Saturday 16 December 2017

This is the photo that made panto queen Twink give up alcohol

Wine didn't ruin her relationships or destroy dreams, yet charismatic showbiz star Twink tells our reporter, as part of our Drink Nation special, that she and her beloved glass of vino simply had to part company

Twink, Adele King at home in Knocklyon. Picture: Tony Gavin
Twink, Adele King at home in Knocklyon. Picture: Tony Gavin
Twink, Adele King at home in Knocklyon. Photo: Tony Gavin
Adèle King (Twink) enjoys a coffee at the bar. Picture: David Conachy
Twink in her kitchen in Knocklyon in Dublin. Photo: Tony Gavin.
Andrea Smith

Andrea Smith

There are some moments in life that seem, on first glance, ordinary and pedestrian, but turn out to be so pivotal, they engrave themselves on our consciousness forever.

 Star of screen and stage Twink, aka Adele King, had one such moment in October 2011, as she headed upstairs, carrying her evening meal of chicken balti and a chilled bottle of sauvignon blanc on a tray.

As she passed the foot of the stairs at her stunning Georgian home in south Dublin, a framed photo she had walked by a million times before suddenly caught her eye. Taken by Sunday Independent photographer, Tony Gavin, for the cover of LIFE magazine in 2005, it depicted a beautiful, slim Twink sitting in her dressing room. That image stopped her in her tracks, as earlier that evening, costume shots for her impending panto role had been sent from London costumiers, Bermans & Nathans, causing her to "nearly have a heart attack."

With less than two months to go to opening night, Twink was gripped with fear. At five foot six, her fighting weight for a panto run was eight-and-a-half-stone, but she was now almost 13 stone and the heaviest she'd ever been. Like a jockey who has to make the weight for a race, Twink annually embarked on her infamous, and yes-she-knows-it's-not-recommended "coffee, apples and chewing-gum" panto diet. Once she was past the post, she'd settle back into enjoying good food and wine again.

Twink, Adele King at home in Knocklyon.
Photo: Tony Gavin
Twink, Adele King at home in Knocklyon. Photo: Tony Gavin

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"I looked at one frock and realised that the waist wouldn't even fit around my thigh," she says, sipping a black coffee. "It couldn't be altered, because the company policy was that you made it your business to fit the costume, not the other way around. And anyway, I've always felt really naff when I dance with weight on. I decided to go on a strict diet the following morning, but loving myself as I did, I was still heading up with the Indian and wine until I caught sight of that picture. I looked at myself in it and said, 'Where did you go?'"

At that defining moment, the crestfallen star returned the wine to the fridge, and left a note for her daughters, Chloe and Naomi, to enjoy it and the Indian. In inimitable Twink style, she immediately embarked on a strict diet of clean eating, and within months, had lost almost five stone. She also didn't have a drink during this time. "Weight-loss organisations always talk about having a 'unit' of alcohol," she says, incredulously. "Don't make me laugh, as I've never done a unit of anything in my life. I'm a compulsive personality, and if I can't have the bottle, my attitude would be, feck that, I won't have any of it at all. I don't eat one peanut or crisp either, as I'd finish the whole packet, and I could never take a shot of cocaine or heroin because I'd end up an addict."

The interesting thing is that although she only intended giving up alcohol for the duration of the diet, as per usual, when it was over, Twink, who turns 65 next month, found the desire to drink had left her. She hasn't touched a drop since. "It was an amicable parting," she says. "Alcohol and I just drifted gently apart. It also occurred to me that it behoves you, as you age, to get a dose of the smarts. I don't think your liver, kidneys or skin benefit long-term from alcohol, so if you're the type who can do a little unit in moderation, then bully for you, but that's not me."

So what was Twink's typical intake like previously? Would she have had a bottle of wine with dinner every night at home, for example? "Oh easily," she says. "And more if I was out. I have always done everything huge, and drink wouldn't be an exception. I've tended to live on a slightly MGM scale all of my life, so I would eat big, play big, drink big, live big and think big. Looking back now, I clearly drank too much, because I put on a lot of weight through alcohol in later years and just couldn't maintain my weight or my fitness levels. I didn't get hangovers, thankfully, but I would have been more sluggish in the gym, and I certainly didn't feel as crisp and smart as I do now."

