She really is drop dead gorgeous

2007-11-16 00:00

IF there's one thing the Collins sisters know how to do, it is high camp. The elder, Joan, is of course best known as that ultimate eighties icon, Alexis Carrington in Dynasty. You don't get more camp than that. The younger, Jackie, writes racy novels that, we are assured, reveal the dank secrets of life in Tinseltown - and are even higher camp than Dynasty.

Both sisters are now in their seventies. Both look decades younger, which, they swear blind, has everything to do with genes and nothing to do with the plastic surgeon's knife.

So when I was offered the opportunity to get up close with Jackie Collins and see for myself if this boast is true, how could I say no? Thus I found myself at the Mount Edgecombe Country Club. I was by no means alone.

Close on 300 women (and about three rather bewildered looking men) had dressed themselves up to the nines and forked out a considerable whack of cash for the privilege of eating a meal in the same room as the woman who, judging by the number of them who had copies of her latest novel Drop Dead Beautiful clutched in their sweaty if well-manicured talons, is their heroine.

I'd got through about half of Drop Dead Beautiful by then. “If I'm going to see the woman in the flesh, I suppose I'd better sample one of her novels,” was my reasoning for embarking on this new literary adventure.

My conclusion on her writing? Well, technically it is perfection. Our Jackie sure knows how to keep a plot whipping along. But in terms of profundity of thought? “Intelligent but cliched,” was my prissy conclusion. I think the Vanity Fair hack who described her, as her publicity hand-out proudly quotes, as “the Proust of Hollywood”, was indulging in a bit of heavy-handed irony that Collins's publicists have conveniently chosen to overlook. In stark contrast to Jackie Collins herself. She gets every last bit of the irony. This is one clever woman.

When she slipped into the room, erect of posture, pert of nose, bouncy of hair and very charming, I could instantly see that she knew exactly what this was all about. And what it was all about was seducing her audience and - even more importantly - converting the unruly mob of journalists who would be writing about her.

Of course she knew that we were intellectual snobs one and all. We were the hard nuts she had to crack. And so the first thing she did was come over and introduce herself to us. She flirted outrageously with the other man at the table (alas, her publicist whipped her away before she got around to me); she made a few asides about knowing full well that her body of work ain't exactly high art; I saw her close-up enough to confirm that she DOES look her age, only not a lot, and hasn't had any obvious surgery. In short, she left us as putty in her hands.

This woman is a pro. Between the soup and the main course, she gave her speech. “What I want to tell women is that they can achieve anything,” she declared, to whoops of approval from the ladies-who-lunch in her audience.

“True, but just a little hackneyed,” I thought - which is exactly what I'd been thinking about her novel.

While the rest of us lined up for the rather delicious buffet main course, the day's heroine endured hunger in favour of duty, in the form of a queue of hyperventilating fans wanting her to sign copies of her books.

I kept a close watch on her out of the corner of my eye. Her charm was relentless. And, each time she had to pose for yet another cellphone snap with an adoring reader, she did the thing that celebrities who know how to look their best in photos do when a camera is pointed at them. It involves a dewy widening of the eyes, a coquettish lifting of the chin and a smile that never quite reaches the eyes.

But I felt rather sorry for her anyway. She'd already endured two of these grim lunchtime tortures in Jo'burg. At 3 pm she had to dash off to the airport for another in Cape Town.

After her speech, she'd invited questions. As politely as she possibly could, she asked for interesting ones. Instead, she got dull drivel. She answered with apparent vigour and gave back far more than the questions were worth. But, again it was the pro at work. I could see what she was really thinking, and it was: “I am bored! I am hungry! And I want to be back home in Los Angeles!” But such was her charisma that we didn't bother that much about it at the time.

And, let me confess that, having met her and witnessed firsthand the full extent of her beauty and undeniable allure, I've read Drop Dead Beautiful to the last page and enjoyed every word of it. Jackie Collins deserves it.

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