Celebrity children: The troubled world of Victoria Sellers

As the US prepares to deport the daughter of one of the world's most famous comic actors, Guy Adams looks back on the life of the little girl who inherited an unerring instinct for going off the rails
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The Independent Online

In the lottery of Hollywood life, Victoria Sellers has always been dealt the wild card. She had a sex siren for a mother, a comic genius for a father, and a turbulent childhood that led to drug abuse, petty crime and eventually prison. Today, the 41-year-old daughter of Britt Ekland and the late Peter Sellers will wake up behind bars for the fifth - or possibly sixth - time in her long and chequered career, having been arrested earlier this week by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency officers.

Witnesses say she was "very calm" and "gave no resistance" during a dawn raid on Monday at the modest Los Angeles apartment where she has been living illegally since a judge revoked her residency permit in 2002, due to a previous criminal conviction. As a British citizen, she will shortly be deported to London and her last days in the US, a country that has been home for almost her entire adult life, will be spent inside a cell at a detention centre in Orange County, California.

It marks a sad and typically chaotic end to the reign of one of Tinseltown's most notorious party animals. For two decades, Victoria Sellers has been a walking symbol of Hollywood excess, a hard-living socialite whose instinct for trouble surpasses those of both her famous parents combined. Recalling her wildest days recently, she described a 20-year blizzard of cocaine and amphetamine abuse. "I did drugs because I didn't really like myself, and I didn't like myself because I was doing drugs," she said. "It was crazy. I was just going round in circles."

Perhaps the high living was in the genes. Her father was famous for his roles in Dr Strangelove and as Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther films; he was as prodigiously talented as he was profoundly flawed. Ekland, one of the foremost pin-ups of her generation, later romanced Lou Adler and Rod Stewart.

As the only child of this starry couple, Victoria Sellers was born into the Hollywood "celebocracy" with a status akin to the Paris Hiltons and Nicole Richies of today. Like many of her modern equivalents, she has always had a knack for courting controversy.

Take, for example, the repeated brushes with the law, which began in 1985 when she was accused of stealing £50,000 from a New Jersey drug dealer. Three years later, she was put on probation for her role in a cocaine ring; in 1993, she was fined for possessing marijuana.

In May 1994, she was charged with receiving stolen jewellery, and sentenced to 13 days in jail with three years probation. Ten months later, she was back in court, after being arrested in West Hollywood under the influence of drugs. Several grams of amphetamines were discovered in her purse, and she received a further 120 days in jail.

"Victoria didn't inherit Britt Ekland's looks, and she certainly didn't inherit Peter Sellers' talent," says a family friend. "But her father was pretty bonkers, and prone to going off the rails in his private life; she has certainly ended up with a hefty dollop of that." Over the years, various US court judges have appeared to agree. One accused her of taking "a somewhat hedonistic approach to life - a great deal of taking and not much giving." Another ordered her to undergo psychiatric counselling, saying: "Get a life."

Yet behind the stern criticism and lurid headlines lies a story of a woman whom friends describe as a victim. Certainly, Victoria Sellers has always been touched by tragedy - from the messy divorce of her parents, to the untimely death of her father in 1980, when she was 15, and her half-brother Michael, earlier this year. "This latest news really is the most terrible thing for her," said her half-sister, Sarah, yesterday. "I can only imagine what she must be feeling. I saw her at Michael's funeral, and she seemed really to have got her life back on track. She had a boyfriend, who she was thinking of marrying, and a jewellery business that was doing well. For the first time in years she seemed optimistic about the future. Now she will have to start from scratch over here, where she hardly knows anybody. I will look after her, and so will Britt's friends, but America really is her home. It's where she was educated and grew up. For this to happen to her now really is terribly sad."

Hollywood's gossipmongers may also declare a period of mourning. The loss of Sellers brings an end to a notorious showbusiness career that was kickstarted in 1986, with the traditional photo-spread in Playboy.

A sometime actress, Sellers attempted, unsuccessfully, to sell a book she wrote called My Life in the Sunshine, which told of her friendship with Heidi Fleiss, the notorious Hollywood "madam", and affairs with various actors and musicians.

In 2001, she even made a film with Fleiss. Entitled Sex Tips with Heidi Fleiss and Victoria Sellers, the video featured the two women being driven around Hollywood in a limousine and not much else, dispensing sex advice interspersed with nuggets of celebrity gossip.

The Victoria Sellers story began shortly after Peter Sellers, then 38, met 20-year-old Ekland at the Dorchester Hotel in 1964. The couple married within 10 days, and produced their only child a year later. She first appeared in public when she was only two weeks old, cradled by her parents in a photo-shoot for a glossy magazine. However, it was a stormy marriage and Sellers and Ekland were very publicly, and messily, divorced by the time she was three.

"When Britt Ekland and Peter Sellers were divorcing, Victoria was always one of the major things they'd argue about," says Roger Lewis, author of the biography The Life and Death of Peter Sellers. "But ... their arguments were nothing to do with the child. She was merely their way of hurting each other.

"For instance, Sellers would make a big deal of having custody of her, to stay for a holiday or something, but then when Victoria turned up, he would just leave her in the care of nannies and disappear. I guess from the start that it was always an unhappy childhood, and her family was always in the papers for the wrong reasons."

Peter Sellers was certainly a difficult father. His late son Michael's memoir, PS I Love You recalls the comedian throwing wine over Victoria after she had jokily described him as "a bit podgy" at a family party. He would also throw a tantrum if she wore purple, since it was apparently his unlucky colour.

"Victoria's life since has really been more sad than anything," adds Lewis. "From that background, she's turned out to be somebody that never really got their life organised, and has been pretty permanently off the rails. The other great tragedy is that she never even inherited much of her father's estate, since he left it all, except for a few thousand pounds, to Lynne Frederick, his fourth wife. So unlike a lot of other Hollywood socialites, she's never been financially secure."

Other acquaintances recall a similarly unhappy childhood. The photographer Graham Stark has chronicled his friend- ship with Peter Sellers in a new autobiography, Stark Naked. "Despite all the awful things Peter said about Britt Ekland, I have always remained a big fan of hers, and when Victoria was growing up and trying to break into showbusiness, Britt asked me to do a portrait of her," he said yesterday. "She flew over to my studio, and I got the impression that she was very pleasant, but probably not the brain of Britain. She seemed a bit lost, or vacuous. But we did get some lovely shots in the end.

"I have kept in touch with all the things that have happened to her since, and it's rather sad. She's a bit of a lost sheep, really. I know LA, and it can be a tatty town. People can live a life of just going to party after party, and it's a vacuous existence. I feel rather sorry for her."

In recent years, Sellers has managed a more settled life, finally giving up her showbusiness career after an ill-fated attempt in the mid-1990s to emulate her father by becoming a stand-up comedian. Her eponymous jewellery company has prospered, and she told an interviewer in 2004 that she no longer touches class A drugs. "I used to go out every night, but now I hardly go out at all, and I feel better for it," she said. "And I have a jewellery business I'm really proud of. I'm off drugs now. Once in a blue moon, I smoke a joint."

Back in London, friends were waiting to see what fate will throw at her next. Her half-sister Sarah, who runs an antique teddy bear shop in London called All You Can Bear, described the move to deport her as sad and unfair. "From what the US authorities are saying, she's been on the run from police since 2002," she said. "That just isn't true. She's been living in Hollywood since then, and has even appeared in Hello! magazine. You don't appear in Hello! magazine if you are trying to hide."

"What will happen next? Who knows? Victoria has this wonderful way of looking on the bright side. Whatever happens, she'll hopefully manage to take things in her stride."