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Adèle King (Twink) enjoys a coffee at the bar. Picture: David Conachy
Adèle King (Twink) enjoys a coffee at the bar. Picture: David Conachy

Ever the pro, Twink always imposed a strict anti-drinking policy on herself and fellow cast members before and during performances, but when you're 300 miles from home and travelling with a gaggle of women, there usually isn't much else to do at night except retreat to someone's room and have a laugh over bottles of wine. She recalls one panto matinee at the Gaiety the day after New Year's Eve, and as she bounced in full of life through the door, the cast and crew eyed her through what she describes as "eyes like cracked plates."

"We had all given it a fair lash the previous night, and they were like diseased wrecks," she laughs. "The sound engineer came to mic me up, and said, rather incredulously, "Delser, do you just go home and plug yourself in and recharge yourself every night?" The thing is that I have the constitution of a Shire horse, and I had powerful, big Shire horse legs that were pure hollow. I could drink everyone under the table and never really had hangovers. I have always had a very convivial attitude to drink, and rarely had such an unpleasant experience that I thought, 'Never again!' The only negative was that it was nothing more than a bitch if you were trying to lose weight."

Twink feels very lucky that she grew up in a home where drink wasn't a problem or a harbinger of bad luck. It was all very relaxed and controlled, as her mum Elizabeth didn't drink, her dad Leo only took a glass of sherry at Christmas, and her "gentry-ish" Sligo grandmother allowed the children a glass of rose at Christmas from the age of 13.

Adele became famous very early on through Maxi, Dick and Twink, and recalls them travelling to Cork by train as teenagers to perform for a week at Mort Lucey's Stardust Club. Emboldened by the thrill of the adventure, they ordered three beers and a packet of cigarettes on board, although they had never taken a drink or cigarette in their lives, with the sole exception of Grandma King's Christmas drink. The girls were such a big deal, a red carpet had been laid out in Kent station to welcome them and a brass band was playing as they disembarked, feeling decidedly green around the gills after their cheeky little indulgence.

Given that she is hilariously funny, outspoken, and direct, and doesn't suffer fools when she's stone-cold sober, what was Twink like with drink on her? "Most of my friends couldn't tell the difference," she admits. "If anything, I got a bit quieter and more philosophical, which was probably merciful for the people around me, but I tended to stay relatively articulate."

One incident that became significant to her was when a fellow actress became agitated on a cast night out, and confessed that she had a problem. As they drove around the town looking, unsuccessfully, for a late AA meeting, Twink was deeply disturbed by the woman's story of how alcohol had impacted on her life. "I suddenly saw this convivial little genie in a bottle called a spirit in a whole different light," she said. "It had an evil side that had led this actress into a very dark place in her life."

Twink in her kitchen in Knocklyon in Dublin. Photo: Tony Gavin.
Twink in her kitchen in Knocklyon in Dublin. Photo: Tony Gavin.

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Now that she no longer drinks herself, Twink feels extremely lucky that it doesn't bother her in the slightest. She has friends who gave up but crave it still, and live in mortal terror of slipping again. While some of the most traumatic times of her life have occurred in the past four years, including the theft of her beloved dog Teddy, who was thankfully recovered, and the recent burglary and ransacking of her beautiful home, she has never felt the need to seek solace at the bottom of a glass.

"The surprising thing is that I don't miss it one bit," she shrugs. "Sometimes it feels like it was another lifetime, and maybe it was, because isn't life all about changing and evolving? And for the better, one hopes! I realised I liked being in control and not drinking when I was at a do where some ladies my own age were the worse for drink, and were making overtures to an extremely young man at our table. They were both funny and tragic, and a smile crossed my face as I reminded myself of writer Dorothy Parker's brilliant response about her drinking limits. "I like to have a martini, two at the most, after three I'm under the table, after four I'm under my host."

The spotlight has been trained recently on her exquisite cake-making and decorating skills, yet the slender Twink is usually to be found dining on salads of alfalfa sprouts and edamame beans. She attends the gym regularly, but would never try to impose her views on others, as she thinks there's nothing more boring than having to listen to a reformed smoker or drinker.

"Drink has always played a huge part in the entertainment industry," she says. "I have seen the horrors that alcoholism has brought to the lives of some dear colleagues, and consider myself lucky to have relieved myself of at least one demon. However the absolute downside is when you go to a do and the free wine is flowing, but you and your equally sober buddy are charged €12 for two glasses of water. But sure everyone knows water is a very expensive commodity on this little island these days."

Adele King in her home in 2008
Adele King in her home in 2008
2016: Chloe Agnew poses with sister Naomi and parents Twink and David Agnew after her performance in Celtic Woman at the National Concert Hall.
2016: Chloe Agnew poses with sister Naomi and parents Twink and David Agnew after her performance in Celtic Woman at the National Concert Hall.

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