ETCETERA / How We Met: Derek Jarman and Kevin Collins

Sabine Durrant
Saturday 22 October 2011 21:41
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Derek Jarman (51), the son of an RAF bomber pilot, was brought up in Italy, Pakistan and Middlesex. He was educated at London Universityand the Slade, and began his career as a set designer before going on to direct such films as Caravaggio, War Requiem and The Garden. In 1986, he was diagnosed HIV positive. His friend, Kevin Collins (27), was born and brought up in Newcastle - his father is a Methodist factory-worker. He worked in computers before becoming an actor. They spend most of their time in a one-room flat on the Char

ing Cross Road in London.

DEREK JARMAN: I was in Newcastle . . . it'll be seven years ago this October . . . on the panel of the Tyneside Film Festival. Kevin kept appearing in the front row. He was very well - expensively - dressed; you couldn't not notice him because everybody else had anoraks and sweaters and T-shirts. I went up to him to say hello, and said we all wanted to go to this club called Rock Shots. But he said: 'I never go to nightclubs.' I asked him if he would show us where it was, as we didn't know. Lies, of course, all lies.

He left us at the door and the next day, I came back to London. I really wanted to meet him again. In about December, I thought: 'This is crazy', so I rang Peter Packer who ran the festival, and said: 'Do you know that young man who was in the front row?' 'Oh,' he replied, 'Him. He's trouble.' He gave me his number and I rang him on New Year's Eve to say Happy New Year. There was this deathly hush, but I said: 'If you ever come to London, you're welcome to stay . . . ' and two weeks later he did.

When he first visited - with his little bag over his shoulder - he'd never been to London before and he was very Geordie about it: 'Why should I want to come to London?', you know. But he was working on computers at the time - very high powered - and I think he was fed up with it. So by March, I suggested he came and lived in my flat in the Charing Cross Road while I was at my home in Dungeness. That's the story. He came down, and has lived in this room ever since. It's rather romantic really, as stories go. I think it shows considerable daring to actually ring someone up. Odd that it should work out as the best relationship of my life.

We've never argued, which seems amazing to me. Other people hammer each other, lay little mines. Kevin thinks I sabotage his hair - he feels I have a vested interest in making him look as unkempt as possible to make me look better. But, apart from that and Coronation Street, which he loves and I'll do anything to avoid, that's about it. Perhaps it works so well because we're so different. There's the huge age gap to start off: I'm an old colonel and he's a young sultan. And we're quite good at giving each other space - for instance, he goes back to Newcastle every two weeks for the weekend and I go down to my house in Dungeness. It's platonic - sort of, anyway - but whatever it is, it works.

We don't do an awful lot together. He likes going to the cinema, and I've become less and less inclined to go out. He'll cook his meals - it'll be things like marrowfat peas and corn, proper Geordie fare. But I'm a middle-class foodie, so I'll have pasta with pesto or something. Sometimes, all I've got is a tangerine . . . I'm a terrible snob, especially about visual things, but I'm very good at covering it up. I rather like Kevin's clothes - I can just squeeze into them. But he's very possessive about them; every now and again I find something on my pile - a pullover or something - and it looks as though it might be mine . . .

I suppose what I like most about Kevin is his seriousness - he was brought up a Methodist and has very old-fashioned values. He had a very stable upbringing and has a sense of place, which I never had. I was a forces child and my father was a New Zealander. It's nice to come home to someone who has a sense of place.

The other thing about Kevin is he never goes 'out'. I'm not certain about Newcastle - I've never asked. He says he sits in and watches TV. I used to go 'out' - Hampstead Heath for one thing - but I don't any longer. We really are the most anti-social people you could possibly meet.

I have to say illness has bound the relationship together in an odd sort of way - you know, one's imminent dissolution at any moment. I don't know if that has altered the relationship, but it's certainly part of it. It would be silly not to acknowlege that. I'm a full-time occupation in one way or another, and there was a moment when he was offered a video editing job and turned it down because I was ill . . . He's the most caring person you could imagine - he won't let me into the kitchen. His favourite new toy is this new washing machine. I think if he were asked what he liked best in the world, it would be a conflict between me and this Bosch thing.

