Swede Dreams - Britt Ekland
This article is from 2008.
A true icon of the 60s and 70s, Britt Ekland has lived a life of glamour and glory. She tells Liz Joseph why she’s telling the Fringe her story and how she keeps from feeling her age.
Sex kittens never die, do they? Preserved for ever in the aspic of celluloid, glossy pin-up photographs and the fevered memories of a generation of men, surely they don’t even fade away? ‘Well, I guess you could say that I was a sex kitten until I was 54,’ responds Swedish actress Britt Ekland, with a throaty laugh. Now a sleek, sophisticated 65-year-old — even sex bombs qualify for a bus pass one day — the former Bond girl and rock chick who shot to fame when she married Peter Sellers, and later became one of Rod Stewart’s bevy of blonde beauties, recalls that in order to get work she used to have to look like Britt Ekland. But a woman can’t spend her entire life in a metaphorical mink bikini.
‘I’m a bit long in the tooth to be a sex symbol. I have three beautiful children; two sons and Victoria, my daughter I had with Peter. My eldest son, Nikolai, is getting married to a lovely girl later this year and I can’t wait to become a grandmother,’ says Ekland in her sexily fractured English. ‘I’m really a very cheerful, very positive 65-year-old, even though I toured in the stage show Grumpy Old Women last year. In my private life, I’m most definitely not a grumpy old woman. I celebrate my age and I’m happy because I believe in staying fit and healthy and slim. I have a cold at present, and it’s the first I’ve had for years. I’ve never taken a day off work due to sickness in my life. So, yeah, I look pretty good, my skin is clear and I’m happy with my hair, even if it’s no longer quite so glorious as it used to be. As for plastic surgery, I have no problems with having work done on my face.’
There was much speculation last year that she had had collagen injected into her lips, which suddenly seemed improbably full. However, that’s no one’s business but her own, she replies when asked. She still has a fabulous figure, though, since she exercises regularly, running backwards and forwards most days. ‘Honestly, I have such a fabulous life, a job I love, wonderful children and great friends. I have a home in Sweden, and places I rent in LA and London since I divide my time between both places. I’ve no problems telling you that I’ll be 66 in October, although sometimes I feel I’ve lived a hundred years because I’ve packed so much into my life.’
Which is presumably why she is doing a one-woman Fringe show, Britt on Britt, in which the woman who played an insatiable nymphomaniac in the cult horror The Wicker Man will look back in languor on her life and times. It’s not a kiss-and-tell show, though. She’s already done that in her 1980 autobiography, True Britt.
‘I’ve lived a wonderful life, a positive life,’ she explains. ‘So I hope the show will be entertaining. Certainly, my life has been most entertaining. Also, I am proud of my age; I don’t mind you asking me how old I am, because I never thought I would live beyond 40. In my early teens, I remember worrying that my mother, who seemed very old — she must have been about 40! — would die soon because of her great age. When I was 20 and married to Peter, I looked about 15. It used to drive me mad. By the time I was 40, though, I was married to Jim [McDonnell, the Stray Cats drummer Slim Jim Phantom, with whom she has her younger son, Thomas Jefferson] and we led a very quiet life. Jim liked to stay home in LA when he wasn’t on the road. It wasn’t a normal life, because he was a rock star and I was a movie actress, but he loved being with me and our baby. I was very happy with Jim, but nothing lasts for ever.’
Slim Jim was 19 years younger than Ekland, exactly the age gap between her and Sellers when they married, she helpfully points out. However, ageing is what we all do. ‘Consider the alternative!’ she exclaims huskily. ‘I can’t be this gorgeous little blonde thing all my life. This is me now, although I guess I’ve only been the real me for maybe 15 years.’ As if to harpoon a few myths, she continues: “If you Google me, you will find that I am 5ft 2”. That would make me the same size as Kylie and I am definitely not, I am actually 5ft 5”. And you will also read, for instance, that I auditioned in order to become a Bond girl. Actually, I called Cubby Broccoli — the producer — and told him I wanted the part and I got it. I did NOT audition.’
Ekland was very funny as Mary Goodnight to Roger Moore’s 007 in The Man with the Golden Gun, brilliantly parodying her own dumb-blonde image as Bond’s curvaceous but clueless assistant. She’s philosophical about the many untruths that have sometimes tarnished her own golden girl image; she speaks four languages fluently, for example.
Is that why she is doing Britt on Britt, to set the record straight? ‘No, there’s no point in trying to do that,’ she sighs. ‘You — the media — have this fixed image of me. And now there’s all this stuff about me on the internet that’s not true, but I can’t change that. Journalists Google me, then they write their own thing whatever I tell them; like the fact that I’m only 5ft 2”!’
Before she decided to do a one-woman show, she called her close friend, the actor Victor Spinetti and went to see him performing his show and he gave Ekland the confidence to do her own. She then sat down with writer Mark Dooley and her director, ‘the lovely, quirky Hannah Chissick’, who worked with her in Grumpy Old Women and got through her story.
‘It was Hannah who suggested I should do the show. We were motoring to somewhere like Coventry on the Grumpy tour and she said, “You know, you’ve had an amazing life. Have you ever thought about doing a show about it?” I had often discussed it with girlfriends, but I was always working, travelling to LA or London, touring, doing panto, which I’ve done now for about 15 years: I love being the Wicked Queen!’
Putting this show together has been a strange experience for Ekland, ‘because while I run backwards to stay physically fit, I’m mentally running backwards, too, although I’ve always lived my life forwards. I’m not the sort of sad woman who lives in the past. When I hear women of my age saying how wonderful things used to be, I’m not interested. I certainly don’t feel that my past is better than my present, although I hope I’ve learnt from my experiences and become something else. Although I guess I’ll always be Britt Ekland, glamour girl.’
She pauses then says she feels she was blessed with beauty. ‘It’s certainly not a curse. When it fades, you’ll be found out. You have to have talent to back it up, an inner strength, too. Living in the past, mourning the passing of great beauty makes you bitter. I’ve no regrets. I’m just so happy that I have a past. In any case, I believe in fate. My life’s turned out the way it was meant to, and I hope there’ll be lots more of it ahead of me.’
Her list of lovers has included the photographer Lord Lichfield, Hollywood actors Warren Beatty and George Hamilton, and music producer Lou Adler — Nikolai’s father — so does she still need a man in her life? ‘I’ve only one man in my life, my chihuahua Tequila, who travels everywhere with me. He’ll even appear with me in my show since it’s the first time I’ll have been alone on stage. I’m filled with excitement at the thought of doing a sort of stand-up comedy act — there are lots of laughs, by the way — but I’m also filled with terror.’
Britt on Britt, Assembly Rooms, George Street, 0131 623 3030, 3—25 Aug (not 20), 6.30pm, £10.50—£11.50 (£9.50—£10.50). Previews 31 Jul—2 Aug, £5.