by Richard Barber
For Joan Collins, these are the days of high tide and green grass. The Dynasty decade that spawned international fame and homes in London, California and the South of France has been replaced by the current phase of more considered contentment.
Her three children — two daughters and a son — are settled and happy. She has been with Old Etonian art dealer Robin Hurlstone for almost ten years now. She has written three best-selling novels and a second volume of autobiography. Even now, she is back in California recording a clutch of guest appearances in Aaron Spelling’s new soap, Pacific Palisades. And to cap it all, she is still somewhat dazed, she says, at becoming the happy recipient of an OBE in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List, the investiture in March at Buckingham Palace one of the most cherished experiences in an extraordinary rollercoaster of a life. No wonder the celebrated beauty can claim — with some conviction — that these are the best years of her life.
We have met for lunch and Joan Collins is in buoyant mood. As well she might be.
She’s looking ravishing: the large green eyes have lost none of their sparkle in that perfect
heart-shaped face; the figure remains enviably trim; the zest for life is almost palpable.
It’s the question everyone asks, but just how does she explain her apparent gift of perpetual youth? She doesn’t hesitate. ‘It’s all in the genes,’ she says. ‘It’s from my parents.
My mother, who died of cancer when she was only 51, was a great beauty. My father, who lived into his late eighties, was terribly handsome. I think what I’ve inherited also — and my sister, Jackie, has it, too — is a tremendous energy.’
Incredibly, she has just celebrated her 64th birthday. Does she ever worry about the march of time? ‘Age is irrelevant,’ she says, and perhaps not for the first time, ‘unless, of course, you happen to be a bottle of wine.’
Joan Collins is her own best advertisement for positive thinking. ‘I feel very positive about getting older,’ she announces. ‘I don’t necessarily feel happy about it. It would be great to be 40 again but, since that’s impossible, I accept my age with as much good grace as I can muster. I also believe that, after a certain age, you get the face you deserve in life. The women of my age who look good are the ones with the right attitude. You can have all the money in the world, but still look dreadful if you're disappointed, or eaten up with jealousy
But for all this positive thinking, you don’t look sensational in your sixties simply because you want to. You have to work at it.
So how, exactly, does Joan Coffins continue to defy the march of time? ‘There is no substitute for doing sit-ups every day,’ she says ‘We’ve all got a spare tyre we want to get rid of — and I'm no exception. I also use small weights to keep my upper arms good and firm.
The one area of her body that seems to look after itself, she says, is her legs. ‘I regard them as my best feature. I danced a lot when I was younger, which kept them in good shape and they seem to have stayed that way. Each time I was pregnant I blew up like a balloon and yet still my legs remained slim. That's down to good fortune. I’ve never exercised obsessively — I’m not the type of person who wants to go for the perfect burn, as the Americans call it.’
Eating and drinking sensibly, however, are down to good management 'I went through a period after my divorce from my last husband, Peter Holm, when I was drinking a lot of champagne. I knew I was doing it at the time — don’t get me wrong — but I thought I could get away with it.’
She realises now that she was mistaken. ‘I look back at pictures of myself during that time and what I see staring back is rather a bloated, fat face. The drink had left its mark But then I was drinking a lot because I was unhappy. I’d just gone through another failed marriage. Now I eat and drink in moderation. I don’t believe in crash diets. I do believe in listening to your body.’
In the light of this clear-eyed view of her appearance and despite the highly-coloureds not to say well-documented, chapters in her private life — Joan Coffins is adamant she adheres to a strong set of personal values. Here she is, for instance, on fidelity: ‘I believe in it implicitly. Perhaps, when you’re in your twenties, the need for experimentation is more understandable because you don’t yet really know what — or who — you’re looking for. So maybe the same stringent rules don’t apply. But, when you finally find the person who you feel is right for you, I can find no justification for infidelity whatsoever.’
The superficial view of Joan Coffins as something of a social butterfly, jetting round the world drinking champagne and attending endless parties and premieres, takes a further knock when she talks (but only when asked) about her work for charity: ‘It has always involved children — whether it’s cruelty against them, injury through accident or whatever. My daughter, Katy, nearly died in a road accident when she was eight. From that time, I have worked in close association with the founders of CATCH!, a small charity dedicated to the care of children with handicaps.
‘I strongly believe children are our future. I also feel very strongly that children with handicaps have an equal role to play in society. We should therefore begin by treating them as equals and, even more importantly, making them and their families feel that they are equal.’
