Australian Women’s Weekly NZ
Roger Moore’s daughter My kind, naughty, funny dad
When her father, Roger Moore, broke his collarbone, she never expected to lose him, Deborah Moore tells Chrissy Iley.
Imeet Deborah Moore in an elegant old-school hotel in Knightsbridge, London. It must have been the bee’s knees in the 1980s. It’s the one that her father, Roger Moore, used to love. In fact, she’s sitting in the exact same seat in the exact same cocktail lounge where I last met Roger about 18 months ago. We’re here to talk about her father’s last book, À Bientôt... At the time of writing it, he had no idea it was a full-on “à bientôt” (“bye for now”) because he felt very alive, very himself, very switched on, always joking. “Who is this fella in the mirror?” He didn’t feel as if he was in his 90th year. He’d say, “What is old age?
Does it define us? Where did the time go?”
The book is piquant, nostalgic. His humble eat-all-the-leftovers beginnings in South London, his years as The Saint and then as James Bond. He laughs at himself, never moans, as Deborah concludes in the forward to her father’s book.
He was always optimistic, always hilarious, and knowing him the little I did made the optimism and intimacy of his pages feel particularly sad. For Deborah, though, it’s been ridiculously painful. Sitting in her “father’s chair” with her angled features and dancing eyes, she looks very much like him. She’s tall and incredibly thin because the past year has taken its toll.
The last time I sat with Roger Moore in this bar, people kept trying to give him martinis that were shaken not stirred, à la Bond, but he had been diabetic since 2013 and drank Coke Zero instead.
Roger Moore was my favourite Bond. He didn’t take himself seriously, was wonderful company, with brilliant bad jokes. I tell Deborah she must be very pleased that she had him as her father. “I know,” she says, nodding, tears falling for the first but not last time during our meeting. “One of the most wonderful fathers a girl could ever wish for. He was the kindest, most honourable, most moral gentleman, with a naughty sense of humour. I was blessed. I miss him very, very much. And the book – his last tome, as he called it – is such a lovely read, even though it was heartbreaking when I was reading the final part of it.”
In the final part, he says he thinks he’s got many years left. “None of us thought he wasn’t going to see his 90th birthday
[October 14 this year; he died on May 23].” In the first chapter, Roger reminisces about his mother’s apple pies, how he never found one to surpass it. He reveals one of the benefits of getting old is that even the most mediocre of cooks can please because all food tastes okay. “Except he could never find anyone to better his mother’s cooking,” says Deborah. “I used to call my grandmother the best rice pudding maker in the world. We all grew up on that as kids, traditional English food – sponge trifle, toad in the hole. And then my mother was Italian, so I grew up being spoilt with food.”
Deborah doesn’t appear to have a Yorkshire pudding and pasta figure. “I stopped eating sugar in my 30s and also I lost a lot of weight this year, with Dad being ill,” she says. “I was back and forth to Switzerland [where he had lived with his fourth wife, Kristina, for the past 15 years]. Grief is weird. It just completely cuts out your appetite. I was eating, but I was not hungry, ever. It wasn’t deliberate.
“He was diagnosed just after Christmas 2016. He had a tiny tumour on his liver about five years ago. They got rid of it, but it came back. It wasn’t the same type of tumour. It was in his lung and his liver. He started treatment, but then there was a month where he fell and hurt his collarbone, so they had to stop his treatment until he got better because he wasn’t able to lift his arms up to go into the scan. So it was long, drawn out. He was incredible. He never once complained about anything apart from the hospital food. He found it very difficult to eat. We took things in that we thought he would like, but he lost weight because the treatment makes you so nauseous and you have no appetite. The doctors kept saying, ‘You must put some weight on to continue this treatment, otherwise you’ll get weaker and weaker.’ It was tough. He just couldn’t eat.”
Did he know he was dying? She shakes her head. “He carried on with the treatment for several months. March... April... I don’t think he knew he was going to die in May, but the tumour just grew and grew.”
Did she know in May? Deborah nods. “Yes. He didn’t know. He didn’t want to know. He said, ‘I don’t want to be depressed. Just tell me what’s the next step?’ The doctors would come in and say, ‘We’ll continue with this treatment. You’ve got to eat, then you’ll get stronger, otherwise you’re not going to be able to go home.’
