I HAD to wait about 15 minutes before she was ready to see me. When she came down she had to go back upstairs to fix her eyebrows because she wasn't quite ready to have her picture taken. By the time we settled down in the communal garden at the back of her house she truly looked like a work of art - beached, I thought, from the Sixties, brilliantly coloured in gold and pink, large paste rings and brooches of stained glass.
The overall impression was of a Britannia from an old penny who had replaced her helmet with something resembling a turban and had left her shield and trident in another part of the house. Britannia had had a face-lift. She said her costume was 'the garb of a post-menopausal superannuated art student'. 'What I am wearing is a celebration of life. I have become an artist again. I like to dress like an icon.'
I was looking at Molly Parkin, 61, a Sixties celebrity, artist, trend-setter, fashion editor and award-winning journalist in the Seventies, writer and entertainer in the Eighties. Six years ago she was on her knees in Smithfield meat market at 7am, wearing an old raincoat over a nightie, slippers and a woolly hat, unable to stand because she was so drunk, booted from a pub after a week-long alcoholic and sexual binge. Taxis passed her and would not stop. Pedestrians crossed the road to avoid her lying on the pavement. Even meat porters who had earlier been mounting her in the basement of the market ignored her. She was finished. It wouldn't be long before she was dead.
Now Molly Parkin has gone into 'sobriety', or 'recovery' as she alternatively calls Alcoholics Anonymous. She says members do not refer to the AA by name in case they lapse and bring the organisation into disrepute.
'When you are an alcoholic there is no such thing as a recovered alcoholic. It is always there, like you cannot say you're a recovered smoker. You are still a nicotine addict. I know if I had one cigarette I would be buying my own pack in two days. It's the same with drink and I wouldn't dare put in jeopardy what I have now for one drink. And it wouldn't be just one drink.'
In sobriety she talks incessantly. She has got rid of all her devils, is reunited with her two daughters and doesn't bother about the past unless you bring it up. But that is where her reputation lies and that is the subject of her autobiography, Moll, which is published this week. She calls it a parable of our times - talented and artistic girl sucked willingly into all the excesses of the Sixties and Seventies, until by the Eighties she is burnt out, broken, penniless and alone. Hating herself so much, she is ready to commit suicide.
'My autobiography is not meant to be a kiss-and-tell book, for goodness sake. It's a nice little fairy story, I think.'
The fairy tale covers some rough and sordid patches: two husbands, 30 years of heavy drinking, binges that last for months and sexual licentiousness on a scale that would leave all the other Molls - Bloom, Malone, Flanders and even dear old Fanny Hill gasping. She had hundreds of partners. Sex, she said, was simply a commodity.
When she attended her first self-help session after the last Smithfield binge she thought she would have to sleep with the man who offered her a cup of coffee.
'I used to do awful things like hail taxis and stand in front of Rolls-Royces and Daimlers if I wanted to get from A to B in a flash before the bar shut or to Langan's. I'd say I haven't got any money but you could have a poke if you like. They always accepted the offer, and that was the currency I was dealing in since I would lose my purse and my keys and was just a total mess.'
When I asked her if she enjoyed sex she said: 'No, not by that time. I had very enthralling sex in my marriages, but I don't think these encounters could be described as fun. Alcohol releases your inhibitions, it also made me incredibly amorous. I couldn't have sex without a drink. Sex was like a drug. Mind you, I've come to the state of life where it is of less urgent importance than it used to be. The sap is not rising vigorously, if at all, and so I'm blessed in that department. It's like being unchained from a lunatic.'
Molly Parkin comes from a working class family in Pontycymer in Mid-Glamorgan. Her parents were alcoholics and at a young age she had to choose between staying with her father or leaving with her mother after her grandparents died. She chose her mother. Then followed art school in Chelsea. The local Lothario attempted to seduce her, but failed. She was frigid. She had her first drink, felt at ease and the rest,
as they say, is history. She learnt her sex, she writes, from James Robertson Justice, the actor, and several other older men before she married a young art dealer.
She became fashion editor of Nova, the avant-garde women's magazine of the Sixties, moved to the Sunday Times in the Seventies as fashion editor, won prizes, divorced and remarried, moved to New York, wrote sexual romps to make money, returned to Britain in the Eighties, divorced again and rapidly went downhill. In Dublin she was banned from pubs as an incapable drunk.
Today she shines like a new coin, chuckling about her escapades, and crying too. She has no regrets. 'When I first came into sobriety, I was eaten away by shame and remorse, about the damage I had done to my children, the other people I had hurt, the many many men whose marriages I had caused to break up; there were so many things. But I soon learnt slowly that if I continued in this way I would certainly drink again. You have to put it all behind you and start afresh.'
We parted chatting about her aunties in Wales. She was hooting with laughter. She said that when she was on the bottle she lived in a fantasy world and it tasted like sawdust. The taste I shall now associate with her is fresh tea.
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