Sunday 20 October 2019

The 'unbearable pain' of her marriage break-up, UFOs and Frank Sinatra: Twink marks her comeback at 68

Twink bares her soul to Barry Egan about the 'unbearable pain' of her marriage break-up, UFOs, Frank Sinatra, the nun who 'leathered the hands off her', new love and her great showbiz comeback at 68

Twink photographed by Gerry Mooney at The InterContinental Hotel, Dublin
Twink photographed by Gerry Mooney at The InterContinental Hotel, Dublin
Maxi, Dick and Twink in the late 1960s
In panto with Frank Kelly, Julie Blunden, Twink and Des Keogh in 1985
With daughters Chloe and Naomi in 2002
Twink and Barry Egan

Fifteen years ago, Twink went into a butcher's shop in Rathfarnham to collect a message for her mother. She was almost out the door when she overheard two old women at the counter who assumed the icon of Irish stage and screen had left.

"I wouldn't even give her the satisfaction of pretending I recognised her," said one, while the other chimed in: "Honest to the Lord God, wouldn't it sicken you. You'd think she was the only one in Ireland whose marriage broke up. Would she give us all a break."

Please log in or register with Independent.ie for free access to this article.

Log In

Turning on her heels, Twink marched straight up to them, tapped one of them on the shoulder, and in a voice barely above a whisper, put them straight. "You are absolutely right," she began. "I am not the only person in Ireland who's had a marriage break-up. It is very, very painful for everybody. But the next time you intend on being so uncharitable about somebody - I am fine, I can take the nails out of my cross very well - remember that you could hit on somebody who is on that day, because of their marriage breakdown, thinking of taking their own life, or having a nervous breakdown, and you with a caustic comment like that could cause it. So, on behalf of the next person you intend doing it to, can I just qualify that by saying: Yes, this happens to many. But I have a great envy of all those people with broken marriages who can shed their tears in the privacy of their own home with their family and don't have to share it with the entire nation on the front pages of the red tops. And I don't expect you two objectionable bi**hes, uncharitable wagons, to understand that. Good day to you, ladies."

Many years earlier, when she was just seven years old, Twink, then plain Adele Condren King, had another uncharitable experience - this time at the hands of an even more objectionable "thundering bi**h" of a nun at school.

"I hope she rots in hell. I hated her. She is one of those nuns who should have been taken out and shot. A nasty piece of work. She hated being a nun. She hated not having children of her own and having to look after all these people's brats. It was in the time of the canes. She hated me because of music and everything. She hated me because I stood up to her. She used to leather the hands off me with a big bamboo cane."

Was it almost a case of 'the harder you hit me the more I am going to speak out'?

"I was defiant of her ignorance, I hated her ignorance. Even as a child, I knew that she was an unjust woman, to everybody."

One day, Twink's father, "a tall elegant Sligo man", arrived in the school, took her by the hand and brought the seven-year-old up to the office. He told the nun: "I'm taking my daughter out of this abysmal school. I sent her here for an education. Not to have her hands cracked in two."

The next thing Twink knew she was in St Louis in Rathmines. "That was a school," Twink says all these years later. She can remember being in the hall when Sister Mary Herman asked her mother "Can the child sing?"

Watching Twinkling Through The Years - which airs on RTE One on Saturday, July 6 - you would be assured that Twink can not only sing (beautifully), but dance, act, do impersonations and generally perform with a panache that made the child from St Louis a showbiz superstar over the last 60 years.

The entertainment special, executive produced by Colman Hutchinson and Amanda Dunleavy, showcases the best bits of Twink on the telly down through those six decades: Twink impersonating Lady Thatcher; Twink singing with Maxi and Dick at the Eurovision; Twink and Gay, Mike Murphy and the late Aine O'Connor dressed as Abba doing a skit about the European Union; Twink and Dermot Morgan et al dressed as the Village People doing a skit about the taxman; Perry Como singing a lullaby to Twink's daughter Naomi, then only a baby; Twink duetting with Brendan Grace, then Johnny Logan.

Such was the vast wealth of material in the archives that Twink couldn't remember performing some of the items, and was sufficiently concerned about her memory that she went to see her local doctor, who was also a friend. "When I told her I was there for a medical reason she nearly fell off the chair because I don't get sick.

"I told her that I'm researching a television show and I'm four weeks into it and stuff keeps coming up and I have no recollection of it. "I want tests for Alzheimer's."

"'You? You have a memory like an elephant.'" To which Twink replied: "Well, I haven't a memory like an elephant now."

