Primrose Hill Revisited – the complete book online - chapter thirty-four

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chapter thirty-four

If you ask me everything’s gone to ratshit since about 1980. Yes, I know some of you weren’t EVEN BORN then. Well, that’s your hard luck. Because you’ve never known GLAMOUR. It passed away sometime around Black Thursday — or was it Black Wednesday? — anyway, one of those Bad Hair days in the stock market in the ‘80s when the world as we knew it ended. Back then, to be a STAR, mere charisma and a degree in Media Studies was not enough. You also had to a) be good looking, b) know how to wear clothes, c) speak English properly, and d) tell a soupçon from a soup spoon. Now that every snotty-nosed school leaver is a TV presenter and every Sloane Street slut a Meeja Personality, Di is dead and Asprey’s has been bought by the Arabs, most people think glamour is getting pissed and dropping your drawers in a window seat at the local Slug and Lettuce. Now, where was I? Oh yes, 1980. Remember I told you I had that dreamy Jake O’Sullivan in the back of a limo once? Now that was glamorous. Did I mention that he invited me up to his hotel room? The Savoy, natch. The only slight hitch was he had his Constant Companion with him at the time, the lissome Lisa Lindstrom, whose legs started at about the top of my head.

He flew in on Concorde, of course. “What’s that?” did I hear a slow reader ask from the back of the room? It was an aeroplane, dear. It flew at about twice the speed of sound so while it moved you about it lengthened your life. You could arrive in New York before you left London and have breakfast meetings twice a day. And it was GLAMOROUS. That was in the days before Hello magazine, so to find out what celebrities were up to the masses used to flock to the arrival gate at Heathrow. I was there to interview Jake, but first Elton John and his entourage came along and the crowd went berserk. (Once upon a long time ago, I was sent to interview Elton John when he was just an unknown wannabe playing with a no-hope group called ‘Bluesology’. Shome mishtake shurely, I thought and after a good lunch and a fumble in my Filofax found myself instead interviewing a certain John Elton, who was the Chairman of Alcan Aluminium UK, to our mutual mystification.)

So when Jake and his seven-foot-tall animated Barbie Doll came through into the hall nobody noticed. And when I say ‘nobody’ I do mean ‘nobody’. She was a gargantuan middle-aged woman with what a charitable observer would call an unprepossessing manner. You and I would call her a FAT SLAG. A greasy, blond-streaked Afro surrounded her head like a second-hand halo and she wore a bulky jumper the colour of a vomited full English breakfast. All the other punters were gaping at Elton John and his camp followers, but FAT SLAG only had eyes for Jake O’Sullivan. She screamed and started to clamber over the barricade. And here’s my point. While she was grappling with the security guards, and showing every sign of being about to overpower them, J.O. gave her a smile (in my notes I recorded an astonished smile — at any rate it seemed really genuine) and a gracious little nod of recognition, AS IF HE ACTUALLY KNEW WHO SHE WAS! And she fainted dead away, bringing down two security men with her. That, children, was GLAMOUR.

The man has class. He invited me to join him in his stretch limo and so there I perched on a jump seat, the knees of my cargo trousers brushing THOSE KNEES all the way to the Savoy. He kept looking out the window, those flashing eyes alight, grinning like a grockle on a double-decker tour bus. And I didn’t get a single question in — because he was interviewing me, about everything that had changed in London in the past dozen years. Which was before my time in the Big Smoke, so I had to invent a little. The Barbie Doll had never been to London and wasn’t sure she’d like it, and to make sure she wouldn’t she kept her nose in an American fashion magazine. And then he invites me UP TO HIS SUITE and pours me a single malt whisky WITH HIS VERY OWN HANDS. The Barbie Doll meanwhile is posing by the window with an immense view of the hippest city in the world spread out at her feet, leafing through British Yin and consecutively lighting fags as if she’s entered some kind of Guinness Book of Records contest. Which gives me a slim ray of hope that in a few minutes she might die of accelerated lung cancer and leave me alone with the hunk. But I knew that as long as she was sentient she would tune in to every word that was said.

Now this was more than a quarter-of-a-century ago but I was at an impressionable age, so most of it is seared into my brain, and the rest I made up. (Well, I am a columnist, aren’t I?)

I sit as seductively as one can in a pair of £4.99 cargo pants from Top Shop and a T-shirt with ‘Frankie Goes to Hollywood’ written on it and turn on the gush. “So what advice could you give to a young person following in your footsteps today?

He laughs, showing those brilliant teeth and adorable little creases around the eyes. ”I wouldn’t advise that at all. They’d spend a lot of time going around in circles.”

Meanwhile Miss America starts wandering about puffing like the little engine that could, doing her nails, pouring herself a coffee, humming something tuneless — anything to attract attention to herself. Oh, you won’t believe this — it’s ‘I Did It My Way’, for God’s sakes.

I soldier on. “But you’ve had a meteoric career. You’re still only what — mid-thirties?”

I know damn well he’s thirty-seven. I didn’t get where I am today (as you can probably guess, still at my kitchen table, picking the caked sediment of a Domino Pizza from the interstices of my computer keyboard, squinting eyes raw from the chlorine fumes of the soiled nappy bucket the Crawling Scion has just tipped over) without doing some research. And — this is the kind of guy we’re dealing with — he tells me the truth.

“Bless you. Thirty-seven. But a Hollywood career is not a simple progression like climbing the ladder in any sensible profession. There are lots of snakes lurking about, too.”

“You mean, like critics?” You shouldn’t be witty to interviewees, because they like to make all the jokes, but I did want him to notice I WAS A WOMAN WITH A BRAIN.

