Simon Gage catches up at Claridges with Joan Collins and talks about movies, Dynasty, and being a gay icon
“You tell me and then I’ll tell you!” snaps Dame Joan Collins from her chair in a sort of private tea parlour in Claridges.
Well, not snaps exactly, snips maybe, if that’s a verb. It’s just that very clipped, 90 per cent posh English/10 per cent soft-consonant mid-A’lan’ic thing she has that makes you feel you’re always about three seconds away from getting a telling off. In my long interviewing career, I’ve done the A B C of celebs (that would be Adele, Beyoncé and Celine) and I’ve never felt nervous like this.
And just before we get into it, I should say that, even close up, Dame Joan is a show-stopping beauty at the age of 84. The hair, the skin, the teeth, the big gold lion-head earrings, the immaculate smart-but-sexy suit… pristine and sparkling with glamour and mischief from head to toe.
Anyway, we’re talking about why Dame Joan Collins is a gay icon (the previous question was “Did you know you were a gay icon?” which was greeted with that tinkling movie-star laugh and a “Yes! How could I not be aware?”). She wants me to start the ball rolling, maybe because she doesn’t want to give herself any credit I wouldn’t give her.
“Strength,” I tell her. “If you look at gay icons, there’s no wishy-washy. It’s all women who know their own minds…”
“Streisand,” she says, starting a list. “Shirley Bassey, Judy Garland… but she wasn’t strong. Is Doris Day a gay icon? A little too girl-next-door, right?”
Another reason for her gay icon-dom might be Alexis Colby Carrington, Dame Joan’s character from Dynasty, the high-powered, high-budget soap that revived her flagging career in the 1980s after her previous come-back in movie versions of her sister Jackie’s books, The Stud and The Bitch, which I ask if she regrets, bearing in mind they were fairly racy, lingerie-in-most-scenes super-soft porn… “No!” she snips back. “I think I look pretty good. And I did Playboy when I was 49 and said, ‘Right, this is the last time I do semi-nude pics…’”
“I think Steven was the first gay character on mainstream TV,” she says of her on-screen son in the soap. “And I wanted to show that I loved my gay son equally to the other two. Blake Carrington [Stephen’s mogul father] did not approve at all of his son’s lifestyle and made it perfectly clear. He was a bit like that in real life…” she says, mischievously, of John Forsythe who played the character of Blake. “Sssssh, he’s dead now. Mustn’t speak ill of the dead.” And she does one of those mouth-pulled-to-the-side cheeky looks of hers.
“Anyway, I think it’s very nice that I’m a gay icon,” she says, matter-of-factly. “I think all of my male friends are gay, come to think of it. I don’t have any single male friends that aren’t gay.”
One of those friends is, of course, Ivan Massow, super-successful entrepreneur, journalist and now gay dad. He was originally a friend of Joan’s daughter Tara, and he actually credits Joan with saving his life.
“Well, it was outrageous,” says Joan. “He came to stay with me and I went into the kitchen the next day and there were like eight bottles of wine and two bottles of vodka and I said, ‘You’ve drunk most of this!’”
“We were in the swimming pool and I gave him a lecture: I said, ‘You’re going to kill yourself. You can’t go on like this, it’s the most destructive thing!’ My third husband died because of drugs and drink, drugs mostly, and basically I told Ivan what I thought. I was amazed that he listened. Tough love is good sometimes.”
We’re actually here to talk about Joan’s latest film, The Time of Their Lives, where she stars as a washed-up actress living in an old people’s home who escapes to go to a movie mogul’s funeral in the south of France, hoping to re-connect with Hollywood and so revive her career. Pauline Collins as a downtrodden suburban housewife somehow gets dragged along for the ride.
“I’m an actress!” she announces when I mention that it was brave to let us see behind the perfect make-up/hair we are so used to from red carpets. “I don’t think it’s brave.”
In fact, she liked the role so much when she first read the script four years ago, that she decided she would get involved on the production side, raising money, casting… Celia Imrie was mooted for the role but Joan had worked with Pauline Collins before so that was a perfect fit.
As executive producers, it meant working with Percy Gibson, her husband of 15 years, but then that’s everyday for Dame Joan. “We’re together 24/7,” she says of the relationship, “and it works very well for us. We have our spats but we basically care enough about each other to forgive each other’s irritations.”
As I get up to go, she shows starts scrolling through her phone to show me a picture of her with a drag queen doing Alexis from Dynasty. Oh, you’re much better looking than him, I say.
“Well, I hope so!” she snips.
But you look great in the picture, I tell her.
“That’s the main thing!” she says, doing the cheeky side smile. “Looking good is the best revenge.”
The Time of Their Lives is out on DVD on 31 July