So, to the Chichester Festival Theatre where Britt Ekland is rehearsing Mother Goose. Britt is playing Demoness Vanity - appropriately enough, some might say - and is having a problem getting the lines right. Britt needs a lot of prompting. Britt says to me later: "If I were clever, I would do the same panto every year like Lesley Joseph. But I guess I like a challenge."
Britt breaks for lunch. Britt has brought in her own lunch. Britt's lunch is six sticks of carrot and two of celery. Let me tell you how fat Britt is. Stick her in your hall and visitors would hang their coats on her. Britt had some hot water with half a lemon squeezed into it for breakfast. I don't think Britt ever has much fun at the pick 'n' mix counter down Woolworths, frankly. Britt, do you ever think, blow it, I'm going to have a Twix today, and that's that? "No," she replies. "Or, if I ever do, I kill it. Kill it!"
I don't think Britt has much fun, full-stop, anymore. Maybe life has sucked her dry. Or perhaps she's sucked life dry. Whatever, she doesn't seem to have much of an appetite left. Sex, Britt? Still having loads of it? "No. Not interested," she replies. "Perhaps it's age. I don't know." A drink, Britt, shall we go for a drink? She used to like wine, she says. And champagne, of course. But not anymore. "I've discovered I'm allergic to grapes." Fag, Britt? "No, and if you could blow your smoke the other way..."
She's been around a long time, of course. She was 19 when she first came to Britain, and is now 55. She's had loads of men. Peter Sellers. Rod Stewart. George Hamilton. Warren Beatty. Lord Lichfield. Jim McDonnell. And Ryan O'Neal, although he doesn't properly count because "it was only a one-night stand". She's made loads of films, too, but no one can ever remember any of those. Britt wouldn't be Britt if anyone could. Although, that said, there was The Wicker Man, a spooky job co-starring Edward Woodward which was quite good, as it happens. "I wasn't naked in that," she says. I never said you were, I say. "I mean, it wasn't me naked. It was a double. My own bottom's much nicer." Good. That's settled then. "My own tits, though," she adds. "I had very good tits then."
When your career and fame have been built on your looks, it must be hard to let those looks go. Certainly, Britt's trying to hang on in there. She's had an eye-job. No, she wouldn't go out without full make-up on. No, she'd never nip to the shops in pop-socks. Or Dr Scholls. Or both. She'll be having a face-lift next year. I say, please don't. Face-lifts always make women look as if they're being sucked up by a Hoover from behind. A few wrinkles are much sexier. "But it's so hard when you see women like Goldie Hawn going about looking like they're 25," she moans. True, I say. But Helen Mirren looks her age and every man I know wants to sleep with her. "That's because she looks slutty," says Britt. "Plus, did you see her in Painted Lady? She wore a stud in her nose which was not a good idea because it made her nose look bigger. Nice cowboy boots, though. I'd like to know where those came from."
Britt is summoned back to rehearse. Her scenes with Sherrie Hewson (Maureen from Coronation Street) need polishing up. Britt doesn't really know who Maureen is because she doesn't watch Coronation Street. "I like Neighbours and Home and Away." Britt is told she's going to have to sing and dance with he rest of the troupe come the finale. Britt says: "I didn't know I'd have to do this much." The company manager says: "You are in a good panto, this year, Britt." Britt says she's only ever done good pantos, as it happens. "My first one had huge stars in it. It had Danny La Rue, Brian Conley and Michael Elphick." Does she enjoy panto. "I love it," she says half-heartedly. Is it well paid? "Very," she adds with more conviction.
Does she need to work? Absolutely, she says. She only kept going last year because she sold off a lot of memorabilia at Christie's and made $146,000. She's got to keep the money coming in somehow. Thankfully, she knows her limitations. "I'm not exceptionally talented. I'm no Vanessa Redgrave. I'm not going to get a Checkov or a Shakespeare. Although, I did do Run For Your Wife, and would like to do something like that again."
The company manager says she can now have a couple of hours off, so long as she's back for a costume fitting at 4pm. We decide to go into town, to look round the shops. First off, we pass a children's clothes shops. There are some incredibly cute, little flower-print dresses in the window. I stop to "ooh" and "ah" and say having girls is so much better than having boys, because the clothes are so much dinkier. It's worth having a daughter just for the swimsuits. Britt says: "Of course, when Victoria was little, she was always in Pierre Cardin or real Dior." Lucky Victoria. Or not, judging by how things turned out.
Victoria, of course, is Britt's daughter by Peter Sellers. Britt met Sellers in the Dorchester when she was 19 and married him 10 days later. "Britt's a mixture of Loren and Bardot and Ekberg," babbled an excited Sellers on their wedding day. Three weeks later, he suffered his first heart attack. Her appetite might have been quite something back then.
Victoria was born when Britt was 20. Victoria was largely bought up in hotel suites by nannies. Victoria has since taken drugs, posed naked for Playboy, worked as a hooker and served time in jail. I ask Britt if Victoria's troubles are her way of saying: "Hey! Remember me, mum? I exist." Britt says no, absolutely not. "It was Peter who could have been more caring." Peter made Britt lead the lifestyle they did, she continues. "He made me neglect my inner duties. I have always put men first. I have always been a giver rather than a taker." Even in bed? "Yes. My problem has always been that I give too much." She always gives a good account of herself, does Britt. She concludes: "I am first and foremost a mother. I should have been a big earth mother, really."
