How we met; James Herbert & Ingrid Pitt

Interviews,Laurence Phelan
Saturday 29 May 1999 23:02

James Herbert was born in 1943 in east London. After leaving art college, he worked as art director in an advertising firm. In 1979 he published his first book, 'The Rats', which became a bestseller. Nineteen books on, he has sold more than 42 million novels worldwide. He lives in West Sussex with his wife, Eileen. They have three daughters

Born in Poland in 1937, Ingrid Pitt was interned in a German concentration camp at the age of five. Later she lived in Britain and then Spain, where she began to act. Her first Hollywood part was in 'Where Eagles Dare' but it was her roles in Hammer Horror films that turned her into an icon. The author of eight books, she lives with her husband, Tony, in London

JAMES HERBERT: Back in the days of proper boyfriend-and-girlfriend courting, I used to love the old Christopher Lee Hammer Horror films. You'd always take your girlfriend to them because she could pretend to be afraid and cuddle up to you. Ingrid was always the female star in those films, although in the one I loved her in best, Where Eagles Dare, she wasn't the lead.

I sort of met Ingrid when I did a radio interview for LBC, over 20 years ago. She doesn't remember. I was in awe, pressing my face against the window. She seemed like a real star - very aloof and beautiful. I was too frightened to say anything and she just wafted in and did her bit very professionally and left.

We didn't really meet until two years ago when I was on Light Lunch with Ingrid and Ken Russell. I was still in awe - they're both legends to me. I spoke to Ingrid in the make-up room and she said, "Oh darling, I've been a fan of yours for so many years." I couldn't believe it - my fantasy figure was a fan of mine! I found out that she'd done a film script of one of my books. Having met for the second time we became very close friends.

Once met you never forget Ingrid. I still fancy her like mad; she's voluptuous and beautiful - she oozes sex appeal. I was delighted that she was also so friendly and warm. I know it sounds sickly but she amazes me every time I see her. I'm very cagey about making friends and I rarely do. But when I make one, I make a friend for life and that's how it is with me and Ingrid. For me, a good friend is someone you might only see once or twice a year but each time it feels as though you've just seen them last week.

Ingrid's a great writer. When I read her book on vampires, I found that it was well-researched, intelligent and witty. There are so many aspects to Ingrid. There's a lot going on in there, a lot of depth, and every time I see her I learn a little more or find out from someone else about another act of kindness. She's had a really tough life - someone should make a movie about it. As a child during the Holocaust she was in a concentration camp with her parents, then they fled to England and went through more hard times. But she's survived it all and isn't in any way bitter. She's a real winner. You can tell I'm slightly in love with her!

She's so giving: to me, to her fans, to everyone she meets. When I'm working I'm more or less a recluse and my wife has to drag me out to parties, although I love them when I get there. I go to Ingrid's parties though - she is a remarkable host. Once I was travelling on the tube with her, on the way to one of her parties, and there were some Croatian buskers playing the violin. And she said to them, "Darlings, I'm having a party, you must come and play for me." And they did, even though the restaurant had already booked a band.

I hate to make her sound so perfect but she actually is. She is a real actress in the large sense of the word. There's no question that she's a star and a beautiful woman, but she's not in the least bit conceited.

I don't think we're very similar, except that we have the same inner energy. Mine only comes out on the page whereas Ingrid's comes out on the screen or in person. When she walks into a room it comes alive. She sometimes gets a little overexcited, but that enthuses you.

INGRID PITT: I met Jimmy on paper first, when I was asked to write a screenplay of The Dark, one of his most successful novels. We never got to meet, which upset me, because I liked his work, and I'd seen a picture of him and thought, "I really want to know this man." He has such a gentle, shining nature, a very positive outlook, and I could see it shining out of the picture.

We finally met on a television show - I can't remember what it's called. Ken Russell was on it too. Jimmy came into the make-up room, and I said to him, "Fancy meeting you here. Now I know why I did this show!" It was totally divine to meet him in person. We chatted away and found the television show a terrible interruption.

Since then we've become great friends, and we have dinners and parties together. I love his wife, I love his writing and I love him as a person. He's very grounded and down-to-earth. His background floors me: he's an East End boy made good.

He once told me that the one thing that nauseates him is red beets because it was what he had to live on as a child - his father was always boiling them in the cellar. I invited him to dinner once, and I'd completely forgotten that, and I'm a Polak so I'd cooked him borscht. The minute he walked into my apartment he must have smelt it, but he didn't say anything and kept spooning it up, and even asked for seconds! It wasn't until he'd left that I remembered. I thought, what a wonderful man for not saying anything. I think he's forgiven me now.

Jimmy's a loving man, honest and sincere. He's got such a wonderful life and a loving wife and children, and you can see the strength he gets from this very solid grounding. My life was in upheaval before I married my husband, and it destroyed my career and nearly destroyed my life - I can't cope with emotional problems. I think we are terribly similar - we really need our immediate family to give us faith.

Jimmy's incredible output of work is due to his earthiness and sincerity; I think he pushes himself because of his difficult childhood. To my mind, Jim is one of the best horror writers in the world. Everyone talks about Stephen King, but I think he is promoted far more just because he is American.

James is never frenetic. I watch him and wish I could be like that, and have the peace he has. I don't think he gets as much from me as I do from him, I don't have as much to give. But I know we'll always be friends.

James Herbert's 'The Others' is published by Macmillan, price pounds 16.99.

'Life's A Scream', Ingrid Pitt's autobiography, will be published by Macmillan on 3 June, price pounds 17.99

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