Melanie Verwoerd, a South Africa-born politician, ambassador and former director of UNICEF Ireland, writes about her friendship with film icon Roger Moore. Moore died on Tuesday after a short battle with cancer.
“Melanie, it’s Roger, Roger Moore. You remember me?”
This was the start of a voice message that Sir Roger left me a while ago. I laughed, because it made me think of Madiba, who always introduced himself to people or asked if they still remembered him. In fact as I got to know Roger Moore, I realised that, even though he wasn’t a political leader, he was in many respect very much like Madiba.
I met Roger the first time in 2008. I was the head of UNICEF Ireland and Sir Roger had for years been a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF after being roped in to help by Audrey Hepburn in 1991. He became a passionate advocate for children, travelling all over the world until shortly before his death to highlight the suffering of children in the developing world.
When he came over to Ireland the first time, I was naturally nervous to meet him. He was after all 007. What woman would not get slightly weak at the knees? But unlike so many film stars with super inflated egos he was simply the most humble man I ever met. There were no demands, no airs or graces. In fact on the flight over to Ireland he surprised the passengers (as he often did), by making an announcement on the intercom system. Aer Lingus (the national carrier of Ireland) had a long standing campaign where they asked people to donate their small change to UNICEF. Roger not only made the announcement, but also threatened to fly the plane if people did not donate. He then took the donation bag and walked up and down the aisle to collect the money. Of course who would dare say no to him?
On his numerous visits to Ireland he would naturally be recognised wherever he went and just like Madiba, he would stop and patiently talk to everyone. No matter who they were.
We once did a shoot for an advert for UNICEF in a shop at a petrol station, which involved him acting as the cashier. The shop was still open for business so every now and then someone would come in and pay for something. He would patiently take their money and then give them his trade mark one eye brow lift. At this point people would realise it was THE Roger Moore and of course a range of hilarious reactions would follow. A middle age woman with curlers in her hair and furry slippers on her feet strolled in at some point to buy milk. She did not seem to recognise him until she started to walk away. She stopped and then turned around and said: "Oi, are you James Bond?" He smiled and in his deep voice said: "Yes, my darling". "Well," she said without missing a beat. "I’m Delores. Fancy a date with me tonight?" Always the gentleman, Sir Roger apologised profusely for being otherwise occupied and after a peck on the cheek she strolled off happily.
(Melanie Verwoerd and Roger Moore. Photo: Supplied)
He was a very charming man and even in his eighties (again like Madiba) had an extraordinary ability to charm women. But he was also mischievous. During one of his visits we had to do a photoshoot for UNICEF. The media and paparazzi were there in force. In the middle of the shoot, which involved an Aston Martin, Sir Roger whispered to me: "Let’s give them something to talk about, shall we?" Before I could ask what he meant he leaned over and gave me a big kiss. Naturally that made huge newspaper headlines the next day – albeit rather good humoured.
He was someone who had that unique ability to make everyone feel special whether they were royalty (he hung out with the Monaco and British Royals), A-list films stars or ordinary fans. Perhaps it was because he came from such a humble background before he ended up as one of the superstars of the film business - even though he always insisted he was a “terrible actor”.
But what I will remember most of Sir Roger is how kind he was, also to me personally. After my partner died he and his wife, Kristina, immediately called me and they remained a great support during the horrible months of mourning. They even spent a weekend with me and some friends in Ireland a few months later.
His death is a great loss to the entertainment industry. But even more importantly it is a tremendous loss to the children of the world and the human rights community.
He was deeply committed family man and his children and deeply devoted wife, Kristina, must be inconsolable. I know how much I will miss getting those occasional voice messages, so for them it must leave a devastating void.
Rest in peace, dearest Roger.
Nobody did it better than you!
(Roger Moore stars as Lord Brett Sinclair in the television series The Persuaders! Photo: Larry Ellis Collection/Getty Images)