Jackie Collins Invites Hello! Inside her Home

Hello! Magazine
September 2015
A packed tourist bus has stopped outside the Beverly Hills house of Jackie Collins and camera phones are lifted skywards as their owners click away in awe at the huge art deco façade before them – one of the premier “star homes” on the Hollywood circuit.

As they move on to the mansion next door – which belongs to Al Pacino – behind white security gates and thick creamy walls, Jackie is taking HELLO! on the real tour of her beloved home. The sprawling, airy building, built around a central swimming pool and housing an art gallery, pool room, library, cinema and an impressive sweeping marble staircase leading to countless other rooms, is a suitable palace for the prolific multimillion-selling author of novels such as The Stud, Lovers and Gamblers and Rock Star.

“Welcome to the house that Hollywood Wives built,” says Jackie, referring to the monumental success of her 1983 novel.

No one knows this building better than its famous inhabitant, with Jackie overseeing every last detail of its creation. “I just really wanted to build a house,” she says, speaking exclusively to HELLO! in her spacious lounge, where we are surrounded by framed photographs of her family and her collection of ornamental panthers and Buddhas.

“John Derek’s first wife lived here, before he married Bo and the others,” she continues. “I pulled the house to the ground in the middle of the night and started from the beginning.”

Tragically, Jackie’s second husband Oscar Lerman, to whom she was married for 26 years, died in 1995, a week before the couple were due to move in. “We built this house together but it was almost as if he said to me, ‘This is your next chapter and I don’t want to be there for it because I’m not going to be,’” she says. “But I’ve never been lonely – I’m in the heart of Beverly Hills, five minutes’ walk from everything.”

If the walls could talk, they would surely have tales of some fantastic parties… “I should entertain more,” she says with a sigh. “[My sister] Joan always goes on at me, but I tend to have one party a year – usually for Joan. Last time, it was for her and [her husband] Percy’s anniversary and I had one when they got married. She talks me into it.”

Her sister is, of course, famous actress Dame Joan Collins, four years her senior and the reason why the author, at the age of 15, first came to Hollywood from London.

More rebellious than her film-siren sibling, Jackie was expelled from school for playing truant – and hilariously, for asking “the resident flasher” if it was a cold day – and followed Joan to Tinseltown to become a star.

The area features heavily in many of Jackie’s novels, including her latest, The Santangelos. This book – her 32nd – centres on Lucky Santangelo, who first appeared in 1981’s Chances and is one of the author’s most famous characters.

Lucky is a wife, mother, business mogul and a “woman who always does things her way. No exceptions” – is there a bit of her in Jackie? “I think there’s a bit of Lucky in every woman,” she says. “So many women write to me saying they want to be like Lucky. “I’m quite mild until I’m pushed, but if I’m pushed you know about it.”

One thing left unsaid in The Santangelos is Lucky’s age. “Lucky’s like James Bond – she’s ageless, she’s strong, she’s all woman,” Jackie says, well practiced at talking in soundbites.

At 77, is Jackie reluctant to think about her own age? “I think too much emphasis is put on how old women are,” she says. “Madonna, for instance, looks incredible and is powerful and amazing and all they ever talk about is that she’s 50-something. What is she supposed to be? Dead? There’s a fabulous quote, ‘Age is a question of mind over matter – if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.’”

Brought up in fairly modest surrounds in London by parents Joseph, a showbiz agent, and Elsa Collins, Jackie started writing as a teenager, dreaming up “steamy stories” that were devoured by her schoolmates in the playground.

“When I was 13, I started reading Harold Robbins and Mickey Spillane, all male authors, and I thought, ‘I love these books, but the women in them are for cooking or sex.’ I decided to write about strong women,” she says. “I wrote tons as a teenager but never finished one book. I’d think of another great idea and start again.”

Encouraged by Oscar, Jackie’s first novel The World is Full of Married Men was published in 1968. With its open sexuality, it became an instant hit. “I was about to abandon it and Oscar asked to read it,” Jackie says. “He came back a couple of days later and said, ‘You’re a great storyteller. You have to finish this.’

“It took me six or seven weeks at a friend’s house in Montauk, in New York state. Then I came back to London and had to find a publisher.”

