HOW WE MET: LYNDA LA PLANTE AND DEREK DEANE

Lynda La Plante, screenwriter and novelist, 52, was born in Liverpool. After training at Rada, she acted with the RSC, before making her TV- writing debut with `Widows' in 1982. She went on to write, among others, the hugely successful `Prime Suspect' series, `The Governor' and the recent `Killer Net', made by her own company, La Plante Productions. The choreographer Derek Deane, 44, joined the Royal Ballet as a dancer in 1972 and became its Senior Principal eight years later. During the Eighties, he danced all the major roles in the repertoire and created numerous ballets for the company. He became artistic director of English National Ballet in 1993. Both La Plante and Deane live in London

LYNDA LA PLANTE: Early in 1982 I was watching the first night of Manon at Covent Garden, when this exceptionally tall dancer just exploded on to the stage, all in black. I was there with my friend Richard Polo, who owns two restaurants - Orso and Joe Allen's - in London. I asked him who the dancer was. "That's my friend Derek Deane," he said, and I insisted he introduce us. We went backstage after the curtain calls, but when we got to Derek's dressing room he'd already left for the first-night party. I was very depressed.

Some time later, Richard had a big party at his house in Chelsea, and when I arrived I saw Derek was there with a very beautiful dancer girlfriend, telling some outrageous story. We were introduced, he gave me a "Hello, marvellous to meet you", and then I was pretty much dismissed from his presence. Around midnight, I was getting into full flow and noticed him on the periphery of the group of people I was in. Afterwards, he came up to me and said: "You're very funny."

But we only really spent time together when we both went, separately, to the Chelsea Arts Ball, perhaps as much as 18 months after that first party. I was in this Margaret-Lockwood-in-The-Wicked- Lady-type costume designed by Liz Emmanuel: huge red curly wig, hoops, tits pushed up - the works. I was whooping it up at the ball when this tall man in a highwayman costume, complete with mask, loomed up and asked me to dance; I quickly realised it was Derek. We've been friends ever since; we're like part of each other's family.

Maybe what draws me to him is that we are very similar. We're both from ordinary middle-class backgrounds, neither of us had the luxury of family connections to help us into our chosen professions, and we've both earned every penny we've ever made.

With ballet dancers, their flame flickers and dies very quickly, but Derek, who started dancing late and got straight to the top, was such a force that you knew his career would continue when he stopped dancing. His success in running his own company has brought us closer together, because we're both aware that when things fall down there's only one person to blame: him in his company and me in mine.

I started running my company three years before Derek joined ENB, but I couldn't pass on any advice - other than "Don't burn yourself out". The production side didn't come naturally to either of us; we're predominantly artists who have chosen to take on more responsibility to ensure that our work goes out exactly as we want it to, but we're not control freaks. Sometimes, when we're very tired, we wonder why we push ourselves to such extremes, but we don't really have an answer.

In Derek's case, it's largely because he feels ballet has been too stuck at an elite social level, and he's determined to take it to everybody. I was so proud when I saw his Swan Lake at the Albert Hall last year - the gasps and cheers of the kids in the audience when these 65 cygnets in white tutus came dancing on was magical. I've written vicious faxes to critics who have been unfair or snobby about Derek's work - if they hurt him, they hurt me.

When things don't work out in our private lives, like when my marriage was breaking up, Derek's never someone to sit and dissect. He'll say: "Let's go out and have the most amazing time." When you feel depressed, he's guaranteed to fill your day and make you laugh. Like the composer Carl Davis, and his wife, the actress Jean Boht - whom I've known for 30 years (and who were friends of Derek's before I knew him) - he is always there for me.

Derek's a very joyful and trusting person, but if you betray his friendship he'll cut you off in exactly the same way that I will. Over the years we've both had to become more wary. That's a product of chatting away happily to people at a party and then finding they've repeated what you say to the papers. You learn to keep your mouth shut and Derek is a master of that. He was very close friends with Princess Diana, for example, but kept that relationship utterly private.

