With no more plays to review, TIM WALKER reviews the stars he’s met, starting with Roger Moore and one role that really mattered to him
The director Stephen Unwin has a question he puts to people who want to work for him on his productions. ‘Don’t you just love stars?’ he’ll say, smiling broadly. All too often, they assume he’s after a heartfelt ‘yes’, but seldom, if ever, does it land the job. This is because Unwin doesn’t like it when people tell him what they think he wants to hear. More to the point, he knows that stars, in common with every other demographic, divide into two categories: the loveable and unloveable.
With no more shows to review, I’ve decided to review the stars I’ve met over the years – and demonstrate, in the process, how right Unwin is, and, of course, what an appalling old name-dropper I can be. Let’s begin with Sir Roger Moore. Unfashionably, I’ve always considered him to be the greatest James Bond because he communicated the preposterousness of the character. Here was someone who could fly a jet plane, operate a space shuttle, a mini-submarine and ski down black runs – straight off cliffs, when he’d show off his skills as a parachutist – and all without turning a well-lacquered hair. More than that, he was a spy whose cover was so comprehensively blown that every man and his dog even knew how he liked his martinis prepared.
That Moore played Bond for laughs encouraged the general perception he was a lightweight. I’d always assumed a bit of a prima donna, too, so when I was delayed for more than an hour en route to interview him – a road closure following an accident – I imagined he’d have stormed off after an almighty hissy fit.
He was staying at a hotel in Cambridge, where he was appearing in a one-man show in which he reminisced about his life. Gareth Owen, his right-hand man, was waiting in reception. ‘Well, I blew that,’ I said. ‘I’m sorry.’ Owen told me to take a few deep breaths and led me to an all but deserted restaurant where, to my astonishment, Moore was still sitting with his wife Kristina Tholstrup.
They’d extended their breakfast for at least two hours on my account. I began apologising again. ‘I gather you’re doing this interview for one of Lord Rothermere’s rags,’ he replied, laconically. ‘So it isn’t really something any of us need get terribly worried about, is it?’ Moore was then 88 – he’d just over a year to live – and had shed most of his hair as a result of drugs he’d been prescribed for a succession of illnesses. It was a hot summer’s day and he joked he’d had to take his wig off as he’d got too hot. Of course he never wore a wig, and, so far from fretting about his looks, he clearly saw how absurd a thing vanity was.
I found him a refreshingly honest man. He hung around a lot with Sir Michael Caine, but he told me he couldn’t get over how seriously his fellow actor took himself. ‘Michael’s never got that it’s all about luck. Any one of a million guys with looks and an ability to remember a few lines could have got where he has if they’d been in the right place at the right time.’ As for the wig-wearing Sir Christopher Lee – Scaramanga in The Man With the Golden Gun – he admitted one of his hobbies was teasing his other mate known for his pomposity. ‘Christopher sent me a CD of him singing opera,’ he said. ‘I thanked him and said whenever I had friends round I’d play it. ‘Oh, Roger, I’m touched,’ he told me. And then I explained: ‘I like to get to bed around 11, and, when they stay beyond that point, it’s the best possible way to make them disperse.’
The interview wasn’t just about Sir Roger – he’d often defer to Kristina – and ultimately all that really mattered to him was that I plugged UNICEF for which he worked tirelessly as an ambassador. ‘What honestly is the point of fame unless you put it to some worthwhile use?’ he said. ‘That organisation has given me the most rewarding role I ever had.’
His role for the children’s charity meant he couldn’t be political, but anyone who followed him on Twitter during the EU referendum was left in no doubt that this outward-looking man didn’t share Caine’s passion for Brexit. When, almost exactly three years ago, I heard Moore had died, I admit I shed a few tears for a man who’d turned out to be so unexpectedly funny and forgiving. Kindness is what you remember long after you’ve forgotten all about the stardom.