Michael Winner: Behind the scenes
Since he bought the palatial house he grew up in, Michael Winner has installed a few toys of his own - not least a Jacuzzi, pool and cinema room
Wednesday 21 November 2007
I used to get rather annoyed when people said I inherited this house. I wish I had - it would have saved me a lot of money. The truth is that in 1972, my parents moved to France, and since there was an enormous gift tax in those days, I bought it from them.
Back then, the house consisted of one flat and two other rent-controlled flats. On top of that, the lease was only 17 years. I managed to negotiate a new one until 2040, but I have decided that I will be leaving the house to the nation - as a museum.
It was once the home of a Victorian artist called Sir Luke Fildes, and was built a well-known domestic architect, Richard Norman Shaw. Where Fildes's studio was is now my bedroom. Edward VII called it one of the finest rooms in London.
The house is already on tours of London's most important Victorian buildings - I often see 20 or 30 people outside, with someone talking, probably a load of drivel, outside the front gates.
One of the first things I did was put in a cinema. Before DVDs came on the scene, I had a real projector running 35mm film. I used to get all the films ahead of distributor time. The walls are decked out with black and white photos from my films. From Sophia Loren to John Cleese and Charles Bronson - the only portrait that isn't from my own productions is a signed photo that I bought of Marilyn Monroe. You see it as soon as you come in the door.
The cinema does feature in my new book, Fat Pig Diet, as it is incredibly handy to have something to take your mind off eating in the evening. After the cinema, I decided to put in a swimming pool, a Jacuzzi and a mini-gymnasium. I thought it would be nice to have a swim occasionally, I had the space and, thank God, I had the money to do it!
Although it looks a great house for parties, I never have any. I'm a total recluse. I'm at home at least four nights of the week.
When I moved in, I got Tessa Kennedy to help me to do it up. I wanted it to look like the house of a country vicar - of course, she did it very posh and it looked quite over the top. I said, "This is not a country vicar's house - this must belong to one who won the lottery." A lot of the rooms I have since changed from how Tessa originally designed them.
There are nine toilets and seven bathrooms - because I'm a bachelor, I don't need many bedrooms, but you could quite easily have 15 if you wanted to. At the moment, there are three bedrooms in active use - one for the housekeeper, one for me and one for Geraldine in case I snore too much. I'm not sure when we will get married. I acquired a fiancee. I said, "Geraldine, darling, it's taken me 71 years to get a fiancee - so don't hold your breath for the wedding!"
We have quite a lot of staff - two dailies, a live-in housekeeper, a gardener, a chauffeur and a cook. When I lived here with my parents, my bedroom was what is now the kitchen, and the walls were covered with pictures of me and lots of the stars. Me and Nat King Cole, me and Bob Hope. As a young boy I had a column in 17 local newspapers, which allowed me to meet and interview all the stars.
There are many things I love about this house. It has great space, the rooms are enormous. It has a five-car garage and the garden is wonderful. It is a very livable and comfortable place. I have the best neighbour in the world: Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin. And I'm right next door to the park.
Geraldine and I watch a lot of movies. I'm a member of the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and I vote for the Oscars, so they send us zillions of DVDs. A new batch has just come in. The last film we saw was Waitress, which I really enjoyed. I also love old black-and-white films. I don't find the current standard of TV comedy very exciting. My best friend John Cleese is extremely funny and I loved Michael Crawford in Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em. But they're all trying to be too clever now. I can't stand all these reality TV shows - a chef shouldn't be a celebrity, he should be in the kitchen with his mouth shut.
I'm the greatest collector ever - if you look around the house, every wall is packed with paintings. I have an enormous collection of children's books - originals by Arthur Rackham, some of Winnie the Pooh, and Dulac. I also have two portraits of myself, one by Peter Edwards, the other by Anne Mackintosh.
I wouldn't want to own another house. The maintenance on this house is quite enough! And I love hotels, I love luxury hotels. They can worry about the roof leaking and the plumbing. One of my favourite hotels is La Reserve de Beaulieu in the South of France. This house has 47 rooms and it takes 168 lightbulbs just to light the outside. God knows how many are in the rest of the house.
Since writing my diet book, I have become very health-conscious. I don't tend to cook at home that much, but I do make a fantastic scrambled eggs - in a frying pan, oddly enough. When I told Ava Gardner that I made them like that, she said Frank used to make them in exactly the same way. I can't sing like Sinatra, but I can do eggs like him.
Michael Winner's 'Fat Pig Diet' (Jr Books, 12.99)
The film director and producer and restaurant critic Michael Winner was born in 1935 in London, the son of a property investor. His latest book is The Fat Pig Diet. He lives near Kensington with Geraldine Lynton-Davies, his fiancee and on-off girlfriend of 40 years.
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