Celebrated British actress Joan Collins tells Danny Scott about her life in the limelight.
…how warm and tender my mother Elsa was
How much she cared about her children and how happy she was to be a wife and mother. But she was very strict about manners and diet: eat your greens and sweets only as a treat. She was in charge of everything in our home in Bayswater [London]—a domestic goddess.
…the house was always full of singers, actors and comedians
My father Joe was a theatrical agent; and my grandmother Hettie, a singer and dancer who entertained the troops in the Boer War. I suppose showbiz was in my blood. But Dad was dead set against me going into the “profession”. He said that most of the people he knew were “vulgar, common and course”. He was worried that I’d end up just like them!
…appearing on stage for the very first time
Despite my father’s reservations—he wanted me to go to secretarial school and find a husband—I pestered my parents so much that I was eventually enrolled at the Cone-Ripman theatrical school in London aged around 12 in 1945. We did acting, singing and dancing, and I loved it! One day, I was told that I’d been picked for a role in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House at the Arts Theatre in London. I was going to be on stage! I suppose that was the start of it all.
…going to Hollywood
I made my first British movie at 17 [The Woman’s Angle] after a year and a half at RADA. Then, at 20, I was whisked off to Hollywood [Joan’s first American film was The Virgin Queen]. I arrived at the end of the golden era; the gilt was just beginning to tarnish, but it still seemed incredibly glamorous. Suddenly, I was meeting people like Bob Hope, Lana Turner and Marilyn Monroe.
My favourite was Gene Kelly. I’d always loved his films and when I met him, he was so wonderful to me. He sort of took me under his wing and used to invite me to his house. There I was, chatting to Gene, Marlon Brando and Paul Newman. Looking back, it seems absolutely incredible, but at the time I just thought it was perfectly natural. I was an actress and this is what actresses do.
…my agent called me and said, “do you want to be in Dynasty?”
I said, “What’s Dynasty?” Back then, I was a jobbing actress and the show was just another gig. I found out that Sophia Loren and Elizabeth Taylor had turned down the role of Alexis Carrington, but I read a script and thought, Yeah, this sounds like fun. For my career, it was a total game-changer. I seemed to be flavour of the month for the rest of the 1980s.
…Alexis’s look was something that I created
At first, they wanted to dress her in little suits with Peter Pan collars, short hair and a beret, which didn’t feel right to me. I got a Golden Globe for the role in 1983, which I was obviously thrilled about, but I was at a party with my friend Billy Wilder and he said to me: “Joan, awards are like haemorrhoids. Eventually, every a**hole gets one!”
…getting married five times, but finally getting it right
I first met Percy [Gibson, a theatre manager] in 2000 at a book signing and we became friends long before anything occurred between us. To be honest, neither of us was looking for romance, but it just sort of happened. I was worried a bit at first, but those worries didn’t last.
The age gap? Look, once people get towards their 50s [Percy is 48; Joan is 80], they more or less all end up on the same path. Percy and I (left) share the same outlook on life—he is my soulmate. Just the other night, we sat in watching a Breaking Bad box set and I thought to myself, Being with him feels so right.
...Working with Elizabeth Taylor on her last film
We didn’t know it at the time, but Those Old Broads in 2001, with Debbie Reynolds and Shirley MacLaine, turned out to be her final outing. She wasn’t well—she had to be helped and held up a lot of the time. But what a trouper! She just got on with the job.
If you read some of those inaccurate biographies out there, you’ll see that, as a youngster, I was touted as the “new Elizabeth Taylor”. Not true. If anything, I was supposed to be Britain’s answer to Ava Gardner. The critics said I was exotic, smouldering and sexy. They called me a “coffee bar Jezebel”.
…poking fun at myself in the recent Snickers advert
Look, if I don’t send up Joan Collins—The Diva—then somebody else will. I wanted to get in there first. I always have a lot of fun doing adverts. Some people may remember the Cinzano ones I did in the 1970s and 80s, with Leonard Rossiter. I didn’t find this out until after he died, but apparently Leonard used to refer to me as “the prop”. As soon as it was time for filming, he’d say, “Where is she? Bring on the prop.”
…falling in love with Saint-Tropez
I first went to the south of France when I was 15. I stayed with my Aunt Lalla and Uncle Godfrey in Cannes and just adored the climate, the food, the people…everything. Then in the 1970s, I went to Saint-Tropez, which I liked so much that I decided to buy a house there. I’m actually about 20 minutes outside the town, in a small village surrounded by mountains and looking out over that beautiful blue sea. A lot of my life is about cities and hustle and bustle, but when I’m there, I feel far away from all of that. It’s a place where I find peace.
…deciding to launch my own skincare range
It’s something I’ve thought about many times since the Dynasty days. I guess I’ve been in so many make-up chairs over the years that I eventually realised how important make-up and skincare are to a woman’s armoury. I never leave the house without my “slap”.
My range is for any woman who wants to look good when they’re older. Sadly, that’s a concept which has been much maligned over the years. But women have been using make-up and looking after their skin for thousands of years. Surely it’s nothing to be ashamed of? I mean, Cleopatra used to bathe in asses’ milk.