My secret ulcer

The time: September 1968 The place: Rome The man: Terence Stamp, actor
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I had a very curious medical history. My tonsils were removed when I was three, and my appendix when I was 12; by the time I was 24 I was suffering from duodenal ulcers.

I now know that septic tonsils are the first line of defence, and the second line is the appendix. The ulcers can absolutely be traced back to the fact that I had a dairy intolerance, because I always had canker sores in my mouth. But I didn't know that then: bread is in the Bible; milk and honey, they're good.

I was able to afford to go to a great specialist for my ulcers but it just didn't work; none of the remedies did. The very bad periods of pain with ulcers coincided with me starting a movie, because there was extra stress, and I took to keeping that a secret. I didn't want anyone to know I was ill in case they doubted my efficiency on set.

The event that changed my life came in 1968, when I was working with Federico Fellini [on Spirits of the Dead]. We became great chums, because in order to work for Fellini you have to fall in love with him, he demands that. It's not hard because he loves you first, more than you can love him. When he got into the final preparations for the movie, he couldn't spend much time with me, and because I couldn't speak Italian at the time he gave me an interpreter, Patrizia. At first I was a bit offended, then I realised Patrizia was unusually intelligent and, if I played my cards right, could introduce me to a whole different hierarchy in Rome.

Patrizia became my companion. I couldn't speak to anyone without her; it became intimate very quickly because I was doing interviews and she was translating and getting to know me. So there I was, having a wonderful time, in Rome for the first time, working with the world's greatest film director, but encountering a lot of pain in my stomach, my secret.

I was being driven home with Patrizia, I was in a lot of pain, and I knew her well enough that I didn't have to pretend. I was wincing. And she said, "Oh, you have an ulcer." I said no, no. "It's really OK," she said, "people born under the sign of Cancer often have digestive problems." I said I was a Leo. "Anyway, I don't want to argue," she said, "but if you want to get rid of the pain, you should stop eating meat and fish for three months. You shouldn't be drinking any alcohol, not even wine." I said, how do you know? She said, "Actually, I'm Fellini's astrologer and I know about this stuff."

Because I was in tremendous pain and would have tried anything, I did, and in fact the pain got better almost immediately.

That occasion was so life-changing. I was not very good at school; they hadn't been able to educate me. I'd failed all my GCSEs because I always felt I was being diminished, my mind was being squeezed rather than expanded, so I opted out. I didn't pay attention. But I never thought of myself as a dunce, or dumb. I seemed to be as smart as everyone else, but even so, aged 27, with a lifetime of digestive problems, it didn't occur to me until my conversation with Patrizia that what I was putting into my mouth had anything to do with my health.

When I was a boy, my mother just did the best she could, but the staples were bread and jam with margarine and tea with condensed milk in it, and then cereals, cornflakes - it was always wheat with milk. As a boy, I was eating a little meat and loads of potatoes and vegetables; when I became successful, I reversed that, because I associated that with penury. I associated success with steak Diane and lashings of roast beef. But I never excluded the wheat and dairy, because those were my emotional comforts. During the war, or if I'd had a rough time, getting the piss taken out of me by my schoolmates, my mother would say, "Oh, don't worry Terry, I'll make some toast and we'll have a lovely cup of tea."

I was her first child. My father (an alcoholic) was at sea during the war, so I became almost like a surrogate husband, I had a tremendous bond with my mother. So it was about my mother, and that grew with me. Whenever I was under stress there would be a big pot of tea and some toast, and as I became successful and richer it became wholewheat and butter instead of margarine, and the finest cheeses the world can produce.

I came back after the Fellini movie a vegetarian, but still ordering loads of desserts on the same plate because I felt deprived that I couldn't have steak and kidney pie and roast beef. After about six months I started getting ill again. As it turned out, the most common foods, and what my diet had consisted almost exclusively of, were things I was intolerant to - dairy products, modern wheat, sugar, tea.

I was an early contributor to the food movement, but I was still getting ill. It was a tremendous worry. The thing about food intolerances, the thing that mystified me for so long, is the masking aspect of foods that you're allergic to. When I was waking up in the morning I would feel like a cup of coffee made with milk, which is a very working-class thing, very cosy, extremely comforting. And the pain doesn't happen till much later.

I had to understand that my mind was working out of sync with my body, and I had to be honest with myself about the difference between what the body needed and what the mind wanted. When I was diagnosed, I was diagnosed several times, because it seemed my life would be impossible without tea and toast. I realised I would have to take on a mental addiction.

Once I started looking at my diet and myself differently, I came into contact with Krishnamurti and yoga, making a more complete transformation of myself. In the late Sixties, the nice terminology was that we were cranks, the not-so-nice that we were freaks. It was associated with wearing flowers and beads and smoking dope, though by that time my illegal substances were finished because they were just adding to my problems. Alcohol was something I always liked. But I was a pretty cheap date, and nowadays I'm an extremely cheap date, though I really enjoy a very good glass of wine at Christmas or someone's birthday. But if I have a wonderful glass of Chateau Yquem with some peaches, it means that, for example, I can't scribble the next morning. And, to be honest, I'm merry, talkative, drunk, sleepy, hung over in half-an-hour.

This thing I'm doing now, selling organic products geared to people with food intolerances, is relatively new, but has made a considerable difference in my life in that I've had to come out of the closet - this has been my secret since 1968.

My vanity is that I can find clean, organic ingredients and make a menu that is totally delightful for straight people. I'm not going to eat rubbish because that's what they're used to. I designed a dinner menu with Peter Mayle's wife, Jenny: we did onion tart, pastry made with spelt flour, and reduced a dozen wonderful onions to a marmalade for the hors d'oeuvre; the main course was quinoa pasta alla puttana with whole caper berries, and an organic mixed-leaf salad from the organic farm. I was living in a windmill surrounded by the farm in Amagansett, New York, and it was where Marilyn Monroe honeymooned with Arthur Miller. And Peter provided the wine

Terence Stamp and Buxton Foods produce a range of chocolates and other foods made without wheat, dairy products, sugar and salt. For stockists, call Buxton Foods (0171-637-5505).

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