Outspoken, outrageous and back on the road, Hollywood icon Joan Collins lets rip on her friendship with Donald Trump and why she hates British TV (except Poldark!)
Trump? A good looking guy who inspired my Alexis on Dynasty. British TV ? No thanks (unless it’s Poldark). My own-brand wigs? Yes, I wear them…they’re great! Back out on the road for one last time, Dame Joan Collins lets rip
Donald Trump needs all the friends he can get as he fights to win over American voters, but the outspoken candidate for president has an unlikely fan in Dame Joan Collins. ‘I based Alexis on ‘a businessman like Donald Trump,’ she says, describing her most iconic character, the ice queen of the Colbys in the gloriously over-the-top soap Dynasty. ‘She was tough and uncompromising, using her sexuality to manipulate people. I met Donald with [his former wife] Ivana, who is still a very good friend of mine. And he was a very good-looking guy.’
The controversial Republican candidate was a buccaneering businessman back in the Eighties when Alexis was created, but now he is challenging for the White House.
So how exactly was he an inspiration? ‘I used Donald more in what he did, how he worked, and how he was building his empire, than his sexuality. I didn’t know about that a lot, but I know that he liked beautiful women, blondes.
‘Alexis was a mixture of him and one of my best girlfriends, who sadly died shortly afterwards. Cappy Badrutt was a jet-setting… not a nymphomaniac, exactly, but she liked the boys, always went for the ones that were rich, which I had never done. She was very beautiful – all her clothes were couture, she wore loads of furs and diamonds.’
This is just one of the many astonishing stories Collins has to share as she heads out on the road with a one-woman show, telling tales of her days as a Hollywood star, one of the few remaining survivors of the golden age of the movies, as well as her spectacular triumph in Dynasty. She’ll talk about her extraordinary life – including five husbands and four divorces – because Collins is getting ready to say goodbye.
‘This will be my last tour,’ the Legendary star reveals. ‘So if anyone wants to see me, they had better come now.’
Collins is Hollywood royalty and looks positively regal as she glides across the lobby of a luxury hotel in the South of France in white Chanel dress slashed with black stripes, wearing huge sunglasses and a wide, floppy hat.
‘How lovely to see you,’ she drawls in a voice halfway between Beverly Hills and Buckingham Palace, and the lady owner of the hotel is so overcome at the presence she almost curtsies.
Collins’ fifth husband Percy, makes sure we are settled on the terrace then disappears off as discreetly as a man can in a bright Hawaiian shirt. She sets her phone to record, being wary of the press, and does not respond well to the suggestion that she is giving up one-woman shows because of her age. ‘Age is an over-rated subject. I really do believe you are as old as you look, feel and act.’
So is it the thought of having to endure all those dreary theatre dressing rooms from Brighton up to Crewe? She has been synonymous with luxury since Leonard Rossiter chucked his Cinzano Bianco all over her in first-class airline seats in the classic advertisements of the Seventies. ‘I don’t mind the dressing rooms. I could get my make-up and hair done under that table over there,’ says this life-long performer, who first appeared on stage as a child during wartime. ‘I just feel I don’t want to do it again. This will be it.’
Is that partly because she has become more keenly aware of her own mortality since the loss of her younger sister Jackie, the novelist, to breast cancer last year? ‘Yes. One would be stupid not to think about it. So you prepare your will, you think about your children and your grandchildren.’
Presumably she has a large pile of cash to leave them? ‘I don’t. All of my money went into property. I don’t have any significant savings. I don’t need to keep working – I can always sell a property, but I enjoy working if it is the right thing.’
They don’t necessarily need her money, she says. ‘Sacha is a very successful painter. My daughter Tara [a TV presenter] is doing very well. They also have a very good trust fund from their father Anthony Newley, because he wrote 15 or 20 amazing songs.’ Oddly, it’s only later that I realise that she doesn’t mention Katyana, her daughter by the record company boss Ron Kass.
At this stage in her career Collins doesn’t need to worry about money, but she is clearly trying to take care of her legacy.
That’s why she published her autobiography a few years ago and is going out on tour.
‘People can ask me about anything,’ she says. But what if audience members ask her more personal questions, about things like drugs, for example?
