Louis Theroux Interviews Joan Collins, review: like the Dame herself, this encounter was a hoot

Louis Theroux meets Dame Joan Collins
Louis Theroux meets Dame Joan Collins - Ryan McNamara/BBC

Why is Dame Joan Collins so famous? Her performance as Alexis Carrington in Dynasty was fabulous, of course, and made her a small-screen icon. But she didn’t enjoy the stellar film career of, say, Elizabeth Taylor, a contemporary to whom she was often compared in the early years.

In Louis Theroux Interviews… Joan Collins (BBC Two), Theroux pondered this point and came up with the answer. “Your public role, your role as yourself, has been maybe your greatest one – because a lot of it’s to do with your Joan Collins-ness”

This Joan Collins-ness – which Theroux defined as an ability to “inhabit stardom” – was on display here. In a world where celebrities moan about the downsides of fame, Collins is refreshing. Really, what’s the point in being famous if you live the life of an ordinary person? Live like a star, dress like a star, and sprinkle every sentence with starriness (“I was sitting with Kirk Douglas on a yacht, as one does…”).

Collins hosted Theroux at her lovely home in St Tropez on a sweltering day. She is not an Alexis-style diva, but requests things in a manner that suggests a prompt response would be advised. “Can you ask somebody to get me some ice?” she said to a man who obediently trotted out of the room. “Hang on, that’s my director you just did that to,” said Theroux. “He won’t mind,” she purred.

They popped out for lunch (“Frank Sinatra would love it here”), joined by Collins’ husband, Percy. Written interviews sometimes give the impression that Percy is a bit of a lapdog, but that image was dispelled here. Again, Theroux was on the money with the secret of their happy marriage, identifying “a perfect meshing of their qualities: her ageless beauty and artistry, his good humour and instinct for calm management.” Theroux also had fun with his questions to Collins: “If Percy Gibson is the greatest lover you’ve ever been with, who was the second greatest?”

Collins talked about her career – films, TV, bestselling books – and her marriages. She touched on the awful things, the worst of them being the night that she was drugged and raped by actor Maxwell Reed, whom she went on to marry. But Collins is old-school, not liking to dwell on life’s downsides.

Theroux’s interviews are not designed to elicit a “gotcha” moment or a line that will make headlines. Instead, they give a sense of what it’s like to spend time in this famous person’s company. There were no revelations here but, like Dame Joan herself, it was never boring.

In one sense, it was the antithesis of last week’s encounter with Pete Doherty. During that interview, you spent your time worrying that he wouldn’t make it to the end of the programme without collapsing. Meanwhile, Collins, who recently celebrated her 90th birthday, has the energy of someone 30 years younger. As she strolled around St Tropez looking très chic, she revealed she has no plans to retire: “Who’s going to support me?” When Theroux pointed out that, according to Google, she was worth up to £30 million, Collins snorted: “That’s absolute b------s.”

Midway through her career, Collins had an agent who advised her to ditch the glamour if she wanted to be considered for serious roles. She gave that short shrift. “I grew up with a mother and 10 aunts who were all incredibly glamorous. Why should I throw all that off so that some ditsy casting director can think I can act, because I go around with no make-up? I decided to be true to myself,” Collins said. And long may she continue.

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