KEVIN COLLINS: I was sitting three rows from the back at the film festival, not flaunting myself in the front row. I was wearing a suit because I'd come from work, and I wouldn't go to the club out of principle, because I'd been queerbashed with a friend once and they wouldn't let us in to ring for an ambulance. The festival also gave a reception which I was invited to and, while I was there, Derek handed me a piece of paper which said: 'Don't disappear. Derek', with his phone number on it. What a strange thing, I thought. Anyway, about a fortnight later, I got a letter from him inviting me to stay. I showed it to Peter Packer and he said, 'Oh, don't go, Derek is heavily into S & M'. So I wrote back saying: 'Sorry Derek, I'm busy for the next five years.'

But he wrote to me again, saying that he was editing The Last of England, which he thought I might find interesting. As I was going down to London for a job interview, I went to visit him. It was seven o'clock in the morning when I knocked on the door. Before I went in, I said: 'Are you into S & M?' and he said 'Oh I'm sorry, no' - as if I'd be disappointed - so that was a relief. But, as I went to give him a kiss, he turned his head away and said 'You can't kiss me, I've got HIV', and I said: 'Well, that's all right. I haven't come to London for that, in any case.'

At that point, Derek was twice my age - though the gap seems to be shrinking now. We don't sleep together: Derek's always been too old for me, and I've always been too old for Derek - he likes younger men. I go back to Newcastle to visit my boyfriend every other week, while Derek has his bits of fluff on the side. He likes to have his image of propriety, but he's always popping up to Hampstead. When he's got that glint in his eye, I sometimes say: 'Leave me a note to say where you're going, so I can clutch it to my breast at your funeral after you've been queerbashed.' It's one of our little jokes. He's just a big kid, really.

He's a terrible snob is Derek. I like Co-Op brand tea, which he calls

working-class tea. 'I like working-class tea,' he'll say, but he won't finish it. Another time, I cooked him some fish fingers and he said: 'Oh, how interesting. Fish fillets in breadcrumbs. Are they new?' He also has this really irritating habit of calling me 'Hinny Beast'. Hinny's a Geordie endearment. We'll go to restaurants and he'll say: 'You can't eat that, it's not hinny beast food'. Once, I was introduced to someone as the Hinny Beast. I've tried to wean him off it, but he won't stop. It's very embarrassing.

The caring business has always been part of the deal. When I first got here, Derek wasn't very good at looking after himself; the kitchen was in a bit of a state. I don't want to be a little housewife or anything. Bloody hell, no way. But I do feel very responsible for him. I don't want to leave Derek. But if I did, there would be that stopping me. He says he doesn't mind me going to Newcastle, but there was this period for a while when, whenever I went, he broke something - a cup, a doorhandle. I'd like to think he did it out of jealousy, but maybe he was just clumsier without me.

In a way, I'm prepared for his death. Last time, after Derek had been in hospital under observation, I went to pick him up. They give you these grey polythene bags to put your stuff in. I'd packed them up and said, 'Come on, Derek'. But he replied: 'I'm not coming'. He just didn't feel well enough to come home. So I left him there and took all his property with me. I felt really cheated. I'd put the heating up high, and brought M & S creme brulee in specially. I'd gone to the hospital to get him and left without him. I sat at home on my own, and it felt as if he'd died.

Most of all I like Derek because he's round the twist. I'm very fortunate to have full-time access to a genius. We've been working on a script together and he knows exactly what it needs and where. It's incredible, it's like a spark. Our relationship is very unusual - we're not lovers or boyfriends. I tell you what we're like: James Fox and Dirk Bogarde in The Servant. I'm always saying things like: 'If I may be so bold, sir, my quiche comes highly recommended.'-

(Photograph omitted)

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