‘I hate drugs! I am vehement against drugs! All kinds of drugs. What are they going to ask me? “Have you ever tried heroin?” No.’ How about cocaine? ‘Once.’ She was forced to take it at a nightclub opening in St Tropez, only a few miles from here, in the Sixties, but insists she never did so again.
She’ll willingly talk about her five husbands: the actor Maxwell Reed, who she says raped her before they were married (they lasted four years); the actor and songwriter Anthony Newley (seven years); Ron Kass (11 years, although they remained close until his early death); the Swedish singer Peter Holm (less than two years); and film producer Percy Gibson, who will be the master of ceremonies for the stage show and who has lasted the longest at 14 years.
‘We are best friends. We argue of course, bickering and banter. What do we argue about? You’re driving too fast. You’ve got to stop smoking. Why are you still on the phone? Nothing things, that husbands and wives bicker about.’
They go everywhere together and today we’re going to get a rare glimpse of the life they lead away from the cameras, whether it’s sitting in the garden of their villa near St Tropez with a glass of something chilled watching a meteorite shower, as they did last night, or lounging on the sofa like a couple from Gogglebox with a good box set.
‘I don’t watch a lot of British TV because I don’t really like what’s on offer, but first thing in the morning I watch the news. Then, when it gets on to Jeremy Kyle I put on MTV, music. I’ll exercise to it. I don’t watch TV during the day, and at night we’ll go back to the news then watch a box set. Ray Donovan, or the Jennifer Lopez thing Shades Of Blue – it’s very good. And I love Poldark.’
She always turns the television on first thing in the morning – it’s a compulsion. ‘I don’t like that empty screen staring at me.
|With Sacha & Tara in 1966
‘I woke up today at 10am. I had a bath, I washed my hair. I had some coffee and got here at 11.30. I put on my make-up because I have my own cosmetics line.’
She also sells Joan Collins wigs, which are surprisingly cheap at just £39 for the ‘St Tropez edition’, with its headband, tumbling black curls and the promise ‘to give you a new way of presenting yourself to the world’.
There are numerous other variations with glitzy names like the Emerald, the Katyana and the Alexis. Does she really wear those wigs? ‘I’m not wearing one now,’ she says icily, as I get a flash of the withering put-downs that made her so formidable on screen. On second glance, the shoulder-length hair under that huge hat is dyed black, but definitely real, as I tell her awkwardly before trying to save face by complimenting the hair she does have. ‘Yeah, but I’m very lazy about my hair. And I think that a woman has to make a decision: she either works on her face or her hair. All my girlfriends, they all work on the hair. They blow-dry it. I don’t even know how to use a blow-dryer,’ she says regally.
There’s still a stigma about wigs though, isn’t there? ‘This is what’s so weird to me. I mean, look at 80 per cent of actresses and models. You think all that long cascading hair is real? They all wear extensions. All of them. So I don’t understand why there isn’t a stigma about extensions when there is about wigs. It’s so much easier – you just put them on. Mine are great.’
|Anthony Newley & Joan in 1963
How many has she got in real life? ‘Four or five. But I don’t use them in real life, which is like now. If I’m going out to dinner I will either go to the hairdresser’s, which takes two hours, or I will wear a hat or I will wear a wig. I like the way it looks.’
So she does wear them, although it is probably too hot today in St Tropez. She asks for water, which arrives in a carafe with ice, but Collins is not satisfied. ‘Is it from the bottle? Evian?’ The waiter replaces the water without a word. Collins looks from the bottle to the glass and then to me. ‘Pour me some,’ she purrs, and it is an order.
She wonders why I’m so fascinated by her off-duty life and I say it’s reassuring to people to hear that even she looks a state sometimes. ‘Well then, they will be very reassured to go and see my new film The Time Of Their Lives and see how ghastly I look. Did you see the photograph of me in the Co-op in front of the lettuces?’
Google it. She’s seen walking down the aisle in her new film in flat shoes, thick socks, a dowdy mac and a headscarf, using a walking stick. She has just finished an exhausting six-week shoot with Pauline Collins (no relation, of Shirley Valentine fame). Collins plays an elderly former Hollywood star now stuck in a retirement home who escapes to the funeral of the man she loved half a century before.
