When Michael Buerk interviewed Dame Joan Collins about her age and wealth, her reaction was icier than Siberia. Here, dripping with Vitriol, she takes revenge on an ‘ageist misogynist’.
By Joan Collins
To quote Britney Spears’s immortal words: ‘Oops! I did it again.’ I put my foot in it this week because I said that I’m not wealthy or, to be exact, not as wealthy as wealthy people are nowadays.
But I’m not going to moan about it. As Alexis Carrington, my alter ego in the hit Eighties TV series Dynasty, would say: ‘Regrets are for dinner parties.’
It’s true, I do not suffer fools gladly. And sometimes it gets me into trouble — especially when some man patronises me with that ‘Haven’t you done well, little woman’ attitude and immediately asks why I’m not retired or ‘putting my feet up’ or some such archaic nonsense.
You will have deduced that I’m referring to 71-year-old Michael Buerk — Buerk by name, Buerk by nature — who stitched me up royally this week in an interview for the Radio Times.
The interview — which I agreed to do to promote my new film, The Time Of Their Lives, about a woman who escapes from a retirement home to attend the funeral of a former lover — was meant to discuss the broader theme of the movie. Namely, spirited women undefined by age.
Clearly, it’s a subject Michael Buerk struggles with. For when he asked me what drives me, he could not resist the snide remark: ‘After, all, you’re rich.’
His misinformed harping has since triggered an outbreak of scorn, mocking my statement that being rich is having enough money to say ‘F*** you’ to the world and claiming that, since I have £24 million in the bank, I should eat less caviar, sell my furs, seek financial advice or give up all my wealth and become, as the Saviour said, richer for being poorer.
All helpful advice, I admit, except for one fatal flaw: I do not have £24 million in the bank. If I did, I’d have all the ‘F*** you’ money I’d need and perhaps, just perhaps, I’d reconsider my attitude towards enjoying working.
But anyway, that’s all pie in the sky because I don’t have it, not even a fraction of it, and the erroneous belief that I have royalties streaming in from Dynasty and my other pursuits is frankly laughable.
I admit I have done well — for a ‘little woman’. I am property rich. I have four beautiful homes in St Tropez, London, Los Angeles and New York, and I count myself very lucky. That’s it. Property costs money to maintain so I’ve worked to support bricks and mortar.
Have I been lucky? Yes. Have I worked hard? Yes. Should I be scorned and ridiculed for doing well? I would say that here the country is split, just like Brexit.
Thomas Edison said: ‘Genius is one per cent inspiration and 99 per cent perspiration.’ And it’s true. It’s hard work that keeps a career spanning over six decades.
As for the money I’ve made, I earned it myself, and saved it and invested it.
I didn’t inherit it; I wasn’t given it in a divorce settlement; I didn’t even raid a pension plan.
What I did not do, which so many of my fellow thespians have done, was employ an army of press agents, business managers, theatrical mangers, stylists and security guards, who soon suck the life out of whatever salary you earn.
My brother works hard, my sister worked hard, my father worked hard, so what exempts me?
Not all the ‘F*** you’ money in the world.
I intend to depart this world, like the fabled general, with my boots on. I hope the British state is happy that I’m not a burden on them and that I continue to employ people and contribute to the economy.
It’s frankly embarrassing to have to divulge my finances publicly like this, but given the whopper of the lie, I’d better before Chancellor Philip Hammond comes knocking on my door.
It’s also downright unacceptable to have to defend my continued desire to work.
Not that I’m comparing myself to the Queen, but who would dare say to Her Majesty: ‘You’ve done enough now, dear, why don’t you put your feet up, relax and enjoy your success?’
Surely the guillotine would be swiftly oiled up and come down upon their neck.
It’s as if being old is as bad as having an infectious disease and I’m simply not going to accept that. Yet I am asked that question every single time I give an interview, and I think it conceals an insidious undercurrent of ageism and misogyny.
Incidentally, Mr Buerk has some history with misogyny. In 2014, the BBC had to apologise for his comments on the Ched Evans rape case when he criticised the female accuser of the footballer, who was later acquitted.
In 2005, he asserted in the Radio Times that ‘the shift in the balance of power between the sexes’ had gone too far and we need to ‘admit the problem’ that men are now little more than ‘sperm donors’.
I can smell a chauvinist a mile away. Always have. In the heyday of Dynasty, when I thought I deserved a pay rise, I marched into producer Aaron Spelling’s office and put a figure in front of him. ‘I can’t pay you that!’ he said flabbergasted. ‘Why not?’ I replied. ‘I’m worth it.’
‘Because I’d be paying you more than John Forsythe [the male lead in the show]. He’s an actor and you’re only an actress,’ he retorted.
So, I went on ‘strike’ and stirred up an immense amount of flak, which cemented my reputation as a ‘diva’ and a ‘bitch’ and all the other pejorative terms that men, and sometimes women, bandy about when they feel threatened by someone who sticks up for themselves.
But I stuck to my guns and finally won — though it was something of a Pyrrhic victory as my rise triggered a contractual bump in John Forsythe’s salary, which he, understandably, was thrilled about.
I never achieved parity with John, and it’s something that sadly continues to exist today between actors and actresses.
As for the criticism that older actresses attract, if I had a farthing — and here I am getting ahead of all the predictable jokes about the monetary currency in my lifetime — for every time someone comes up to me and says grudgingly ‘You still look so good!’ or querulously ‘Are you still working?’ or even ‘My grandmother still admires you’, then I’d have enough ‘F*** you’ money to say ‘F*** you’.
But I don’t and besides I wouldn’t, because I know they mean well. So, I just smile and say thank you.
But when someone like Mr Buerk compares the date of my birth with the rise of Hitler to power and says that I’ve spent a ‘quarter of a century . . . being a pensioner’ (which I’m not, by the way. I don’t receive a penny of pension), you don’t have to be a genius to know what they mean.
It’s easy to make fun of older people. It’s rife with potential and one of the last refuges of the politically incorrect. But it is ironic that Mr Buerk feels the need to do so when discussing a movie about second chances in life after a certain age. The Time Of Their Lives has a life-affirming and hopeful message yet he dismisses it as ‘oldies-on-the-lam’. God save me from grumpy old men, the only ageist cliche I will support.
Perhaps that’s the problem: despite being a 71-year-old himself, Mr Buerk feels the need to demean a woman for being vital and happy in later life because what’s good for the gander is not to be touched by the goose.
Time and time again this attitude finds itself insidiously prevalent.
Men regularly marry someone younger than them without a peep being said, work into their 90s or continue to have sex and sire children well into their dotage. It doesn’t seem fair to me.
After all, as Sophie Tucker said: ‘20 goes into 80 a lot easier than 80 goes into 20’. And she was the ‘last of the red hot mammas’. Not bad for a ‘little woman’.