Do it and
IPowerhouse author barbara Taylor bradford explains why she still gets up at 5am to write despite being 78 and, ahem, ‘quite rich’. N a cloud of palest aquamarine, her neck and ears decorated with pearls the size of cherries, the grande dame of the blockbuster takes her place at the centre of the Dorchester Hotel’s mid-morning deal-makers and gossipers. Barbara Taylor Bradford and the luxurious London hotel are made for one another. They are both sumptuous and well-preserved, with just that delicious whiff of irregularity under the gloss.
“You know, I am not a jaded person,” she says. “I am pleased when something nice happens. I am thrilled when I get this.” She rests a jewelled hand on her latest novel, Letter From A Stranger, where her pink, embossed name is bigger than the title. The books just keep coming, and so do the royalties. This year, she was reported to be worth £181mil (RM897.8mil). There are five more novels queuing up in her head, clotting her notebooks, all assured of millions of readers. “Success is very ephemeral,” she says, ignoring 32 years’ evidence to the contrary.
“Bob (her American husband and tireless promoter) always says: ‘You’re only as good as your last book, Barbara.’ I’ve got my feet on the ground. I’m not a flibbertigibbet.”
Indeed, no. She is 78, but her Yorkshire work ethic is as ravenous as ever, and so is her sense of entitlement.
“I work hard for it,” she says. “I would say to anyone who wants to criticise me: fine, but you get up at five o’clock every morning and sit at a desk all day and throw your guts into a book and wait to see who’s going to take pot shots at you and then go out on the road to promote it.
“I’m not guilty at all. I think I’ve earned it, frankly. I haven’t stolen it from anybody.”
She seizes her tumbler of water and holds it up to the light. “See that? It’s half full, not half empty. I’ve been blessed with good health, great parents, and a really wonderful partner who has never been threatened by my terrible ambition – I am wildly ambitious even now. He has always given me that space to work. I sometimes call him Bismarck because he tends to be bossy, but then he calls me Napoleon. We are both bossy people, but we get on all right. We have been married for 47 years.
“I tend to get a little shrill when people are inefficient. He tells me to calm down. I say: ‘I am not uncalm!’”
Bob Bradford is somewhere up in their suite, reading. Bob is a successful film producer in his own right who has managed Barbara’s career since she struck gold with A Woman Of Substance in 1979, and has made 10 of her books into films. He has an apho- rismrism for every situation and his presence is continually invoked.
“I think a lot of fuss is made in this country about age,” she says. “I don’t feel 78. Bob says: ‘You’re going to bury everybody.’”
When “bitchy women” make snobbish remarks about her fiction, Bob says: “I love you, your friends love you, the readers love you, and the rest of the world doesn’t matter.”
Not that Taylor Bradford, with 86 million books published in 40 languages and 90 countries, has any need to bother her pretty, honey-coloured head about literary snobs. “I tell you what does impress me a little bit,” she says, running her finger down the long list of her novels on the flyleaf. “It’s when I see this. I think: how did I do it?”
The answer, of course, is obsessive hard graft. She gets up at five, makes porridge and goes to batter the hell out of her IBM typewriter. “I’m very fast. I love paper. As I retype, I edit.”
Her regal penthouse in East 52nd Street in New York City resembles a mini-Blenheim Palace, but she slaves away in her office as if it were a garret. At 5pm she stops, showers, puts on some make-up and slips into a kaftan to greet Bob, aged 79, from work. What a trooper.
There were two miscarriages and no children. Could her output have been so colossal if she had been a mother?
“Yes, because I would have had a nanny. I believe in nannies. You have to have drive, you see. You have got to want to get up every day and do it. And do it right, which I do. I write popular fiction and I’m proud of it.”
Taylor Bradford is magnificent in her certainties. In print, she may sound like former British Prime Minister Margaret “Iron Lady” Thatcher (one of her heroines) at full throttle, but her manner is open, friendly and uncrushing. She looks peachy and well-maintained. Is she vain?
“Yes,” she fires back. “I want to look good. I’ve had Botox in the past and I’ve had fillers and I use all the creams. I really don’t care what people think because it’s nobody’s business but mine, and that’s what I feel about the money, the success and every-