m heartbroken. The only other time we met she came hurtling across the baggage hall at Nice airport, pressed me to her bosom, and told me, breathily, how much she admired me. I nearly fainted. I was still trying to get pictures from the airport CCTV months afterwards. This time, I have invested in a selfie stick. I never get a chance to use it.
She doesn’t look bad for a woman born on the very day Hitler took absolute power in Germany in 1933. I would never dare think that normally, let alone say it, but Dame Joan has made several fortunes out of still being considered glamorous after a quarter of a century as a pensioner. She’s sold 50 million books, container-loads of Timeless Beauty cosmetics, and whole warehouses of wigs – “now you can look gorgeous morning, noon and night”.
She’s dolled up to the nine-and-a-halfs, the raven hair is buoyantly bouffed, the trademark scarlet lips for the most part tight with disap proval. I would tell you more but I’m half-blinded by the light reflecting off her truly staggering amounts of jewellery. And, anyway, I’m too busy apologising for being here.
She’s certainly glamorous, but it’s been a very long time since her mother had to hang a notice on her pram saying “Do Not Kiss”. The Rank starlet became a Hollywood beauty, then a brand and finally a phenomenon, well on her way to being the world’s first centenarian vamp.
She’s good at playing divas. She’s at it again in The Time of Their Lives, playing Joan Collins, or at least an aged Hollywood star whose fading glamour is shored up with weapons-grade cosmetics, but whose spirit is undimmed. Her character, Helen, escapes from an old folks’ home to go to the funeral of an ex-husband with the help of a downtrodden frump called Priscilla (Pauline Collins – no relation – playing Shirley Valentine again). The film’s trying to press so many buttons it’s difficult to tell whether it’s a comedy or a tragedy. It would be a road movie if it went anywhere; a feel-good film if it weren’t so busy pelting you with pathos. It will probably be a huge success – “oldies on the lam” plays well with my generation.
I wonder aloud what drives her – “after all, you’re rich”. She bridles. “What’s rich?” she snaps. I would say four homes all worth several million, and a personal fortune, according to the papers, of $30 million. If I had the nerve. “I’m not exactly rich, no. Rich, as Robert Wagner said to me, is having f***-you money. I don’t have that and I’ve a lifestyle to support.”
As Fontaine in The Bitch
I ask her if, like the character she plays, she might be looking for a last adventure? To squeeze a bit more out of life before the curtain comes down? “Is that a question? You’re bumbling! I am a big squeezer of life. I couldn’t squeeze more out than I do.” Five marriages and a romantic life delicately described as “vivid” probably proves her point.
Desperate now, I turn to politics. She’s smart and opinionated, though when I say so she treats it as a slur. She’s said Donald Trump was an inspiration for her most famous character, Alexis in the 80s soap Dynasty.
“Are you a fan of Trump?”
“I don’t know.”
She was, for a time, a very public supporter of Ukip, wrote articles advocating Brexit, and has been quoted as saying “this tiny island” is going to “sink into the sea because of immigration”.
“Are you pleased with the way things are going in Britain?”
“I don’t know.”
I’ve been told I only have 40 minutes with Dame Joan but that’s beginning to feel like a fortnight. I ask her what she thinks about her father, who famously said she would be washed up at 23, now she’s still a star in her mid-80s.
“I’ve done well.”
It’s all down to exercise, she says, unbuttoning a fraction, and instructs me to do some “or you’ll be all bent over and won’t reach 80”. What exercises does she do? “I’m not going to tell you.”
A decided chill falls on the room. Finally, I ask her how she would like to be remembered. “As somebody who gave a lot of people a lot of pleasure.” “Of course,” I say. And with that, 20 minutes early, the audience is over.
The Time of Their Lives is in cinemas from 10 March