"Of course, they [the tests] came back negative. But talking it through with the girls," Twink says, referring to her beloved daughters, Chloe and Naomi, "I realised what happened was it is indicative of the volume of stuff I was doing at the time; and that I would have been rehearsing stuff and doing it in one take, once, and never again, or The Live Mike when we used to do real live television not fake live television. So I would have done all that very quickly then forgot and gone on to the next thing, the next show, the next TV special, the next stage performance. I never stopped. It was the amount of information that my poor brain processed over the years in live television. And to be expecting to remember all that from 30-odd years ago was, I suppose, asking a lot. But it really was a shock at the time."

Watching Twinkling Through The Years I was mildly shocked, saddened even, that we haven't seen much more of Twink, an entertainer of such immense talent and broad appeal, on RTE. "Twink is one of the most talented comedians/actors/singers this country has ever produced," John McColgan, whose company Tyrone Productions produced Twinkling Through The Years, in conjunction with Colman's company Boxatricks, told me. "She has such a huge variety of talent that I have no doubt that Twink could have made it anywhere in the world."

So why didn't Twink get her own show on the national station? "I did that Twink TV special [in 1980] which won a lot of awards around the world; I got a Jacob Award. Then after that I did a six-week series for RTE but to be honest with you," says Twink, adding "I was never a great one for residencies of any sort. The grass grows under my feet very quickly and I get very bored with it and I have to move on. When I see people doing comedy acts that I saw them doing three years earlier I could pass out peacefully. I was offered West End shows but I couldn't bear the thought of being in a show for a year. I'd lose my mind. I'd be a very wealthy woman if I had taken a tenth of the stuff I've been offered."

Never one to hold back, Twink says she was devastated a few years ago when there was a TV show proposed that fell away as quickly as it was moooted.

"This was after putting in months of research and downing tools in my life to get this together. I think in my entire 64-year career that was the biggest kick in the teeth I ever got. It made me all the more determined to show people what I am made of, and I thought if you think with all I have overcome in my career and my life..." she says (not mentioning in the early 1990s Elio Malocco mislaying the proceeds of the sale of a house of his then-friend Twink, a public marriage break-up in 2004, nearly losing her house in 2016, etc).

"So, having a TV show cancelled? 'Get over yourself Adele', I said to myself."

Then someone told Twink that the acclaimed TV producer in London Colman Hutchinson had been asking for her. Out of the blue he rang her from London to ask how she was. "I told him that the show was cancelled. He said, 'Well, let's get it un-cancelled'." That conversation was on a Friday. On the Monday morning Colman was sitting in Twink's kitchen in Dublin. He told her he was going out to see Jim Jennings at RTE about the show that very afternoon. "I adore Jim! I love Jim!" Twink hoots. "He was the director of my Late Late Show special, my Podge & Rodge special. He is a great director. So happy days!"

It was a bit of a roller coaster for Colman, however. He told me that they "clashed and almost fell out on more than one occasion. Adele is driven; compromise is not a word in her vocabulary, which I found challenging as executive producer and no other artist has challenged me so profoundly. We also laughed a lot. I am very proud of the show we have made together and happy to still call Adele my friend", he said adding that he has "known Adele/Twink for 40 years.

"I first became aware of her when I was working as a young researcher on The Late Late Show and she was a guest. I was immediately blown away by her immense talent. I moved to England in the mid-1980s and produced some of the biggest names in British entertainment: Cilla Black, Chris Tarrant, Bruce Forsyth, Carol Vorderman and Philip Schofield to name but a few. But I kept an eye on Twink's burgeoning career. There seemed to be no limits to her skills: singer, dancer, comedienne, impressionist and actress. Though we remained friends, I never worked with her, until last year that is, when she asked if I would be interested in coming on board with this show. It's been quite a journey and not like any I have experienced before. I discovered that she really is unique".

Unique would be an understatement where Twink is concerned. She is something of an enigma. She is a famous star (so famous she doesn't need a surname) who would rather sit at home on her own with her animals than be with people. Indeed, she brought her beloved Teddy and Timby to our meeting. She is a feted showbiz queen who says she never really liked the industry. So she would be happy to see the back of it. Like Garbo, Twink wants to be alone. Unfortunately for her, in the last six months the entertainment world has pulled her back into its orbit, to the extent that the quiet life Twink dreamed of may never now materialise: her recent success in the lead in Angel of Broadway at the National Concert Hall, followed, imminently by Twinkling Through The Years, with a few other stage shows up her 68-year-old sleeve. ("Two nights before Angel of Broadway," Twink smiles, "Chloe had been up on stage at the NCH for a celebration concert of the music of Burt Bacharach. So the Agnew family have fairly taken over the National Concert Hall over the last two weeks.")

Like Gloria Swanson in reverse in Sunset Boulevard, Twink in her latter years is returning to become bigger now than she ever was in her heyday. "It is a very beautiful and very unexpected bend in my life that I didn't see coming," she says. "I really didn't. I suppose I saw a natural, fade-out finale to my career. I was kind of gracious to myself and I got myself off my own cross by saying, 'Oh, well, dear, everything ends'. When I hit 60, I thought, 'Now love, nobody loves a fairy when she's 40, much less 60! Where do you think you are going to get parts now that you are no longer in the flush of youth'?"