For all that, it’s not a fashionable charity. ‘No, it’s not. AIDS is very fashionable, but I won’t jump on that bandwagon simply because of that. I would like to do more for breast cancer, for instance, from which my mother died. So many more women die of that than any other illness. In the end, you must give your support to those causes that
you truly believe in.’
Away from acting, writing and this largely unpublicised charitable work, there is yet another string to Joan Collins’s bow: she has a highly successful eyewear collection which recently won an award in America from their professional association of opticians. ‘When you consider there are 20,000 new designs created each year,
that’s some achievement. My line has been going for nearly a dozen years and it’s growing all the time.’
All this activity has made Joan Collins a wealthy woman. How important is money in her life? ‘Pretty important,’ she says. ‘I think there’s nothing wrong with not having a lot of money when you’re young, because it can act as a spur. But having achieved a level of financial independence by a certain age, it can be very hard to lose it all — and I’ve seen that happen. Being young and poor is all right; being old and poor is not.’
So what are her biggest extravagances? ‘Travel,’ she says. ‘Without question. I always go first class. And because it’s difficult for me to walk through the streets, hail a taxi or jump on a bus, I always hire a chauffeur-driven car if I’m going somewhere in London or Paris or New York. In Los Angeles, I drive myself because you can almost always find somewhere to park.
‘I love the whole business of travel. I enjoy soaking up different cultures. I visited Buenos Aires not so long ago and everywhere I went I was followed by fans and paparazzi. In the end, I was smuggled out of my hotel in jeans and a semi-disguise and went and sat in the middle of what was the equivalent of Bond Street in London. For over an hour I sat in a cafe and simply watched and observed people going about their business. There’s no better way of learning about a place and its people.’
So, what of the future? Is she someone who plans her life — or is she a fatalist? ‘I suppose my ambition is to continue enjoying living a very good life. I’ve been quite careless in the past with what I’ve done with my life but I’ve tried hard not to repeat those mistakes. I would say I’m much more in control of my life now than I was, say, 15 years ago. I tended to let things just happen. Now, I know what I want to do.’
These, then, are the best years of her life? ‘Oh yes. Professionally speaking, I’m pleased that I no longer have to get up at the crack of dawn and go to work to ensure there’s enough money in the house. My children are happy and fulfilled: my daughter Tara is getting married this summer, my son Sacha is hard at work as a film-maker and painter — he’s just had his own extremely successful one-man exhibition in Los Angeles — and Katy is studying photography in London.’
And then there’s Robin. ‘I adore him,’ says Joan. ‘I love him unconditionally. He’s the best man who’s ever happened to me. I can’t imagine being with anybody other than Robin ever again.’
And this time, she’s learning from her past mistakes. ‘I’m playing it differently. Our life together is extremely private and close. Robin doesn’t want to be part of the paparazzi pack unlike some men in my past I could mention. He refuses to be one of Joan Coffins’s appendages. He is Robin Hurlstone, his own man. I respect him enormously for that. You won’t see pictures of him in the papers — that’s quite deliberate —
but there are zillions of photographs of Robin and me in my private albums because we spend a lot of time together. We are very much 100 per cent a couple.’
It has been a long journey that has brought the indestructible Joan Collins to this ultimate point of contentment. And throughout it all, she says, she has never forgotten something her mother said to her as she lay dying. ‘She was confined to bed by this stage,’ recalls Joan. ‘One day, she opened her eyes and looked at me. “Oh, darling,” she said, “you’re so easily led and so strong.” And, in that simple sentence, she summed me up perfectly. I know it sounds like a contradiction but, if I hadn’t been so strong, I’d have been destroyed a long time ago.
‘I have been easily led, no question, whether in matters monetary or matrimonial. I’ve never had particularly good judgment when it comes to placing my trust in the right people. My trouble is that I always see the best in everyone. Luckily, my father taught me about self-discipline and self-respect. He taught me that you get nothing in this world unless you earn it yourself; and I’ve earned every penny I’ve made. Nothing’s been given to me by any man, any husband, any lover.’
So, no regrets? ‘No, none. I don’t want to sound like Pollyanna, it’s just that I honestly consider myself very fortunate. And I intend to live a lot longer. But when the Grim Reaper finally comes to call, I want to be able to say, “OK, I’m ready now. It was a great life and I lived it to the hilt.”•