How we met: 65. Jeffrey Bernard and Taki Theodoracopulos

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The Independent Culture
Jeffrey Bernard (60) worked as a fairground boxer before turning his hand to writing in 1963. His celebrated 'Low Life' column for the Spectator, which describes his drunken bohemian existence, was turned by Keith Waterhouse into the successful play Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell. He has been married four times and lives in Soho. Multi-millionaire karate champion and writer Taki Theodoracopulos (55) was born in Athens, the son of a shipowner. His Spectator column, 'High Life', charts the world of the international jet set. He has been married twice and has two children.

JEFFREY BERNARD: I think we met at The Duke of York, a pub which the Spectator people go to because it's quite near to their office. Shortly after that, he invited me to borrow this rather splendid Palladian mansion he was renting at the time, which was called Bruern Abbey, in Oxfordshire. I used to go up there for weekends when he was away in New York and had the run of the place. It was frightfully grand. I slept in a four-poster, and there was even a housekeeper. I used to play at being the squire, and take people up there for the weekend, including my daughters.

I'm fascinated by Taki's column, it's one of the first things I read when I get the Spectator. Just look at some of the nutcases he knows, particularly the American ones. They sound so terrible. I could never lead Taki's lifestyle - even if I were a very rich man. I'm not into things like Annabel's (a Mayfair nightclub). I don't like or know the sort of people who go there, except for Lucian Freud. I'm happier with boring hacks, though Taki did once take me to lunch at the Claremont Club, which I quite enjoyed because I like shooting craps.

I'd like to go to Harry's Bar to try it out, but my idea of a good evening would be to cook at home. I used to do that a lot, but I'm too lazy and weak now to stand up and prepare stuff for hours in the kitchen.

I remember I once went up to Manchester to see Taki fight in the European karate championships and was amazed when one of the Irish team started crawling around on the mat. Taki told me he was looking for his teeth, which had just been kicked out. He went on to explain that it was just a natural instinct: when a man loses something, he looks for it. Hair- raising stuff - I thought the sport would be fairly gentle in the way that judo can be. I have great admiration for Taki's physical courage. That sort of thing takes a lot of guts. I gave him a good cheer when it was his turn.

The real Taki is much nicer, more intelligent and probably less reactionary than he sounds in his column. I think of him as cosmopolitan, a sportsman and man of the world. He's also a kind man, and very generous. I'm glad that he takes care of himself because if he didn't it would be a terrible waste. I never cared much about looking after myself. But I do now it's too late.

TAKI THEODORACOPULOS: I think my memory serves me better than Jeffrey's. We were introduced to each other at Charles Benson's (the racing correspondent) bachelor party in the late Seventies. I paid for 10 hookers to come in afterwards, but none of the guests took any interest in them, except these tiny little jockeys who'd also been invited.

Of course, I'd already heard all about Jeffrey as a writer and well- known figure in the pub and racing world. At that time, he was already writing a column for the Spectator called 'End Piece'. I was trying to get into the Spectator myself and wrote an article about how you can always recognise English people abroad: they dance badly, always check their bills and don't tip waiters. Jeffrey told me he thought my piece was quite funny, and then I was given a weekly column called 'High Life'. Not long after, they decided to change the title of Jeffrey's own column to 'Low Life'.

Though we sometimes step into each other's worlds, I'm happiest in Mayfair and Belgravia, whereas Jeffrey enjoys Soho. I feel exactly the same way about pubs as Jeffrey does about Annabel's. If we spent an evening together in New York with some of the rich Americans I write about in my column, it would be a total disaster. First of all, they go crazy if you smoke and drink. Then I know Jeffrey would insult them with a four-letter word. They wouldn't know how to handle it and the ladies would get up and disappear to the bathroom. These are the kind of people who mistake propriety for good manners - they never say what they think.

One day I remember I came to look for Jeffrey at the Colony Club in Soho. I'd never been there before, and asked very politely, 'Is Jeffrey Bernard here by any chance?' This ghastly man called Ian Board replied: 'Get out of here, you filthy Greek. Where's your white suit?' Next time, I had better luck and found him at the Coach and Horses, where they are a bit more polite. I took him to lunch at Kettners, and then brought him back to my flat in Knightsbridge late in the afternoon. Jeffrey was nicely oiled and after a few more vodkas with orange, he went to sleep in my armchair. I decided to go to the park for a run and then trained in my gym downstairs. When I came up again, Jeffrey was still asleep. I left him there and got ready to go out to dinner at Annabel's with about 10 of my friends. After that we went gambling, and then came back to my flat for a drink in the early hours. Jeffrey, believe it or not, was still asleep in the armchair. All my friends looked at him, wondering who this strange figure could be. Eventually, he woke up at about five in the morning. He looked around him, saw all these people, then walked over to the window and announced, 'The trouble with London is that it gets dark so bloody early these days.' He'd been asleep for over 12 hours.

Nobody overlooks Jeffrey. He is never loud, but he has this tremendous presence which I think comes through in his writing. His column is superior to mine because he writes so wonderfully well - it comes to him naturally. He can tell readers about being depressed and sitting in a pub all afternoon, but he makes it both interesting and funny. His work reads like a novel. I can't do that and have to do a lot of name-dropping.

I was a good athlete when I was young, but never in the world class. It's the same with my writing, but I'm happy to accept that. You should know how hard you should try because if you work at writing too hard it usually has an adverse effect. It's just the same as in boxing.

Though we love drinking, gambling and women, we couldn't be more different. I'm an extrovert Greek, whereas Jeffrey is so very English with his scepticism and healthy lack of respect. A Greek will be very sycophantic when a rich man like me comes into the room - just because I'm more important than he is. Of course there are English people who go in for all that royal bullshit, rushing around curtsying. But Jeffrey isn't so easily impressed.

The one thing that saddens me is that Jeffrey doesn't take care of himself. I'll be extremely unhappy if I outlive him, but if he keeps going the way he does, I probably will.

(Photograph omitted)

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