Molly Parkin: 'Jesus would've slept with everyone in the Sixties'

The artist, writer and sexual adventurer turns 80 this week and she's celibate now. Well, apart from the occasional surfer, she tells Matthew Bell

Molly Parkin is a painter, writer, and award-winning fashion editor, but she's just as famous for sleeping with 365 men a year, give or take, during the Sixties and Seventies. John Mortimer; George Melly; Louis Armstrong; John Thaw; Bo Didley – her lovers were as varied as she was energetic, though she's been celibate for 20 years. Well, almost. There was a knee-trembler with a surfer in the disabled loo of Las Vegas airport a few years ago: she was 74, he was 23.

On Friday, she turns 80, and is being feted with a big night at the Chelsea Arts Club, in London. They're painting 20 portraits of their longest-serving member (54 years) on its whitewashed façade, and Barbara Hulanicki, Bob Geldof and Manolo Blahnik are flying in to blow some streamers. The club is paying – just as well – as Molly went bankrupt 10 years ago, and lives in a one-room council flat on the King's Road.

Not that this description does justice to the scarlet boudoir in which I find her, decorated like the inside of a bonfire. "Barbara Hulanicki asked if she could do a shoot in here," Molly yells across a giant heap of purple fabric. "I said, of course you can't fucking shoot in here. It's tiny and I don't want 36 assistants traipsing through."

Molly shouts because of a childhood mastoid infection, and speaks in an endless monologue of "Welsh valley verbal diarrhoea". It's like listening to Elizabeth Taylor read the Arabian Nights, each anecdote leading, unfinished, to the next. In the end, I just shout over her. About the sex, I bellow. Don't all those one-nighters leave you a bit empty?

"No! In the world of bohemia, sex was like shaking hands. It mattered very little. Sex is like giving gifts to each other." But isn't it a special gift, for the person you love? "You can love more than one person. If your heart is open. Look at Jesus – he gave love to the multitudes." Well, he didn't make love to them. "He would have if he'd lived in the Sixties."

Molly has presided over orgies in New York, and written bestselling erotic novels, but she wasn't always promiscuous. Born in 1932, she grew up in a humble chapel-going family in south Wales, and was a virgin until the age of 22. By 1962, she was happily married to the Oxford-educated art dealer Michael Parkin, and they had two young daughters. But one day she discovered he was having an affair and divorced him. Her new freedom coincided with the start of the sexual revolution. Thanks to the milkman, she embarked on a 30-year bender. "Before the divorce came through, I was pregnant. I didn't know by which of the men I was by then sleeping with. It was the milkman who initiated me. I opened the door in my nightie, he came to me and the next thing ..." I leap in: did your husband's infidelity make you hate men? "No! I didn't know how much I loved them until then!"

Parkin then married the artist Patrick Hughes in 1968. She described her many lovers in gleeful detail in her recent memoir, Welcome to Mollywood: from exploits with a strip light to spanking John Mortimer – "I got tired of slapping his botty." But the main benefit of writing it, she says, was to excise the ghost of her father, who abused her as a girl. She told nobody until she was in her 60s, and vomited as she wrote about it. "I had buried it so deep down. Nobody knows unless it's happened to them how it can be with you, you know, all the way through. So it's gone now, and I think of him with total compassion; total love for a damaged person."

Creatively, her first divorce was more damaging. Until then she was a successful painter, exhibiting in Liberty's and selling her work as fast as she could make it, but afterwards she was unable to paint for 25 years. "That's why I went into fashion – to make money. I've always earned more money than any man I know, anyway. But I'm not proud of my decade in fashion. I can hurl together an outfit, but it's a sideline."

She gave up drink in 1987, and the 100 cigarettes a day, which is probably why she's alive and Francis Bacon and other Soho friends aren't. But then Molly is a survivor: an extraordinary life force beams out of her eyes, as she talks about art and the importance of creativity. She won a place at grammar school, scholarships to Goldsmiths and Brighton art colleges, and has always worked and paid her way.

As I leave, she speaks of one of her briefest encounters. On a train with a friend, the inspector gave her a wink, and off she went. "When I got back, my friend looked at me and said I was 'disgusting'. Maybe, I said, but which of us has the wider grin on our face?"

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: Human Resources Manager

£28000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: A successful organisation...

Recruitment Genius: Internal Recruiter - Manufacturing

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Internal Recruiter (manufact...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager (CIPD) - Barking / East Ham - £50-55K

£50000 - £55000 per annum + 25 days holidays & benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Man...

Recruitment Genius: Operations / Project Manager

£40000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This software company specialis...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea