Wedded bliss? Fifth time’s the charm!
It’s taken five husbands, but Joan Collins tells David Wigg she’s finally found lasting happiness with Percy (32 years her junior)...
On her right wrist Joan Collins is wearing a beautiful gold bracelet set with dozens of sparkly diamonds and the inscription ‘Ten Glorious Years’. It was given to her by her husband, Percy Gibson, on their 10th wedding anniversary in February. In return, Joan presented her tall, dark-haired, 46year-old husband with diamond cufflinks.
This is Joan’s fifth marriage — despite two which she now admits were disastrous, she has always believed in the institution, rather than just living with someone. ‘My parents were very happily married and I believe in it. So does my sister, Jackie,’ she says. Yet when she decided to marry Percy, who is 32 years younger, even her closest friends expressed concern at the age gap. Joan’s reaction? ‘If he dies, he dies...’
To celebrate the anniversary, novelist Jackie threw a party for the couple at her Hollywood home. ‘My sister adores Percy, as do my daughters, Tara and Katy,’ Joan says, smiling happily. ‘The grandchildren just worship him. They like him more than me! I’ve never met anybody who doesn’t like Percy because he’s such a good person. He’s enormously charming. I can only say our marriage just works. That doesn’t mean we don’t have fights. Of course we do — everybody does. Not very often, but we do have them.’
We meet in the south of France where Joan and Percy are on holiday and looking back on what she describes as ‘married bliss’. She looks years younger than her true age — she will be 79 this month — and the happiest I have ever seen her. ‘I just knew he was the one. I’ve never seen anybody look in the mirror fewer times. He only looks in the mirror to shave. Which is great because there’s more room in the mirror for me!
‘I like to have a man in my life I can depend on. I’ve subconsciously always looked for that and I really hadn’t found it until Percy came along. So I feel he’s my rock. I totally look after the social calendar. I’m the one who says, “We’re going here, we’re going there.” But he arranges all the travelling and manages the properties.’ There are four homes, in London, St Tropez, New York and LA.
They met when she was touring America in a play and Percy was the company manager. He grew up in Peru where his father, a translator, was living, although his mother was Scottish. ‘The appeal was that he was intensely likeable and a lot of fun, very good-looking and romantic. Percy is one of the most wonderful, caring, funny people I’ve ever met. We became friends when we were working, then we got involved and became lovers.’ Has he changed her at all? ‘Well, I’ve always been good — people don’t realise that! I consider myself a good person. I’ve never done anything bad to anybody. I have a sharp tongue, so a lot of what I say can be construed as bitchiness. But it isn’t. I think I’m more witty than bitchy. I haven’t changed him — he was always a gallant gentleman. How few of those there are around! He wouldn’t dream of letting me carry my own bag or open my own door. He’s always been a first-class person. And, you know, I’ve been with a lot of men who are not.’
Aged just 18 she married handsome but unsavoury movie star Maxwell Reed. Even though she tried to call it off at the last minute, her father, a respected London agent, insisted she go through with it. Next came singer Anthony Newley, the father of two of her children, singer Tara, 48, and painter Sacha, 46, but Joan soon discovered Newley was incapable of being faithful. She then married American film producer Ron Kass, father of Katy, 39, but he became hooked on drugs. It was then she fell into the arms of a good-looking, ex-rocker named Peter Holm — or ‘The Swede’, as Joan will now only refer to him. It only lasted a year with her having to pay a large divorce settlement. It’s understandable she labels her two regrets in life: ‘Two husbands — the first and the fourth.’
But it didn’t destroy her zest for life. ‘I got over it. If you make a mistake, you can’t dwell on it. Everybody has miserable things happen to them. Of course you cry and feel betrayed. But then the next week you go on to something else. I was stupid in both those cases. With one I had the excuse of being 18 — and he was a matinée idol — but with the other I was 50, so I should have known better. But I was the best at moving on. I majored in it. I know that sounds flippant, but it isn’t. It’s what life is. I was never that worried about anything. If I get angry, I’m over it very fast.’
Having been successful in films and TV since the 1950s, and having written several books, it’s easy for people to imagine Joan has had an easy life. But, she says, this is far from the truth. ‘In many ways I’ve had a very hard life. People say, “Oh it’s all right for her with her money.” But where did I get this money? Nobody gave it to me. Not my father, not my husbands. I’ve worked hard. And if people think it’s glamorous getting up every morning at 5.30am, going to the studios and staying there until eight or nine,