He didn’t, particularly. He joins his hands behind his head so I know he’s launching into some practised speech that’s probably been printed in a dozen articles, so I know I can ignore it and think about having him in my shower instead. “You know that children’s board game, ‘Snakes and Ladders?’ It’s a perfect metaphor for a career in films. Maybe for life in general. So much depends on the random throw of the dice. One day you get lucky. You get offered a good script. You meet a producer with taste, intelligence and money.”

At the mention of these desiderata Herself wafts by in a cloud of smoke and fondles him. “Or a beautiful, talented actress,” he reacts on cue. After all, he used to be an actor. He holds her hand briefly and presses it to his lips (ugh! - think of the nicotine odours) before she drifts on through her personal mist. Shall I compare thee to a summer miasma, thinks I, emerging somewhat damp from my shower fantasy.

Meanwhile he’s still stuck on his metaphor. “You climb up the ladder. The next throw of the dice, somebody pulls the plug on a project. Down you slide into the snakepit. Where nobody returns your calls.”

Time to suck up. I bet she doesn’t give him any of this kind of massage. “But it’s not just luck, is it?” fawns I. “You would never have got to the top without bags of talent and dedication and personality.”

“That and a thousand dollars worth of dental work will get you a job parking cars in Hollywood.”

“So, it it’s all a game of chance, what’s your advice to young people starting out in the film industry?

“Play with loaded dice. Seize every opportunity. Even if it belongs to somebody else. That’s how I got my start. Because someone cut a deal for me. Someone very smart and practical.”

“And very cynical.”

“Oh, no. She was one of those rare people who actually enhance life. But she knew the score.”

I checked out the lovely Lisa. Sure enough, this OTHER WOMAN IN THE PAST was going down like a DIY hysterectomy. He, being a man, didn’t notice. Or — fond hope surged in my breast — didn’t give two figs? “Listen, there’s a thousand wannabees in California alone that can put ‘bags of talent, dedication and personality’ on their resumé.”

“Resumé?”

“Oops, that’s American.”

“French,” I chastised with a smirk, trailing my linguistic sophistication before him like a trace of musk.

He just smiled. “C.V. is what you say over here.”

“You actually got your start here in England.”

He gave me that charming grin. “I speak both languages”.

“In the London theatre.”

He nodded, so I cut to the chase. “And has it come full circle? The rumour is that you’ve come back to direct a stage play.”

“That’s all a bit vague just now. I can’t really tell you anything about it.”

“But Sir Stephen Gurney is involved, isn’t he?” (In those days he was London theatre.)

He tried to wriggle out. “I am going to meet him, but basically I’m here on vacation — holiday — to show Lisa around.” This was her cue to emerge from the vapours, sit down beside him and take his hand.

“Wasn’t it Sir Stephen who gave you your opportunity in Hollywood?”

Wrong gambit! His mouth puckers as if I’d just offered to give him a root canal job without Lignocaine. “I guess you could say that, in a way.”

He’s vulnerable here, thinks I, and poise for my rapier thrust, when Aphrodite Airhead chooses precisely that moment to display. ”This is all too boring for words.” She actually ASSAULTS ME, laying a hand on my knee. “Your readers will fall asleep over their tea and crumpets.” She wags her BIG HAIR at Jake. ”Why don’t you tell her, honey?”

He’s grumpy. “Nothing’s settled.”

“So, it’s gossip,” she trills, placing that treacherous kitten’s paw on MY SHOULDER. “That’s what you want, isn’t it, hon.” She’s winking at me, so I suppose I’m Honey as well as he. He meanwhile, looks like he’d like to put Duck Tape (that’s what the phonetically-challenged Americans call Duct Tape) across her flapping red lips. And of course she drives him off the sofa, just when my knees were about to touch his. He gets up and pours himself a drink while she settles down for a girlish tête-à-tête-cum-pawing session.

“Jake has written a play,” she confides through me to the world. “About when he lived in London. Coming of age. And Sir Stephen wants to put it on.”

Jake O. speaks through a mouthful of nails: “He’s expressed interest, is all.”

“He adores it,” she interprets. “It’s called ‘Primrose Hill’. Somewhere up in north London? And there’s a part in it for me. One of the love interests.”

He shrugs. “Absolutely nothing is settled yet.”

“Only I don’t get to get the guy.” She gets up and wraps herself around him. “Which is all right with me. So long as I’ve got him in real life.”

This terrible actress is, I divine, trying to tell me something cutesy. “So, you have some gossip for me about your personal life?”

She gives me a gruesome, coy smile. “What’s London famous for?”

I play dumb. “Theatre? The Tower? Carnaby Street?”

“I’m talking Bond Street.” She thrusts her hand out, extending her ring finger. It is unadorned. “There’s lots of jewellery shops in Bond Street.”

“So you’re engaged? You’ve hooked the most eligible bachelor in Hollywood?”

She fluttered her eyes towards Jake, who was standing with his back towards her, looking out the window. “Let’s just say engaged to be engaged.”

This seemed to be news to him, because he turned right testy. “The only engagement we have is for dinner tonight. And it’s time to get ready. Can we bring the interview to a close?”

So, just after I got the CELEBRITY SCOOP that nearly ended my career, I got shown the door. I footled about in the hall for a while, pretending to search through my handbag while I put my ear to the door. Well, actually it was safer to stand a couple of feet away. Because that door was RATTLING with the high-pitched hysteria of Lisa Lindstrom. Nothing I could print in this Family Newspaper. But in terms of domestic equilibrium, well off the Richter scale. I know she’s not getting the parts these days, Poor Thing, but there’s a job for her any morning at Billingsgate. Jake O., dear lamb, didn’t say a word.