Thursday 22 August 2019

This Man's Life: Moments of magic from a hero named Bertie and a diva called Joan


Dame Joan Collins (Matt Crossick/PA)
Dame Joan Collins (Matt Crossick/PA)
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

Life is generally something that happens elsewhere, when you are not looking, or are least expecting it. Last weekend, it happened to my wife and I when we took our little one to the Irish National Stud and Gardens in Kildare; it being a moment of magic. Emilia's imagination was suddenly ignited like something out of an old Walt Disney movie.

She was transported to a magical place as she got to ride on the back of a little horse named Bertie. It was our two-and-a-half-year-old daughter's first pony ride.

Even allowing for de rigueur daddy exaggeration, my daughter is acting like she will never forget it. All last week, she barely looked at her toys (Peppa Pig, Skye from Paw Patrol to name a few) as she pined for Bertie, and she asks endlessly about the present whereabouts of Bertie (presumably in a comfy, warm stable with lots of equine-y treats and a field to run about in when he pleases).

Whenever we go to the park, she expects to see Bertie trot out of the trees towards her. I truly fear for Christmas unless she meets Bertie again. The Irish National Stud and Gardens is, alas, closed until January 29 next year. Try telling that to a young child.

So much so that I already have the National Stud's esteemed David Wardell (who made the fatal mistake of giving me his card when we visited) positively plagued with requests for our child to be reunited with her four-legged hero as soon as possible; with a view to making her entire Christmas.

A Christmas Eve pony ride with Bertie. If Christmas is to be saved this year at all, then Emilia must meet Bertie again.

In one sense, the name has as much emotional impact for me as it does for my young daughter.

When my late father, Peter, became ill in 2007 and his cancer grew, he was at first put in the cancer unit of St James's Hospital. My father was an admirer of another Bertie, a two-legged former Taoiseach.

Trying, unsuccessfully, to curry favour with my father (the story of my life), I wrote to two-legged Bertie and asked him would he visit my father in hospital. I got a phone call from him not long after and we arranged to meet in the lobby of the hospital. I said to two-legged Bertie that if he could give my dad 10 or 15 minutes of his time, it would be fantastic. On the day, I walked Bertie to my father's ward expecting them to only have a short chat. The former leader of Fianna Fail spent almost two hours talking to my dad. I was frightened to ask my father what they talked about, but they seemed to hit it off. And I'm sure that my father - who died aged 82 of cancer after six gruelling months, bravely borne, in the hospice in Harold's Cross - went to his grave in June, 2009, with nothing but good memories of Bertie.

For this reason alone, I refuse to hear a bad word said about Bertie. He is a good guy. And if I meet him at the big game on Tuesday night at the Aviva, I will tell him that to his face, as I often do. But I won't tell my daughter that I met Bertie, as it would only confuse her.

And - to be frank - me.

The pain of my father's death is still very much there for me. Though some days it isn't there at all and then the next morning there it is looking back at me in the bathroom mirror.

It's like that line from Philip Roth's The Human Stain: "Nothing lasts and yet nothing passes either, and nothing passes just because nothing lasts."

Nothing passes just because nothing lasts, as the pain lives on after death. Someone stop me before I turn completely into a depressing, and depressive, bore. It's just at this time of year, coming up to Christmas, my spirit falters with thoughts of the great people who were once so important in our lives but are no longer with us. If your loved one was in severe pain through illness, you could take the view, as put forward by Oscar Wilde in The Canterville Ghost that: "Death must be so beautiful. To lie in the soft brown earth, with the grasses waving above one's head, and listen to silence".


I'm writing this column from a hotel room in London. The last time I was in this hotel, many moons ago, I met Joan Collins. She told me that once upon a time, Zsa Zsa Gabor arranged for her to meet the son of the dictator of the Dominican Republic, who, instantly smitten, gave her a $20,000 diamond necklace bought out of American aid funds.

This generous gift had consequences beyond the immediate welfare of the Dominican Republic: it sent another of Collins's love interests at the time, director George Englund, into a jealous temper tantrum.

Joan bought a fake diamond necklace worth all of $80 and threw it into the Pacific to calm him down.

A supreme act of divadom, it was also some of the best acting of her career.

"He was giving me such a hard time about this bloody necklace," recalled Collins.

"And he had no right because he was married. He wasn't leaving his wife. I finally said to him: 'I love you so much I'm going to throw it into the sea and give it to the fishes'. So I threw the fake necklace into the Pacific."

Testimonials to Collins's potent allure are not hard to come by. Prince Charles once admitted he couldn't keep his eyes off her cleavage at a state dinner.

Collins recalled Warren Beatty's penchant for receiving calls mid-coitus.

I told her that I was amazed she would let any man take a phone call during sex.

"It didn't happen all the time!" Collins laughed. "[He said] 'I'm expecting a very important call from Charlie Feldman. This must be it!'''

I asked Joan Collins what she said to Warren Beatty mid-coitus when he took a phone call.

"What did I say! What does one say! 'OK fine. I'll go and wash my hair, Warren, when you talk to Mr Feldman!'"

Sunday Independent

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