Interviewed by Sue Leonard.
Published in The Irish Examiner, 8th November, 2008.
When I was asked if I’d like to have lunch with Jackie Collins, my first thought, was ‘what will I wear?’ My second was a fear that she’d be a true diva; and that the conversation would dry before desert.
I wasn’t the only one feeling nervous that Saturday; the waitress who showed us to the lush gold seated alcove in The Shelbourne Hotel’s Saddle room, was in such a dither, that she assured us the setting was ‘romantic.’
“We don’t need romantic,” drawled Jackie.
Jackie looks great. I’d been told not to ask her age; and you’d never guess she was born in 1937. Her dark hair is thick and lustrous; her skin plump. She doesn’t have that stretched, expressionless mask that comes from too much ‘work’; her smile reaches her eyes; and her sultry laugh sounds genuine. I like her.
As we examine the menu, and decide on ‘gin and tonic salmon with Champ,’ we gossip. We discuss men; and particularly the two leads in Jackie’s new Hollywood blockbuster, Married Lovers. I loved the loyal, put upon Ryan. She’s in love with Don; a chat show host who is rather trickier.
“I’m bringing him back,” she tells me. “There is, definitely, going to be a sequel.”
We talk about our daughters. We each have three, and agree that our children are our best achievement. We discuss our Labradors. There are three in the book; and Jackie owns two. And, of course, we discuss sex.
“Men have this huge myth that women have to care about a man to have sex,” she says. “It is quite ridiculous! A woman can feel just as interested in sex as a man; and not want to see the man again the next day.”
Jackie has written an astonishing 26 books. She’s sold over 400 million copies. She’s also written screenplays, and produced films and mini-series. She wrote her first book in 1969; and it bothers her that, later, she got lumped in with the sex and shopping novels of the eighties.
“I never wrote sex and shopping. Hollywood Wives was about women who shop lifted. It was completely different. I am a storyteller and I don’t follow trends. I was writing before them. And I am writing after they have all way gone.
“They were writing cynically, and that doesn’t work. When Hollywood Wives came out a lot of Hollywood women said, ‘that is a book I could have written.’ I said ‘Why didn’t you?’ People don’t realise the slog of writing, and the sheer work of keeping the books out there.”
Jackie’s first novel exploded the myth of the double standard.
“All the books I read were by men. And all the women were in the kitchen or the bedroom. It was sex or cooking. I wanted my women to be really strong. It annoyed me that in a Harold Robbins book the woman would have an orgasm just looking at a guy. It was ‘no, no no. This is not right.
“I was way ahead of my time. When The World is Full of Married Men came out, an MP in England took out a half page in a Sunday Newspaper saying, ‘this is the most shocking book I have ever read.’ It was number one within two weeks. And I’ve never looked back,” she says, touching wood.
“I was on the Terry Wogan show with Barbara Cartland,” says Jackie with a chuckle. “She was all in pink and had a light between her knees which shone up at her face. She said, ‘Miss Collins is responsible for all the perverts in England.’ And I said, ‘oh thank you.’ What do you say? It was like being on a show with the Queen Mother.”
Jackie has always wanted to write. Expelled from her London school for truancy,
“and for waving at the resident flasher and saying, ‘cool day today isn’t it?” she joined her big sister Joan in Hollywood, acting, but thinking of herself as an out of work writer. “It was Hollywood or reform school,” she chuckles.
“I wrote stories from the age of eight. I wanted to be a journalist, but I was never encouraged. Everyone said, ‘you can’t be a writer or a journalist without having a degree.’ Hollywood was wonderful research.”
Jackie’s first husband was into drugs. Her second was twenty years older than her. An amazing man, he encouraged her.
“I had all these half finished novels stacked up. I’d write half, and think, ‘I am enjoying this book but I have a better idea.’ Subconsciously, I thought they would never get published so what was the point?
“My husband read one and said, ‘you are a great storyteller. You have to finish this.’ He was the first person in my life to say, ‘you can do it.’”
Passionate about writing, Jackie has an incredible work ethic. She writes six- sometimes seven days a week; she undertakes painstaking research; for Married Lovers she talked to prostitutes in Amsterdam; and to battered wives in Canada.
She’s a publicist’s dream. She toured 26 American cities in a bus to promote Married Lovers; she’s been to Moscow. After our lunch she’s taking time out with her daughters; but she’s also going to update the blog for her, excellent, website.
When she’d nursed her second husband through terminal cancer, Jackie lived happily with a fiancée, until he, too died of cancer. Still living in Los Angeles, she is now, happily single.
“I have a man for every occasion. I have one who likes to go dancing; one who likes the cinema. I have constant friends and live like a bachelor. I am never lonely. I write better when there is nobody to disturb me. My life is fantastic.”
Reports that Jackie doesn’t get on with her sister Joan are, she says, not true.
“We’re great friends. We had dinner, in London, this week. She helped me when I’d left school, and I paid her back, years later, when her career was flat on the floor. I wrote her a screenplay based on ‘The Stud’ for nothing; got the movie made, and the late Erin Spelling, who saw it, took the character for Alexis in Dynasty. Our success has been equal.”
Jackie polishes off her salmon; she compliments the chef; says she loved the champ, but declines a desert. Drinking green tea, she says she’s health conscious, but absolutely not obsessed.
“I swim at home. I have an enormous gym, but it’s at the other end of my huge house. By the time I get there I’m too exhausted to work out,” she says, laughing.
Jackie can’t imagine a life without writing. She’s planned her next three books and is also writing a play. What, though, is the message of Married Lovers.
“The message of this, and of all my books is to be stronger as a woman. The fitness instructor, Cameron has left her abusive husband, and that was not easy. She left in the middle of the night and has set up her own business. Women should always be stronger. My books have been around for a long time, and that message is always relevant.”
Married Lovers by Jackie Collins is published by Simon and Schuster at 14.99 euro.
© Sue leonard. 2008.