Sex and the single currency

Marcelle d'Argy Smith is famous for telling Cosmo readers everything they need to know about orgasms. But now she has a new passion. Politics. And she's set her heart on Brussels

Ann Treneman
Wednesday 31 March 1999 23:02

Marcelle d'Argy Smith is famous for her years at Cosmo but now she has found another passion - politics. And by this she means euro politics. She even claims to love Brussels. I think that this is strange but then realise that such a fetish would fit well with her Cosmo past. She loves Brussels so much, in fact, that she is standing as an MEP for the new Pro-Euro Tory Party. This, despite the fact that she is a socialist. I mention this inconsistency to her. She shrugs as if to say, well, everybody makes their mistakes.

This is true. I can't help but notice that everyone I talk to before this interview seems mistaken about Marcelle. They do not want to know her views on the euro. "Orgasms," they say. "Didn't she say you could have 10 before breakfast? Ask about that."

I arrive well past breakfast, thank goodness, and find Marcelle in a snit, albeit an elegant one. It seems that she has taken against photographers because a picture has appeared that makes her look like "Ann Widdecombe's very cross older sister". She is locked in Geneva-type negotiations with The Independent's photographer Tom Pilston. Marcelle is wary. Tom is patient. He says that he is trying very hard not to say the words "Trust me". Marcelle agrees that he should not utter those words: "Never trust a man who says trust me. It's so corny but it's true!"

I retreat to the front room of her flat near Hyde Park. There are two large sofas and a coffee table that is burdened with books about Europe. Some are hardbacks. Now that is dedication. A Diptyche candle is burning. Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet is blaring. Marcelle enters carrying a glass of peach-flavoured water. Negotiations have stalled and, in the cooling- off period, the interview begins. I say that I have to ask her about the orgasm thing but that we could leave it until last. She laughs. I say that we are going to talk about politics and I swear that she looks a little startled.

It is impossible to have a straightforward conversation with Marcelle d'Argy Smith. Every question leads to an answer that is best described as a maze. In print this may seem a bit ditsy but in person it is not, perhaps because her voice is low and her delivery can be rather thoughtful. Her accent is unplaceable and certainly does not reflect Leigh-on-Sea in Essex, which is where she grew up an indeterminate number of years ago.

Fun is a favourite word and she is undoubtedly fun to talk to as she intersperses her euro-babble with random thoughts on men, sex and life in general. These seem the verbal equivalent of a Cosmopolitan cover line. She was famous for these when she was editing the magazine in the early Nineties, and she certainly hasn't lost her touch.

On Europe she is gushing and says that she has felt like this since she was 21 and lived in southern France. This intensified as she travelled round Europe for 12 years while editing International Art and Antiques Yearbook. She has been a member of the European Movement for some time. "So," she says, "when John Stevens was casting around for candidates, somebody told him to call me." She says that Mr Stevens, an MEP who broke away from the Conservatives last year, is not an unattractive man. "He has an obscene amount of brown shiny hair. Did I say Byronic? Well, I don't know what Byron looked like. I suspect that he had more defined cheekbones."

She did not take his call at first. "I had put my back out and was in agony. I was crawling to a Fulham physio on all fours in the taxi. Then I was on a deadline, writing a piece on what it feels like to be publicly fired. Yes, from Woman's Journal. That's right. Being publicly fired had no effect on me whatsoever. Those sorts of things don't affect me." She stops talking for a moment and spends a moment beaming.

She then jumps to another subject, saying that she adored a man called Vincent Hannah. I say that I remember him, the broadcaster who died suddenly a few years ago. She tells me all about a lunch they had and then, finally, comes the point. "It was one of the things he said about his life. He looked at me and said that it is very important in life that you keep on re-inventing yourself. I thought that was really interesting. You do, you know. You just have to go and do something else. I never know what it is going to be, by the way."

I should steer her back to politics but instead I comment that it can be difficult to go back to things. "Well, you can sometimes go back to men," she says, her voice now almost a whisper. Oh really, I say. "Well, I think if you've exhausted each other then you can't. But there are often people who have a sort of dalliance and it just passes and then they meet again when all the corners are rubbed off and that is the most brilliant thing going."

So has she done this? She dodges the question and says that she is a believer in the saying that goes: "Everything you say should be true but that is no reason to tell all the truth." She does not like to talk names or specifics. "I'm an editor. One of the great things about being an editor is that I've learned to edit what I say. It's not fair on me or the men. But people do come to me and eyeball me and say: are you a lesbian? Oh, I would be thrilled! But..."

I interrupt. What about the phone call from John Stevens? "Oh yes, so I talked to him. I said the thing is I'm a socialist. He said we should meet anyway." They did, at the Chelsea Arts Club. Marcelle likes it there because she can go there when she "looks like rat shit". She demanded that he be grilled by her friend AA Gill. He agreed. They talked about the euro timetable and Marcelle was appalled to realise the situation was worse than she thought. Labour won't hold a referendum until after the election and it would take several years to introduce the euro after that. She says that that brings us to 2006. "That is simply too far away."

We are all being kept in the dark because Tony Blair and Gordon Brown are afraid to come out and say they believe in the euro. "I happen to know they do," she says. She says we are the least informed people in Europe. "We know nothing about what the euro would do for us. There has been no information given to us. We've got an extremely hostile media. All we hear about is that the Germans are still warlike and that we will have French laws and have to pay for the Italians. It is all wrong."

She draws breath. "Look, I've been paid by Woman's Journal until August. Yes, that's true. It's very rare that you get a tiny space like this and I can throw myself into this. How can I get elected? I probably can't. But from now until June, boy, can you raise the debate."

Marcelle wants to push for two things. The first is getting rid of William Hague whom she calls a "flat-earther". She prefers Kenneth Clarke, anyway. "He is far more modern. He's relaxed, he sits back, he likes jazz. He loves his wife. They chat around forever." I interrupt. So what is the second thing? "We can press this Government. What we are demanding - if not demand then ask, insist, pressure, make a fuss about - is that we have a referendum within a year. That means information now. We need information now."

The phone rings. Earlier John Stevens had rung and Marcelle had invited him to a soiree that evening at a magazine called The Erotic Review. "He didn't answer other than to say that he's led a sheltered life," she says. I suspect that all that is about to change. This time the call is from Any Questions. "Yes, well, I'll have to read the papers," she says. Marcelle says that the press is only interested in her because of the "freak factor".

I say that it must be terrifying to be on one of those shows and she shakes her head. "It's funny what you are terrified of. Dinner parties. I could never give a dinner party. Terrified of it." She says that she would rather sleep with a man than have a dinner party because then there are only two people who would know if you screwed it up. It seems a good time to mention the orgasm factor. Did she ever run an article on 10 before breakfast? "No, I was too busy doing it. Noooo, of course I didn't."

It's time for the photograph - Tom's patience has paid off - but first I ask her about her party politics one more time. Can you really be a socialist and a Tory simultaneously? "I don't think this is about that. This is an issue. Look, I'm Jewish. I look at the Chief Rabbi and he drives me insane. He is anti-gay. He is a fundamentalist. I cannot be a fundamentalist! I don't think that Labour is good or the Tories bad."

So what happens if she is actually elected on 10 June? Marcelle looks shocked. "Ahhh. Oh, that is something else. I haven't thought that far ahead. No, I haven't."

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