"My daughters laugh that their mother's downtime is walking the dog, going to the gym, baking two cakes and writing a chapter for her book. I have met a few colleagues who say to me that they miss the business and they are lonely and they are lost. I don't miss it. I never even liked it in the first place."

Her career has never been better. Family life too. What about romance? I ask Twink has she given up on physical love. "I think love is love. I think it is mental, physical. Animal love. Children love. There is all sorts of love. All encompassing elements in your life. I think parts of them come in and out, phase in and out, Sometimes you love your children, sometimes you hate them, depending on what age they are going through; teenagers, and that, they do your head in. So love can change to hate and back to love very quickly. As like a marriage; it went from love to hate back to love in a nice sort of way," she says.

"I do have somebody rather special. But he is the other side of the world, and not remotely connected to this business. He is medical. We have a lovely relationship and I often go to places he is lecturing in around the world, and we have a nice dinner and a nice weekend."

Is he a platonic boyfriend?

"It's not platonic, no. It's lovely. But again, I have no bloody intention of moving to live where he lives and he has no intention of moving here, which suits me just fine."

Is that the secret of their happy relationship? "Yeah! It's like Dolly Parton! We live next door to each-other! I have my own freedom. I could never go back to clock watching. 'I've to go out.' 'What time will you be back at?' Oh God! I can't tell you how I love the freedom of making my own decisions. And walking in and out my own door when it suits me; and making plans , without having to consult a team of people, my children, my husband. No, no, I could never go back to that. I don't know how I did it in the first place."

Twink says with remarkable honesty that the break-up with David Agnew in 2004 was an "awful time, unbearably painful, because we had had a wonderful thing. We had a good marriage. Now, look, we had troubles like all marriages, but you don't need people whose business it isn't to be popping their nose, or other bits, into your marriage. If there is a problem it is up to those two people to sort it out, and not somebody else offering a shoulder to weep on and then bugger off anyway. So, yes, it was painful because it was public. I was angry. I was very hurt. I was very disappointed, how it all worked out.

"At one stage I was driving over Portobello Bridge and I was delighted with myself that I hadn't thought about David in two weeks. Then that was that phase. I didn't care less if I never saw him again. I had gotten over the pain. Then we got into the next phase. And now we are in this phase, which is absolutely beautiful, and in a quiet moment in a huge show the other night, Angel of Broadway at the National Concert Hall, with a massive RTE Concert Orchestra and a 100-piece choir in the balcony, and I finished my piece, which was enormously complicated in front of a sold-out crowd, with David in my eye-line, and he looked at me and said: 'You nailed it'."

Why don't you get back together, I say to Twink?

"Oh, don't be ridiculous, Barry!" she laughs nearly choking on her Caesar salad . "I thought Paddy Power would not have taken money on David and me performing at Angel of Broadway on the same stage as better friends than when we last performed together, it could have been a bit of the bad old days. Now it is fun. In the audience were Chloe, Naomi, my beautiful nieces and David's son Jesse who I adore. The J man! They are all sitting together and David is kissing the face off me, 'You're great, you're amazing'. I thought: 'As it should be at our age. We are only passing through this Earth. And why go through, the good, the fun, the bad and what, go out on the trauma, go out on the bad note'? I never go out on a bad note with anyone."

As proof of the goodwill and respective hatchet buried in a spirit of harmony, Twink left in a joke about 'Zip Up Yer Mickey' - a notorious voicemail on Agnew's phone left by Twink after he fathered a child with fellow RTE Concert Orchestra member Ruth Hickey following the breakdown of their marriage - in Twinkling Through The Years.

"Of course! Colman rang David and asked his permission, and David just laughed and said: 'That's grand'." Stranger things than David and Twink getting back together have happened, of course. Stranger things like extra-terrestrial life, something Ms King believes in passionately. "What mad vain egotistical mind at this stage of our development would have you think we are the only things here?" Twink laughs. "I think it has all happened, over and over again. I'm sure we lived on the red planet Mars. And we are going to do the same to Earth as we did to that. Blow it up."

Has she seen UFOs?

"No, I haven't, is the answer, but I believe being sceptical on the subject is borderline stupidity. You have to get into it with a very open mind, like Galileo, or the ancient paintings. I did the space ride in Chicago years ago; it's as if you are travelling through the galaxy... and when you come out of that you feel minuscule. It made me feel humbled."

As we will be watching Twinkling Through The Years.

Twinkling Through The Years airs Saturday 6 July at 8.15pm on RTÉ One

Sunday Independent

Also in this section