One duly came along and the book made Jackie one of the world’s best-selling authors, despite being banned in Australia and South Africa. “I took the double standard and threw it to its side,” she says. “It was a huge success and I was thrilled because it was all I ever wanted to do.”

Even though she’s sold some 500 million books in more than 40 countries, Jackie still writes a novel every year, all gratefully received by a loyal fan base. Wearing her signature look – a black trouser suit – she is the perfect host: warm, friendly and an utterly great gossip. Here, Jackie lifts the lid on her Hollywood life, loves, meeting the Queen and why her pen will never run dry…

What was your inspiration for building this house?
“David Hockney’s painting A Bigger Splash. I saw it and it was millions of dollars so I thought, ‘I can’t afford the painting, but I’m going to have a house with that swimming pool instead.’ I drew a sketch, gave it to an architect and we started from there.”

What is your most treasured possession?
“The family photographs. I’ve taken thousands of photos of all my kids since they were born. I also love my Buddhas. I go to the Paris flea markets once a year and I go nuts. I’m a fan of collecting things on my travels, although I’ve given it up a bit recently because I’ve got no space to put anything.”

Do you do all your writing from home?
“Yes, mostly in my study upstairs. Sometimes, if all the kids are here [Jackie has three children and six grandchildren], I’ll sit by the pool and write in the shade while they’re jumping in and out. I finished The Santangelos on holiday in Hawaii. We rented a house with my entire family and I sat under a sun umbrella and finished the book. I couldn’t wait to get back and give it to my assistant to type up.

Why do you write your book by hand?
“I’m on the computer all the time – researching, emailing, looking at gossip sites – but for writing, I’ve always done it that way and I don’t want to change. I’m not a fast typist anyway and I couldn’t think properly. It doesn’t appeal to me. My assistant types it all up and I get back the typeset pages, which I love because they’re fresh to me, then I’m constantly editing and making my changes by hand.

“I actually wrote four pages while having my pictures taken for this photoshoot. I’m writing a sequel to The Power Trip [her 2012 hit] and I’ve created a new heroine, who I think is my new Lucky. She’s half native-American and half Italian, a real strong, ballsy woman who travels the world and ends up a facilitator in Afghanistan. I’m researching that right now. Of course, I’ll bring Hollywood into it.”

You’re also writing your autobiography…
“It’s called Reform School or Hollywood. One day, I’m writing that and the next I’m novel writing. One of my daughters picked it up the other day and started reading. She said, ‘This is like reading one of your novels,’ but I think that’s a good thing. You’ll have to wait and see.”

You were married to Wallace Austin for four years, your second husband Oscar for 26 years, until he died of prostate cancer, and you were with Frank Calcagnini, to whom you were engaged, until his death in 2000. What’s your secret to a successful relationship?
“I think you have to have a sense of humour to be married. You have to work at it – you support each other and you stay faithful. Many marriages break up because somebody screwed somebody else and people say, ‘Oh, it doesn’t matter,’ but it really matters. It’s such an intimate thing. I’ve been described as a ‘raunchy moralist’ before and it’s the perfect description.”

Have you found love again?
“I’ve had so many great relationships in my life, I don’t feel the need to be in another one. I want to be in control of the remote. I like my freedom, I don’t want somebody to tell me what to do today. I love my family, my friends, being able to do what I want to do, when I want to do it. I have male friends, but they’re all for different purposes.”

You have had to deal with a lot of grief – losing your mother Elsa to cancer in her 50s, then two of your loves. What is your coping mechanism?
“I think you should celebrate people’s lives because we’re going to go sometime. Oscar was 20 years older than me; I gave him two fabulous daughters. I have pictures of him everywhere, as I do Frank.”

What advice would you give to others who have a terminally ill close relative or partner?
“Be there for them and give them everything they want. I never left either of my partners when they were sick. I still wrote, though, when they were asleep. It was my release. Try to continue your life as normally as possible because you’re the one with a lot of responsibility, dealing with caregivers, the hospital…”

Your sister Joan is famously reluctant to acknowledge her age. Does age bother you? “No – I’d sooner be the age I am as opposed to dead. No one can believe how old they are.”

