When you think of the original diva, one lady came before Mariah, Cher, Céline, Dionne, Whitney, Janet, Madonna, Diana and the rest. Her name is Joan Collins and she is a living legend.
This week I was invited to spend the evening with her, at the opening night of her internationally acclaimed one woman show, (which included old-school gossip, shameless name-dropping and celebrity score-settling) that delighted the audience. One Night With Joan, directed by her current (fifth) husband PERCY GIBSON and production design by OLIVER SONES, is a once in a lifetime chance of hearing about an era of Hollywood from a witty, glamazonian divas lips, right here in London town.
At the intimate Leicester Square Theatre, Joan guided us through the story of her life, accompanied by precious old film footage, photos, shared stories and secrets of her celebrated life and career, as one of the world's most glamorous and intriguing personalities.
We heard first hand about her marriages, her screen test for Cleopatra and discovered why she lost the role to Elizabeth Taylor, her first on-set encounter with the formidable Bette Davis, being broke and why and how Hollywood changed her fortune.
Her opening night in London doubled up alongside the annual Chinese New Year celebrations, so outside the theatre were millions parading and cheering, whilst onstage at the age of 80; Joan was holding court resplendent in her own two diva looks. First in sequined flared pants with slashed sleeves expensive sweater and loads of neck bling, which showed her slim feminine figure off beautifully.
Secondly, a full length sequined ball gown. Joan's trademark chocolate velvet round curls were rigidly in place and dark red lips were in full effect ""I never go out without make up!"I don't think about my public image. I just do it. All the women in my life, my mother, grandmother, wore make-up and were very well groomed. I love clothes and looking as good as I can."
The stage set was minimal, with a simple throne for Ms Collins been-there-seen-it-all posterior and an old school telephone on a stand, that rung every now and again to take us to the next chapter in her journey. ''And then I got a call ''bbrring brring''- it was Hollywood!''
As Joan paced around the stage, she talked us through her early years being born in Paddington, London, the daughter of a dance teacher and nightclub hostess, and an agent whose clients would later include Shirley Bassey, the Beatles and Tom Jones. Showbiz was in her genes.
Her first acting role was at age 3 onstage in Brighton. As a teenager she used to write to movie stars for their autographs. How times have changed- now her fans tweet and converse with her regularly.
The script takes digs of vengeance throughout which she delights in punching home each time. When starting out she was performing at the Arts theatre as a doll with her sibling. "One night we missed our enhances because we were backstage playing snakes and ladders. The Director yelled '' you two will never be actors! " And as she said that, smiling, in the background screen were shots of her in her biggest roles. Joan talked us through her relationship with the press. ''I was labeled Britain's bad girl answer to Ava Gardner and I loved it''
Another highlight of the evening was outtakes and her legendary bitch-fights with Linda Evans in Dynasty. Whilst most of us will immediately call memories of her in Dynasty (In 1985, Dynasty was the #1 show in the United States, beating out Dallas which ranked at #2) for her portrayal of Alexis, she reminded us she was much more than that. She was nominated six times for a Golden Globe Award (every year from 1982 to 1987), winning once in 1983, the same year she was nominated for an Emmy as Best Actress in a Drama Series. Fascinating to hear that upon accepting the award, Joan thanked Sophia Loren for turning down the part of Alexis.
Among the many confidences, she told of the ups and downs of her career and screens rare and at times hilarious film footage from her life. She is happy to send herself up with cringe worthy old film roles and hilarious costumes. It was very endearing. She talked about people who had been mean to her
'' I wanted to be Ava Gardner. But then I met my namesake Joan Crawford". I was introduced to Joan. She blanked me!''
It's hard to believe whilst hearing her tales of working alongside Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly that she can be her age, when she still seems so youthful. Maybe its her young connects like fashion model Cara Delevingne, who is her god daughter. Things haven't changed that much for females in the celebrity spotlight in either Joan or Cara's day. Joan revealed
'' I realized the studio were going to fire me if I didn't lose 8lbs". My cottage cheese diet failed so they gave me slimming pills. I did lose 8 lbs it was amazing, but I didn't asleep for 2 weeks either, then I discovered these were Dexedrine- ecstasy pills! "
She laughed as she recalled starring in her sister Jackie Collins books ''I starred in "the stud" showing my boobs. I was chastised for being over 40 and naked. So I made....the bitch! Then I got dynasty! Or Die-nasty as we used to call it. It really was the battle of the shoulder pads. Sometimes they were so big we had to walk through the door sideways!'' My fave Dynasty dress was white with a huge taffeta frill. We'd copy things from Vogue, Harpers and even Princess Diana!" Clearly she's always had a cheeky, sexy streak in her whatever the year; at the age of 50, she appeared in a twelve-page photo spread for Playboy magazine!
It was clear (by her version of the story anyway), that she played the game on her terms when it comes to men. Married five times and been hit on by practically every acting God in Hollywood. "I was such a good girl I married the first man who took advantage of me. One night he tried to sell me to an Arab sheik for 10k".
Tales of acting with Bing Crosby. ''It was like kissing an ashtray!....but Bob Hope was another story!" ''One night, Frank Sinatra called and asked me to dinner. He said he'd send his plane to pick me up. He was In Hamburg, I was in the UK. I politely declined with ''I have an early call tomorrow'' he replied ''I can change your call doll". I never went but Linda Evens did!'' miaw. Thrown under the bus LOL.
Another similar Richard Burton story where she spurned his advances, ''but a few years later Elizabeth Taylor didn't''.
''Marilyn Monroe came up to me in a bar and told me I got a job cos she was too old. ''Watch out for the wolves in Hollywood'' she warned me.
And '' I met Elvis at a fancy dress party at Rock Hudsons home. I've been trying to find the picture of me and Elvis that was taken ever since"
Joan really is the last icon standing after having rubbed shoulders with the greats. Lets check the stats on this woman. She's appeared in more than 118 feature films and TV series, her novels and memoirs have sold over 50 million copies worldwide and have been translated into 30 languages. She's a regular diarist for The Spectator and a contributor to The Daily Mail, The Telegraph, The Times and Harper's Bazaar. On stage, she's performed on Broadway, the West End, and in national tours in the UK and North America. On the humanitarian front, Joan Collins is devoted to the well-being of women, children and families and regularly lends her support and celebrity to causes that include finding a cure breast cancer and empowering children with learning disabilities. In 1997 she received an OBE for her lifetime contribution to the arts and her continuing charity work.
The second half of the evening was a question and answer session with the chance to ask Joan anything you've always wanted to know about her amazing life. Her hubby chaired this part and it was interesting taking in their personal dynamic. He's clearly a dominant alpha male that says what he has to and they keep each other in check whilst living between their homes in Los Angeles, London, New York and the South of France. He, at half her age, must keep her young too. The questions that came from the audience were facilitated via twitter. Impressive for an 80 year old.
Joans final nugget of gold was ''Live for the moment and enjoy every second of it, I think of life as a predator. You've got to eat it before it eats you!"
Joan Collins - One Night With Joan
Leicester Square Theatre
6 Leicester Place
Sunday 2 February at 7pm
Tuesday 4 February at 7pm
Wednesday 5 February at 7pm
Thursday 6 February at 3pm & 7pm
Friday 7 February at 7.00pm
Thursday 8 February at 4pm & 7pm
Sunday 9 February at 4pm
Tickets: £20.00 - £50.00
Box office: 08448 733433 or online at www.leicesterquaretheatre.com