“But he just couldn’t eat. He must have realised at some point he was not going to get better.
But he didn’t say anything.”
There are tears rolling down her face now. “Sorry, it’s just bringing me back to that awful room,” she says. “He didn’t want anyone to know. Everyone just thought he’d hurt his collarbone and was being treated for that, but I knew.
“He finished the book two weeks before he died. The publishers [Michael O’Mara] are a lovely team and I said I would write a forward. Dad and I used to talk about all kinds of things. We had a conversation in hospital in February where I said, ‘Dad, isn’t it weird getting old?’
“He said, ‘I go and look in the mirror and think who the f*** is that? I’m 89, but I still feel like I’m 25.’ We talked about it and I think we all feel a much younger age in our head. I’ve always been honest about my age [she’s just turned 54]. I always found it weird that people say they’re younger than they are.”
Yet she dreaded her birthday this year because it was a reminder of last year’s, when she and her father went to Scott’s in Mayfair, one of his favourite restaurants. “We’d always go there, just the two of us.” Deborah can hardly speak for tears. “It just doesn’t feel like he’s not around. I just can’t believe it. I hear his voice all the time, he’s always with me.”
Deborah and her brothers Geoffrey and Christian were all born in London. When Deborah was in her teens, they moved to Switzerland because the then Labour government had imposed such high taxation. She came back at 17 for drama school and has been working in the industry ever since.
Her parents divorced when she was 37 and while she agrees they probably waited until the children had grown up, she says, “It doesn’t matter what age you are, a child or an adult, it still hurts. Especially when you see the suffering my mum went through because he’d moved on and she hadn’t.” Her mother, Luisa, lives in Switzerland with her son, Geoffrey. Roger’s wife, Kristina, is bearing up with her family and friends around her.
In July 2016, Kristina’s daughter, known as Flossie, died of cancer, aged 47. “It’s been a tough two years for everybody,” says Deborah. Roger was close to Flossie and writes about her loss in the book, but he tries not to get maudlin.
He’d rather joke about things like, “If I get into the bath, will I ever get out of it again?”
“His mind was as sharp as a razor blade,” says Deborah. “There wasn’t any sign of dementia or doollallyism. He had the memory of an elephant. He would get up early in the morning and go for a walk until his knees gave up, but he was still doing his exercises until Christmas. Push-ups, sit-ups in the mornings. He was always trying to be as active as possible and he worked doing all kinds of things for
UNICEF. My dad and Audrey Hepburn were the first celebrities to get on board. “He always used to cook Christmas lunch. His chicken curry was quite extraordinary – it had everything you could throw in it. At Christmas, he would always say, ‘Deborah darling, can you go to the supermarket and buy Paxo for my stuffing?’ I’d arrive and there’d already be 20 cartons of Paxo from 2001, but he’d keep asking me to bring more. He was a Paxo hoarder – in fact, he was a hoarder of everything.
“When he was in the chemist, he wouldn’t get one pack of aspirin. He would get 10, just in case he ran out. Once I cut my finger and asked him for plasters. He darted into his bathroom, opened his cupboard and it was like a hospital – there were so many plasters.” Deborah is laughing now. You can tell talking about him like this makes him feel more alive to her.
Of all of his children, Deborah is perhaps the most similar to her father. “Simple things give us pleasure,” she says. “Dad was not into materialistic things and I’m not either. We both have a naughty sense of humour. I would love to be as kind-hearted as he was. He never had a bad word to say about anybody. I don’t have his patience. I’ve got Italian blood in me, which is a bit fiery.
“I’m close to my mum, but I was much closer to my father growing up. I was quite terrified of my mum. She was a proper Italian mamma – bossy. She was a very strong woman. I’m close to my brothers. We’ve always been a very close family, even if we don’t live in the same place. WhatsApp is a wonderful thing.”
At her father’s funeral, Roger showed his childish humour from the other side. A mariachi band played all the Bond theme tunes. It made all the mourners laugh through their tears.