‘I wanted to play her with no make-up, but the director wanted her with a bit of make-up, badly done. I wear a tacky old wig, which is terribly old and much too harsh. I look terrible.’ That’s daring for someone who has worked so hard to personify Hollywood glamour.
That is something we may have forgotten over the years, with all the glamour and the gossip-column inches. Dame Joan Collins, honoured with the title last year for her services to charity, is now setting out to remind us of her skills in films and on stage.
The daughter of a dance teacher and a theatrical agent, she trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and signed to Rank Studios at the age of just 17. Five years later the legendary Hollywood director Howard Hawks (The Big Sleep) chose her for Land Of The Pharaohs, a big-budget epic.
She fled England for Hollywood in the middle of a divorce from her first husband, Maxwell Reed. ‘My first nasty divorce,’ she calls it now, although she’s had plenty of other bad marriages, from the womanising Anthony Newley to Ron Kass, who allegedly siphoned off her earnings, and Peter Holm, whom she called ‘a sociopath’.
Collins appeared on television shows like Batman and Star Trek and made a couple of movies called The Stud and The Bitch, based on her sister’s books, while married to Kass, but her big comeback was playing Alexis the super-schemer in Dynasty from 1981-89. ‘I was forgotten. They didn’t know who I was. ABC wanted Sophia Loren or Elizabeth Taylor.’ She joined in the second series and rescued Dynasty. ‘The show went from almost being cancelled to the top of the ratings and everybody said, “It’s because of you!”’
So given she based Alexis on Trump, will she be supporting him for the presidency, as Saga magazine recently reported? ‘I’m absolutely neutral, I will not say who I support, Hillary or Trump. I want a strong leader of the free world. But that could be Hillary. She’s very strong.’
But what of her politics? Does she regret coming out so strongly in favour of Brexit before the referendum? ‘Well, what do you mean by strongly?’ she snaps again. I wasn’t going around with badges on, if that’s what you mean. Or baseball caps. How did I support it?’
Well, for example, by posting a tweet with union flags and thumbs-up emojis saying: ‘The journey of 1,000 miles begins with the first step.’ Or by saying ‘this tiny island’ is ‘going to sink into the sea’ because of immigration.
She frowns. ‘Did I say that? I didn’t say the word immigration. I said, “with too many people”. You’re getting me on a subject now that I said I wasn’t going to discuss.’
Joan with sister Jackie in 1974.
Yes I am, because a lot of people feel misled by those who campaigned for Brexit and I wonder if she is one of them.
‘Well I don’t. Nothing’s really happened has it? Since Brexit I have been completely dedicated to this movie. It’s not that easy to work for 12 hours a day and learn between two and six pages of dialogue at night, so I haven’t really thought a lot about what has happened. We have a new Prime Minister, who seems OK, but why would we regret something that hasn’t happened yet?’
This may not be a good time to mention a previous controversy in her career, The Stud. The movie she made as a comeback in 1978 was astonishingly daring for its time, an erotic story in which she has sex in a lift then on a swing over a swimming pool. The Stud looks tame now, which only goes to show how much more explicitly sex is shown on the movie screen these days, because of what else is available online.
‘I don’t watch porn, but I’ve heard that it is so vile, and the things they do are so abhorrent. The movies today have to compete.’ She is scathing about modern movies and the damage they do. ‘Guns, blood, explosions, noise. That’s why we have so many knife and gun crimes because of these movies and computer games. These young men who commit crimes are always hooked on computer games.’
Bizarrely, she then rounds on another sensation of our age. ‘Look at this Pokémon thing. Already three people have been killed, going over the edge of a cliff or something. I talked to my young grandchild in New York. Her face lit up. ‘You know about Pokémon Go?’ I said, “Yes Ava, and can you believe we had one outside our house?”’
Yes, she has made a living from acting for nearly 70 years now, even if the most compelling character she has created has been that of the public Joan Collins herself. And as she departs I am reminded of something Alexis once said in Dynasty: ‘I’m what I am, and that’s why I’m where I am. Don’t you ever forget that.’
If Collins has her way, with the tour, the book and the film, we never will.