How we met: Nick Foulkes & George Hamilton

'I think we're very much like women must be about their bags and shoes'
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George Hamilton, 67, is known for his performances in 110 films (including All The Fine Young Cannibals, with Natalie Wood, and The Godfather III). Off-screen he has a cult following for his suave style and all-year-round tan. He has two sons and lives in Malibu, California.

Nick walked into Hamilton's, my bar in Vegas, wearing an ice-blue Shantung silk jacket and asking for an American Martini. This was 1997, but he looked like a guy turning up for a Sinatra opening. Then he started talking about the past as if it were the present. I liked his turn of phrase a lot. It was uniquely elegant.

On that night we met there were two Los Angeles women in the bar trying to sell me vodka, which isn't hard to do. I subsequently got a date with one of them, though I don't think Nick knows that.

He wrote a couple of pieces about me that I liked because he perpetuated the myth - and he got the joke. We've talked about doing a book together.

One mustn't take this whole style thing too seriously. If it was effete-ism it would be defeatism, right? But I love the grand gesture, the ability to dress as a character - and that's what Nick does. Of course, he's the real object - I'm just a carbon copy. When it comes to dressing, I always thought the British had it down. I always tried to dress like the people I admired when I first came here, before the starch had gone out of the collar.

Nick shows me the side of England that the American wouldn't be invited into - clubs and the like. I'd better not be specific, as we'd be thrown out. They'd say, "Let an actor into this club - and look what happens!" I'm down for the Garrick but I won't get in for years, unless I have a big comeback.

I love the way Nick uses the British vernacular. Anyone can natter on like me but very few people can reach into their brain and find exactly the right word. "Ducks and drakes!" - hey, what a perfect thing to say. Or "he needs another turn in the oven". Ha, ha! "He's not the full shilling." Ha, ha, ha! That's the sort of phrase I like to hear.

He likes to live in another era and so do I. He can glance at my suit and see it's by Anderson and Shepherd. I think we're very much like women must be about their bags and shoes. We'll always notice what the other is wearing. Nick will say, "You're looking well" - and his eyes will be on my shoes.

I have a very large watch collection, so there's another thing we talk about for hours. But we both resist materialism. I don't own these watches; I'm just their curator. The enlightened go full circle and come round the other side not needing these things. Very few people can do this, but Nick's on the path.

Why would we ever fall out? Men just get on with each other. It's like My Fair Lady: "Why can't a woman be more like a man?"

Nick Foulkes 42, is a journalist and the author of Dunhill By Design, Last of the Dandies, and, most recently, a sparkling social history of Waterloo, Dancing into Battle. He is married with two sons and lives in Shepherd's Bush, London.

He cheers me up. He really does. Obviously I knew about George before I met him; I'd seen his fantastic film Where The Boys Are, and I knew about his, gosh, perma-tanned reputation. Then I met him and realised that's just something he's created, to send out on his behalf while he thinks about something else.

The first thing we talked about was a dish of peas that was on the menu in his bar, tiny peas with mint that I referred to as Peas George Hamilton. Then he held the whole table rapt with a story about Cary Grant riding a white horse wearing a blue denim suit, tripping. He has an appropriate story for every occasion. Then these two women arrived to sell vodka and it was brilliant seeing him charm them. I'm quite self-conscious about these things, but it comes so naturally to him.

A lot of my friends are older than me, and with George I'm in awe of the life he's led. He's spent time with the Marcoses, he knew Robert Mitchum, he met JFK and Adlai Stevenson - he dated Lyndon B Johnson's daughter, for God's sake! His world is not my world. It's the world of Slim Aarons and Palm Beach. It's fascinating to me.

I appreciate his appreciation of the past. He often quizzes me for historical details about Waterloo or whatever it is I'm writing. I'm a terminal nostalgic; I find it very difficult to appreciate the moment. He is in love with the past but manages to bring it up to the moment, too.

I meet him in the strangest places, like a hysterical super-rich dinner party or once, by chance, in Sardinia. I noticed the watch first, a Panerai worn outside a long-sleeved polo shirt. Who's wearing that, I thought, and then I saw it was him and went "Geeeooorrge!"

I wouldn't say for a minute that I give him an entrée into London society - he has more entrées than I ever would - but it's typical of him to say that because he's so generous. Without being pompous, there's enough mutual respect to make our friendship very easy.

He's unfailingly polite and impossibly good natured. Whenever fans stop him and ask for his picture he's always charming. His film work is very accomplished, I think, though he's never precious about it. Anything he's done I will watch because it will have that element of style that will appeal to me, even if it's incredibly banal or silly, like the movie set in 1980s New York in which he plays Dracula. And he just makes me laugh.

I went into a George Hamilton merchandise shop once. It was full of tanning products and things, and there was a T-shirt that said: "Vegas-tan, Miami-tan, Hamiltan"! You have to be pretty robust to send yourself up like that.

But at the same time he owns rare Capo di Monte porcelain, and we can sit up talking about Neapolitan tailors for hours. I'm grateful to know him.

'Dancing into Battle' by Nick Foulkes is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, priced £18.99