HOW WE MET

DIANA QUICK AND LISA ST AUBIN DE TERAN
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Diana Quick, 50, began acting professionally while still an undergraduate. Since then she has worked for the National Theatre, the RSC and the Royal Court, and appeared in numerous films; her television credits include 'Brideshead Revisited'. She lives in London and Suffolk with the actor Bill Nighy and their daughter. Lisa St Aubin de Teran, 43, has written seven novels, two of which won major prizes, and three memoirs. Married at 16 to a South American aristocrat, she later wed the poet George MacBeth. She now lives in Italy with her third husband, painter Robbie Duff-Scott. She has three children and one grandson

DIANA QUICK: It was at a publishing party of Tom Maschler's at Cape; I had just read Lisa's first novel, Keepers of the House, so it must have been around the time it came out - 1981 or 1982. I'm not shy, so parties aren't an ordeal for me. I find somebody I like and stay talking to them.

I saw this extremely exotic and beau- tiful young woman. She was wearing a very beautiful Edwardian dress and she looked as if she'd stepped out of some romance. I said to my friend Hermione Lee: "Who is that?" And she said "it's Lisa St Aubin de Teran", and I swooned. I said: "Oh, I've got to meet her, I've just read Keepers of the House. It's the most exciting book."

So I went over and started to rave on and on about Keepers. I thought the way Lisa had managed to incorporate those extraordinary tales into the narrative structure had a feeling almost of Greek tragedy to it. I loved it. I have an ambition that it should be made into a film.

We talked for nearly an hour, for most of the party. I'm always interested in people's lives, how they got to where they are. Lisa brings with her all sorts of resonances which are not to do with living an urban, late- 20th-century life. Reading The Hacienda, her autobiography, she talks about how she always wore Edwardian dress even as a 17-year-old schoolgirl. That was her preferred mode. And she still likes to dress that way. She does look exotic - but when I think of Lisa, mostly it's of her face. I think of it as having light and shade flitting across, as if the sky were darting over it.

As an actress I inhabit other people's lives. I have quite an active fantasy life and it's fulfilled through my work. Whereas what I feel Lisa does is to live out her fantasies: she has adventures and it's as if her project is writing her life. She's had those extraordinary homes - the hacienda in Venezuela, then a Gothic folly in Norfolk with George, and now the palazzo in Italy. Lisa lives out stuff that, for me, is fantasy. I've travelled a lot but I'm quite rooted in lots of ways and have family here. I've often thought of moving away, but to act you have to be where the work is. The courage to actually go somewhere and try and make a life, as she has, is awesome.

When we first met, Lisa was living in Norfolk. I said I was living in Suffolk. We talked about meeting and didn't for ages. Then suddenly, out of the blue, Lisa invited me to a party. It must have been about a year afterwards. I went with Bill and a couple of friends and we drove over to her Gothic rectory. It was a fancy- dress party on a lovely, balmy and idyllic midsummer's night. Her house was completely alone in the middle of the Fens with the most wonderful, old walled garden which Lisa had been working on. She'd even been rebuilding the walls - she's very resourceful and practical. We went off exploring the garden, an orchard really, and she showed me around.

Since then our friendship has been very sporadic, mainly because once she moved to Italy, Lisa was never over here. There'd be great gaps and then occasionally she'd send me invitations to Robbie's exhibitions. But I don't find it difficult to have long gaps in a friendship. Actors are absolutely habituated to being with a group of people, having a very intense time with them and then disbanding. Lisa and I once had a gap of six years when we didn't see each other. Now she's leading a Notting Hill life - she came to put her son into Eton - I see her a bit more. I went to a party of a friend from university days and Lisa was there. I was surprised. I thought she'd be rebuilding her house in Umbria, replastering the walls.

I completely, unconditionally admire Lisa. I love her writing and admire her talent. And I think she's got a nice, cool take on life, which I enjoy, with this great air of self-containment and privacy - I think I have that too. It's to do with being your own person.

LISA ST AUBIN de TERAN: I met Diana Quick when I had just started publishing, so it would have been just before Keepers of the House came out. There was this star-studded literary party in Bedford Square to which I had been, I felt, rather fraudulently invited. I was just about completely unknown.

This party was apparently a really big thing to be invited to. People kept saying that it was a terribly good sign that I'd been asked, so I felt I had to go even though I didn't know anybody. I was feeling incredibly out of my element.

I had gone with George MacBeth. We weren't actually married then but were living together. George had a "party policy", which was that you only went through the door together and out of the door together and that was it. He was brilliant at parties and assumed that everybody else was too. It was the first glam party that we'd gone to together and I had not come clean about being absolutely hopeless and incredibly shy.

So I wandered around. I was wearing a very beautiful turn-of-the-century dress in hand-painted silk with whooshes of Flanders silk. It was very tight and flamboyant. People kept coming up to me and asking me who I was. I would say and they would look blank. At a certain point I was getting really, really sick of my name being such a mouthful.

I'd taken refuge sitting on the stairs, pretending to be absolutely at my ease but really wishing I'd done a runner. That's when I met Diana who was, at that moment, also pausing on the stairs. I knew who she was because I think Brideshead Revisited was on the television at the time. I felt like somebody who is drowning and is suddenly thrown a stick.

Diana was very, very lovely looking and unlike myself wasn't trying to look special. She was simply dressed and made-up, but she'd just naturally got beautiful bones. My mother had a thing about beautiful bones, so I remember registering that. She had a lot of style. But the main thing about her was that we could sit and talk. It was one of those conversations where everything seemed to click, and I remember spending a lot of time talking to her with a limpet-like affection for this new person.

So we bonded there on the stairs. I'm pretty sure we swapped addresses. Shortly after that I was giving a party in Norfolk and Diana came. I'm not a particularly sociable person but I love throwing parties. (That's how I overcome my shyness. It's the only way I keep contact with people - I'd never go out through preference.) We used to have these fancy-dress themed parties. They were always in midsummer, lasted all day and hundreds of people would come. Because I liked Diana particularly, that's when I'd spend time with her. Then each time I saw Diana I'd think how I'd like to see her more often. Luckily, at the moment circumstances are pushing us a bit closer together: in the last year I've been spending more time in London, because my daughter is here.

I look up to Diana and that's a very pleasant thing to do - I always admire people like her, who are able to handle every social situation. And you can't help noticing how articulately intelligent she is. I don't know many women of my age who are brilliant and articulate without being aggressive. She makes me laugh. Another thing I particularly like about Diana is her fantastic timing. Diana is not somebody who talks a lot but whatever she says seems to be just the right thing at the right time and the right amount of it. Her comments are short, witty, spot on.

She's incredibly popular. Last year she had a 50th birthday party with Christopher Logue and I realised how many friends we had in common - some of whom I hadn't seen for years. I particularly like having begun our friendship before I had any success of my own. I feel here's somebody who likes me for myself.

Diana feels like a real friend to me. But I don't feel the need to pour my heart out to her. We don't have an intimate friendship, we have this reassuring friendship. It's based on a natural affinity: a strange, indefinable thing. !

Comments