Do you take any special measures to look more youthful?
“No. I’ve got English skin and maintenance to me is such a waste of time. These women who are constantly at the dermatologists just end up looking hideous or all the same or completely different. There are a couple of actresses – who I won’t name on record, but you know who I mean – they look goof, but they’ve got different faces now and it’s terrifying. So I’ve taken the European style of ageing. I wear make-up and I don’t try to be anything I’m not.”

How would you describe your style?
“I have a bit of vitiligo [pale patches on the skin], which I manage to keep under wraps and which is why I always wear black trousers. I then change my jewellery and jackets to suit. I don’t have the time or inclination for shopping, so I design all my jackets and have a wonderful woman who makes them.

“I haven’t worn a gown in a long while. Joan and I are very different style-wise – she loves clothes and shoes and I am anti that. I just want to be simple.”

Were you different as children, too?
“Growing up, I was the wild one and Joan was the goodie goodie. I got expelled from school for waving at the resident flasher and saying, ‘ooh, cold day today, is it?’ And for playing truant and going to Leicester Square to watch movies all day.

“Joan was off in Hollywood at that time, so I went to stay with her, but most of the time she was off on location. Years later, I repaid her by giving her the role in The Stud and she was great in that. It was really fun working together. We have a younger brother, Bill, too. He’s fantastic. He and his wife live in London and come to LA about four times a year to stay with me.”

You have three daughters – Tracy, Tiffany and Rory. Are you close?
“Yes, but my children are very private. I have six grandchildren – three boys and three girls. I adore spending time with them and I love giving them back after. They call me Jack-Jack.”

Do your daughters read your books?
“They did, but none of them has read The Santangelos yet. Tiffany keeps saying she’s going to read it on the plane, but then she falls asleep. But 32 books later, you can’t blame them. Rory has had a book published called Playing Along. She didn’t really seek my advice, though I read it. I’m really pleased she’s writing, I just wish she’d finish faster because people are wanting a sequel.”

How did you build your career with a young family to take care of?
“I gave up sleep. My husband ran nightclubs in London and I didn’t want him to run riot there with hundreds of girls flinging themselves at him, so I would take the kids to school, write all day, meet the kids from school, make them dinner and put them to bed, then I would get myself ready to go to the clubs. I remember falling asleep on the bath mat for ten minutes before going out a number of times. We’d get home around 3am and have about three hours’ sleep before starting the routine again.

“I was always there for my children, very much a hands-on mum, and I was constantly exhausted. I’m making up for it now. I love my sleep; I love nothing better than getting into bed and catching up on my favourite TV shows.”

You received an OBE from the Queen in 2013…
“It was a thrill. I’m from London, so it was a real honour. She is so gracious and lovely and it was such an experience to go to the Palace because all the footmen have this great dry sense of humour. The Queen said to me, ‘Now, you have written many books,’ and I said, ‘Yes, not bad for a school drop-out,’ which probably wasn’t the best thing to say. She quickly pinned the badge on me.”

What do you think of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their growing family?
“I think Kate has handled her fame so well – not only is she beautiful and smart, but she’s edgy, too, and she won’t let anyone push her around. The kids are adorable and the Duke is fantastic. I think they’re great for the monarchy. I shall be sending Kate a copy of The Santangelos as soon as I get to London.”

And Prince Harry?
“I think he’s hilarious – the fact that he could go to Vegas and hang out with all those girls. He’d be a great character to write about. I’m a royalist for that part of the royal family.

How do you switch off?
“I’m a fan of reality TV, some of the British shows are so funny, like Geordie Show and Made in Chelsea. I love Graham Norton, he’s absolute tops, much better than all the American talkshow hosts. I love music, too, and putting together CDs. I love Latin, hip-hop, rap – without sexist lyrics. I like Usher and Drake.”

Who are your closest famous friends?
“Michael Caine and his wife Shakira are still great friends. We communicate by email. Shakira is an amazing woman – that’s a really great marriage – and Michael and I go way back, before he was in movies. Joanna and Sidney Poitier are close friends and I love to hang out with Kathy Griffin and Sharon Osbourne. They’re such fun.”

Will you ever put down your pen?
“Never. I’ll be 110 and still writing.”

What is the motto you live by?
“Never f*** with a Santangelo – or a Collins.”

Reposted from Hello!