A year ago, she moved from London to LA to be nearer her children. Aside from Victoria, there is Nickolai, her son by Lou Adler, and TJ, her son by Jim McDonnell, the drummer with Stray Cats. Nickolai is grown up and the manager of a band while TJ is still only nine. TJ will be spending Christmas in LA with Jim. No, Britt won't miss him too much. "Pantomime is very demanding. You don't have time to think of anything else." She's bought him a game for his Sony playstation for Christmas. Victoria wants gym shoes. (Victoria's fine now, yes. "She's lost a lot of weight and has regained her dignity.") Nickolai's getting a photo frame with a picture of her in it. Britt doesn't expect to get anything. She'll be spending Christmas alone in her rented house in Chichester. How sad, I say. "It'll be OK," she shrugs. Perhaps she's going to treat herself to a lick of a Ryvita. Perhaps she is looking forward to that.
I wonder, what was Britt's own childhood like? Her mother, Marie-Britt, was a housewife, she says, while her father, Sven, owned a clothes store before going bust and ending up secretary to the national curling team. I ask her what it was like growing up in Sweden. Did all your furniture come flat-packed for self-assembly? "No, my parents had very good taste. Our furniture was all antique," she exclaims, offended. Britt's sense of humour is sometimes not all it might be. It can be quite touching.
Her mother was a devoted wife while her father was something of a playboy. "He was tall and blonde and blue-eyed and very handsome and very Swedish." Her father had mistresses, yes, "although I didn't find that out until I was 16, 17, and then I got mad and didn't talk to him for a long time." Previously, her father had doted on her. As the only girl (Britt has three brothers who still live in Sweden) she was his darling. "He took me everywhere with him. To the racetrack and curling meetings and, later, when I got to 14 and started being pretty, to dinners and parties." So he could show you off? "Yes." Did this, I ask, set a pattern for your later relationships with men? You know, find someone dashing then dangle off their arm? Absolutely not, she insists. All her men have been famous because "I was incredibly beautiful, and beautiful people mix with beautiful people. Look at Naomi Campbell. She's dated everyone famous there is." She can be quite bitchy. No, Patsy and Liam are not the Britt and Rod of the Nineties. "Liam's ugly, whereas Rod is not."
I wonder, if she could come back in a next life, would she choose to come back as a great beauty? Or would she come back more as someone like me, with bags of personality? "A beauty, definitely," she replies a bit too quickly for my liking. "There are a lot of advantages. I'm Libra and very pleased by beauty. I like beautiful clothes, beautiful people, beautiful children. It pleases me to look good. I get pleasure from it. The other night I went to a charity premiere. I chose my clothes. I laid out my stockings. I did my hair. I enjoyed it. It's like building something." She might come flat-packed for self-assembly herself, now I think about it.
We nip into M&S because Britt needs new underwear. She finally chooses two bras and some of those pants that keep your tummy in. Britt, I say, you have no tummy to keep in. You are tummyless. You are without tummy. If my tummy were to stand next to your tummy, my tummy would say: "Hello? Anybody there?"
She says if I want a figure like hers then I must never eat proteins with starches and must never have any bread or anything with sugar in and "are you writing this down?". She adds: "A girlfriend of mine went on this diet and lost 35lbs in five weeks." She buys her pants and bras. We move on to a bookshop. No, Britt is not a great reader herself. "I don't read fiction, if that's what you mean. Although I have loads of books on nutrition and how the body works." She is looking for a Christmas present for the company manager. She finds a book about Bond Girls. Britt played Bond babe Mary Goodnight in the 1974 Bond film The Man With the Golden Gun. There's a big picture of Britt on page 47, in a skimpy white bikini. Truly, she was utterly divine. What does she think when she looks at it. "I think one of the bikini straps is twisted. And that annoys me."
She does seem to have developed the tendencies of someone who can't be bothered with people any more. She loves animals. Everytime we pass a dog in the street she goes: "Ohhh, look at that sweet little doggie." She is obsessively houseproud. Washing up has to be done straight away. Her bed must be made first thing. She likes to iron. "I love to get crisp corners." No, she won't be trying on her bras and pants when she gets home. "I'll have to wash them first." But why, I cry? They're new! "People may have fingered them in the shop," she shudders. I say in my house the only clean things are new things. Once they go into the washing machine that's it, they're grey. She looks horrified. But, then, with the eye- job and everything, she always looks a bit horrified. It's the price you have to pay.
Anyway, it's 4pm so back to the theatre for the costume fitting. Britt nips to the Ladies with Natasha, the seamstress, to try the frock on. "Are you decent, Britt?" we all chorus before we charge in. The dress is fab. It's black and green and purple with feathers here and tassels there and little jewels stuck on. Natasha, though, is busy pinning the back because, she says, Britt's lost weight since the last fitting. "Do you hear that everyone! I've lost weight!" whoops Britt. And, for the first time in eight hours, she looks truly animated and happy.
`Mother Goose' opens at the Chichester Festival Theatre on Thursday and runs until 17 January (booking: 01243 781312)Reuse content