I might not see him for months, but then one of us rings the other up, or we'll meet, and the sheer joy of seeing each other makes you forget about the break. We're off immediately, fooling around and making each other laugh. No matter how busy he is, if I have a party he'll move hell and high water to be there. Those are the only occasions when there's competition between us - to see who can tell the funniest story.

DEREK DEANE: I knew of Lynda as an actress before we met, and although I hadn't seen her on stage I'd noticed her dining at Joe Allen's - this very animated character who made you look at her just by her gestures. I was as keen to meet her as she apparently was to meet me.

After the near-miss at the first night of Manon, we met across a crowded room at Richard Polo's party. We're both great story- and joke-tellers, and I remember telling two very funny stories and watching Lynda's reaction over on the other side of the room. I could just tell that somehow we would be friends for a very long time.

My feeling that we were on the same wavelength was confirmed at the Chelsea Arts Ball by the bizarre coincidence of my going dressed as a highwayman and her being in the equivalent get-up. We spent a lot of a hugely alcoholic evening together, and after that started seeing each other regularly.

We both have huge, outward personalities, but beneath that shell is a great deal of insecurity. I have a very strong character; but if you're in a position of power, as we both are, the people you work with don't want to see your weaknesses, because that makes them feel weak.

Socially, the performer in us never goes away. If I'm finding the going tough at a function, or I'm tired, I'll act my way through the evening, and I sometimes see her doing the same thing. I don't know of another friend to whom I'm so similar in that respect, quite apart from the fact that we share similar professional backgrounds and stresses. She acted, went on to write and produce and is now in charge of huge amounts of people; I danced, and now choreograph and direct a company which involves 150 people.

Lynda has a great love for the dance, finds it hugely romantic and wants to learn more about it. We're such good friends that I'm open to anything she's got to say about my work. She's not afraid to say "That was too long" or "That was boring".

I've been amazed to watch this wonderful character actress blossoming into a great writer. I think there's quite a lot of Lynda in Helen Mirren's Prime Suspect character. Lynda works all the hours God sends, and sometimes she's said her success might have happened slightly quicker if she'd been a man. She can be ruthless, but when you have to keep an enormous amount of people in order, you sometimes have to be. When she thinks she's right, there's a side to her that simply will not budge.

Every time I read one of her novels or see a TV show, I'm immediately on the phone to her. I think what marks her out is how gripping her writing is. Once I start reading or watching, I can't stop. I'm exactly the same with books by another great friend of mine, William Boyd, though he's a completely different writer. Lynda has a wondrous imagination, but when I ask where she gets it all from, she replies: "Research, darling, masses of research."

If I'm having a bad time emotionally I'll probably turn to Lynda first, before other friends, because I know she sometimes suffers in the same way. When there is private turmoil we'll spend a lot of time together. When her marriage was going terribly wrong, she was having the worst time imaginable and I spoke to her a great deal.

If anything, I think she's become more centred as she's taken on more responsibility. When I first knew her she was terribly flamboyant and had a superficiality that you get with a lot of actresses. In essence, though, her amazing success hasn't changed her.

Her generosity is immense. If she gives a dinner party it's beyond belief, and she's always offering her friends the chance to stay in her house in America if they need a break. But that's not her way of saying: "I've got a lot of money and don't you all love it?" She's worked very hard to get these things and if close friends can enjoy them, she's delighted.

I think she's too busy - but only because it's to the detriment of our relationship; I don't see enough of her, and miss her a lot when she's off in America or if I'm on tour. Despite trying to arrange it again and again, we've never managed to go on holiday together. I invited her to my house in France last summer, we were all set to go and then, of course, it all fell apart because of work. Two people who live near one another in London and get on so well really should see each other more often.

ENB's `Romeo and Juliet': Albert Hall, SW7 (0171 589 8212), Thurs to 30 June.

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