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Happy 90th, Joan Collins! By Gyles Brandreth

Blog | By Gyles Brandreth | May 23, 2023

Joan in 1952

The superstar reveals the secrets of her success to Gyles Brandreth

Joan Collins turns 90 on 23 May.

It’s hard to believe (even when you look very closely – and I have), but it’s true.

When I turned 75 in March, she called me on my birthday – and she gave me a generous present, too. As Dame Joan enters her tenth decade, I want to return the compliment with a small bouquet of my own.

She is a phenomenon. Other than the late Elizabeth II, who had an inherited advantage, no other British woman of our time has sustained international celebrity across seven decades.

Like the late Queen (whose Coronation in 1953 she remembers vividly), Joan’s heritage is fundamental to her story and her success. She was born into a showbusiness family in 1933 (her father was an agent; her mother was a dance teacher), she made her stage debut in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House at the age of nine, found herself at RADA at the age of sixteen and, in 1951, aged eighteen, she signed up to the Rank Organisation, appeared in her first movie (Lady Godiva Rides Again – what else?) and was voted ‘Most Beautiful Girl in Films’. Since when, she’s not looked back.

She doesn’t believe in looking back, of course, though if you catch her in the right mood she will give you an amusing retrospective rundown of the men she has known and loved. In her time, Joan has been through four husbands and a casting directory of A-List paramours (James Dean, Terence Stamp, Ryan O’Neill, just for starters.)

>span class="s5">were not always gentleman. ‘You’re a fucking bore,’ said one of them, ‘And you’re a boring fuck,’ rejoined Joan.

>span class="s5">idn’t always deliver. ‘How was my brother?’ asked Shirley MacLaine with reference to Joan’s momentary engagement to Warren Beatty. ‘Overrated,’ said Joan. And they didn’t always last. Indeed, none of them lasted until Percy Gibson, her fifth husband,came along.

Percy is a delight: good-humoured, handsome, always impeccably turned out and thirty-one years his wife’s junior. To every cynic’s surprise, their union has just come of age. >span class="s5">married now for twenty-one years and see them together (as I have) and it clearly works.

Joan explained to me once >span class="s5">yearned for a sustained relationship, but simply hadn’t had much luck in that department.

‘With Tony [Newley, husband No 2, eight years] and Ron [Kass, No 3, eleven years] I wanted the marriages to work. I wanted them to be good fathers. I chose them subconsciously because I thought they would be good providers. They were extremely successful when I married them.’

Her last live-in lover before Percy was Old Etonian art-dealer, Robin Hurlstone. They managed thirteen years, which was good going by Joan’s standards.

‘I think one of our problems,’ she told me, ‘is that it was hard for him to deal with my baggage, which is signing autographs, being photographed, going to parties.’

Percy carries Joan’s baggage to the manner born. And it can’t always be easy because Joan is a star with a capital S. When she walks into a room, you notice. She is noticeable. When she speaks, you listen. But she’s worth listening to. She is very funny.

If we admire Joan Collins (and I certainly do), it is not because of what she has done professionally – though The Stud and The Bitch were memorable and Dynasty was fun, and I loved those Cinzano ads with the great Leonard Rossiter – but because of what she is.

Her style, spirit and staying power are something to reckon with. She’s still here because she wants to be. She is still an event because she makes herself one.

You have heard of ‘Manifesting’? Essentially, it’s >span class="s5">. It’s all the rage these days.

Joan has been doing it for years. If she wants a standing ovation, she manifests one. I have seen her in action. It works.

I once asked her for a summary of the secrets of her success.

‘How many do you want?’ she replied, not batting an eyelid (and boy does she have eyelids to bat.) ‘Five,’ I said ambitiously, knowing that, being the ultimate professional, she would give me exactly what I wanted.

‘Okay,’ she nodded, narrowing her eyes. ‘One, energy. Mine is God-given. My mother used to call me Miss Perpetual Motion because I never kept still. Two, exercise. Use it or lose it. That’s true of everything. If you stop talking for a week, your tongue would atrophy. Three, optimism. Cultivate it. Do you know the story of the twins who went into the shed full of horseshit? The first boy said, “Ugh, this place smells terrible.” The second boy said, “Mmm, horse shit . . . There must be a pony here somewhere.” Four, work, work, work. If you want to do something, do it for yourself. Nobody ain’t going to do it for you. Five, live for today. Remember yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift. >span class="s5"> why it’s called the present.’

Happy birthday, Joan – and many happy returns. You will get the Order of Merit on your one hundredth.