Dame Joan Collins - image Fadil Berisha

Joan Collins interview

Joan Collins interview

As she comes to Rose Theatre, we talk to the actor, author and style icon about her career, her love for a local charity, and her new tour…

Img: ©  Fadil Berisha

One of our most colourful actors of her generation, Joan Collins, at 90 years’ young, is possibly the epitome of a strong work ethic. She’s heading back out on tour with a show about her life – accompanied by her husband Percy, she’s written yet another autobiography and her support for charity is tireless to say the least. She’s often spotted down at Hampton’s Shooting Star Children’s Hospices, a cause very close to her heart.

In October, she’ll be stopping at Rose Theatre with her tour. What can we look forward to? She tells us: “One of the most enjoyable things about this show is to be able to have a conversation with the audiences who come to see it. I love the Q&A section because I never know what the audience is going to throw at me. I’m always adding in new material. I have a great story about something that recently happened to me but you’ll have to watch the show!”

When so much of her life has been played out quite publicly and detailed in her memoirs, she still hopes to surprise. Dame Joan says that she hopes people will say: “I never expected Joan Collins to say that!” Dame Joan is very candid about her life and is keen to get her across her story in her words. Her latest autobiography, Behind The Shoulder Pads: Tales I Tell My Friends, will be released in September. The book follows her life from her early years as a young star in Hollywood, her adventures with her sister Jackie, and a cast of famous characters that have touched her life.

What else did she want to say? “I was fascinated to see how attitudes have changed towards events that have happened to me in the past. For example, when I wrote about my rape, I was asked by a journalist, ‘why have you decided to speak about this now?’. I replied, ‘I wrote about it in 1978, but you just weren’t listening!’”

The daughter of theatrical agent Joe Collins and his wife Elsa, London-born Joan made her stage debut aged just nine in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House at the Arts Theatre, hit Hollywood in her twenties and went on to appear in over 70 films and countless TV shows. But the one role she’s always remembered for is she-of-the-giant shoulder-pads Alexis Carrington in US drama Dynasty. She says it is without a doubt the highlight of her career. “Alexis gave me a second bite at stardom after my career at Fox, and my second Golden Globe win as well! I’m simply speaking about my career highlight, of course – having my children was my biggest highlight.”

Joan has married five times and has three children: a son, Sacha, and two daughters, Tara and Katy. Katy was badly injured in a car accident when she was eight. It was this that spurred Dame Joan to work with several children’s charities – in particular, local charity Shooting Star Children’s Hospices, which she has done for over 30 years and is now vice-president. She is a regular visitor and also donates items from her wardrobe to the charity shops. “The children, and their families, are absolutely amazing. How to face insurmountable obstacles with such cheer, with such determination to be happy, is humbling.

“I was always involved with children’s charities because of my youngest daughter. She was seriously brain damaged and wasn’t expected to live. If she did live, she wasn’t expected to walk or talk again. It took many years but, luckily, we had the resources to be able to rehabilitate her. She is a miracle but many of these families do not have the resources I had and this is where the charity steps in. I admire the staff so much because they work tirelessly with limited resources.”

Dame Joan is an honorary founding member of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. She has supported several foster children in India for 25 years. She also supports breast cancer charities. Her mother and her sister Jackie died from breast cancer.

As well as her charity work and acting career, she is also a successful writer. Her novels and memoirs have sold over 50 million copies worldwide and have been translated into 30 languages. In 2015, Joan was awarded Dame Commander of the British Empire for her lifetime contribution to charity work, adding to her OBE for her services to the arts, awarded to her in 1997.

Given her success, it is perhaps surprising to learn that Joan had little confidence when she was younger. “I underestimated myself so much. I had no self-esteem; I didn’t even think I was particularly good looking. I would plaster myself in Pan Stick make-up. Both Jackie and I were brought up to think that we weren’t anything remarkable. The advice I would give my younger self would be: ‘you are something special’.”

Having gone on to achieve so much, it’s no surprise to hear that she gets bored if she’s not busy. “My mother used to call me Miss Perpetual Motion because I never sat still. “I’m still a bit like that. I love pottering about; having lunch or dinner or chatting with friends, shopping, writing, and reading, reading, reading (I’m a voracious reader) and, of course, lining up my next project. I get bored doing nothing. That’s not to say I don’t know how to relax. In my house in the South of France, I sit by the pool and read even more!”

She looks decades younger than she is – and says there is no short-cut to looking good. “It takes discipline I’m afraid. There’s no fad or secret or anything of that sort – just sweat, self-restraint and skincare: not that I ever sweat – I just go red! I’ve been working out with a physiotherapist, which I highly recommend for older men and women who want to stay fit.

“I stretch a lot, do abdominal and leg strengthening and use light weights for toning my arms. I mostly do half an hour a day and I found it gives me energy. The human body is amazing – it gives out whatever you put into it.”

Dame Joan Collins, Behind The Shoulder Pads, Rose Theatre, 8 October, 3pm, and touring