Dame Joan Collins (left) and her husband Percy (right)
Recall a mental image of Dame Joan Collins and what comes to mind? Glamor, humor and crystalline message, all wrapped in an elegant couture dress.
We certainly do not imagine that she is free on the street, without makeup, in her M & S jimjams and dressing gown.
But this is exactly what she did a week ago. Poor Joan shuddered outside in the cold of a spring evening in her nightwear while her husband, Percy Gibson, was fighting a fire in their apartment in Belgravia.
& # 39; It was freezing last Saturday and I was standing outside in thin socks, cotton jammies (from M & S) and my bathrobe, which I had just grabbed on the way out and felt very terrified, & # 39; she sniffs (she has a terrible cold). & # 39; I didn't think, "What would I save?" I didn't even bring my handbag. & # 39;
Inside, the brave Percy fought through a smoke blanket and extinguished the flames with a fire extinguisher. & # 39; I couldn't see much, so I sprayed blindly. It was very hot, my eyes closed and I couldn't breathe properly, & he admits.
Dame Joan's house was badly damaged by the fire (pictured above their bathroom)
Dame Joan Collins (left) said the situation in her house left her terrified (right the bathroom after the fire)
& # 39; It was overwhelming and frightening because the smoke was sour and pale. I had to gasp for air. & # 39;
In the meantime, Joan had called 999: & they said, "Are you alone?" I answered, "My husband is in with the fire." And they said, "Just tell him to get out of there."
& # 39; The smoke detectors were beeping and by that time the burglar alarm had also sounded. The place was a cacophony of noise.
& # 39; I went back to the apartment and the smoke was so thick in the hall that I couldn't step inside. I screamed at Percy to get out, and finally he did. & # 39;
View of Joan Collins' house that sustained fire damage where the London fire department said they were being called last week
& # 39; I don't think you really have time to think in situations like that & # 39 ;, says Percy. & # 39; The shock pushes everything in the back of your mind and you just deal with the here and now. You try to put out the fire. That is your direct thought: "How does the fire extinguisher work?"
& # 39; And then of course the firemen came and they went into the worst of the worst situations and are so selfless. They are worthy of so much praise. I even think they don't have to pay taxes! & # 39;
& # 39; The thing is, & # 39; reflects Joan, & # 39; if Percy had not entered the fire extinguisher, the entire flat would have been consumed by flames. What he did was actually save the entire building. Percy is a hero. I know many guys who would not have gone inside. He has made a great sacrifice.
Dame Joan Collins says her husband is a hero (couple pictured above)
& # 39; And we are lucky that we are still alive. I keep thinking, "What if we slept and didn't hear the alarm? What if we went to a movie?"
We chat in the aforementioned flat – in a stately, early 19th-century building in one of London's most expensive and prestigious squares – just three days after the drama. There is still a clear smoke smell in the air.
In the guest bathroom, where the fire started – and ended (thanks to Percy & # 39; s applications with the extinguisher and the rapid arrival of the firefighters) – everything was destroyed, charred and black. A window is broken; a lintel, burned like firewood, has fallen to the ground. Lampshades and curtains have been used by the flames.
And in the adjoining bedroom, where daughter Joan, Tara, (one of the two children from her marriage to her second husband, Anthony Newley) would have stayed last weekend if she had not been detained at her home in Somerset, everything is smoke black and desolate.
Percy accompanies a short tour of the destruction and offers small blue plastic shoe protectors, so that the remains of the flat are not thrown off the ground.
He points to the portable mirror that is believed to have caused the flame when bright sunlight was reflected on it. & # 39; Apparently this is not an unusual cause of burning & # 39 ;, he says. (Note: never leave mirrors on windowsills.)
Dame Joan has said that many interiors of the house must be replaced after being damaged by the fire
When my daughter calls during our interview – he sees her name appear on my phone screen, even though it is silent – he insists that I answer.
& # 39; Joan would answer if one of her children called. You have to! It might be important, & says Percy, 53, a film and theater producer who has been Joan & # 39; s junior for 31 years.
When he and Joan were married at Claridge & # 39; s in 2002 – she was wearing a lilac dress by Nolan Miller, the Dynasty costume designer, he in Gibson's barrel cartons and Prince Charlie's black jacket – few thought it would last .
But here, 17 years later, they are so effortlessly in each other's company that they finish sentences for each other.
Joan Collins with her previous husband Anthony Newley with son Sasha Newley and daughter Tara Newley
Dame Joan is emphatically an actress, not an actor – she belongs to an era in which no woman calls herself as such, and she mocks political correctness – and in her seven decades of fame she is perhaps most fascinated by her role as & # 39; superbitch & # 39; & # 39; Alexis Carrington in the soap dynasty of the eighties (for which she won a Golden Globe prize).
She is also a writer and columnist and today she sits on her favorite corner sofa on the couch in her cozy, surrounded by her books and family portraits framed in graceful silver.
She is slim, finely built and enchantingly beautiful. I am fascinated that they are not there & # 39; finished & # 39; looks; when she frowns, her forehead folds. Her smile is dazzling.
She is wearing a big heart around her neck with the inscription & # 39; P loves J & # 39 ;, designed by Theo Fennell.
& # 39; Percy gave it to me five years ago for my birthday, & # 39; she says, & # 39; and I always wear it. & # 39;
Her jacket with jungle print is from Zara. & # 39; Do I wear High Street? God, yes! & # 39; she calls.
She and Percy tell me about last week's fire, Joan starts: & It was exactly a week after we got home from the US, I was still coughing and catching a cold from the plane and I was working on a charity shop for my kids charity Shooting Star, and had a photo shoot.
& # 39; Then, on Saturday, we had lunch with a granddaughter [Tara’s daughter, Miel]. Afterwards we had thought about going to a movie – I wanted to see Wild Rose – but instead we decided to go home. I had to rest to get over this cold. My granddaughter told me it is called the 100-day cough. . . "
& # 39; 93 days to go! & # 39; Percy jokes.
Joan records the story: & # 39; So we came home and I put on pajamas and socks and there was nothing on TV, so we decided – as we often do – to watch one of our favorite old movies in our bedroom, as good as It gets – which is ironic, seen – with Jack Nicholson in the lead role. I have known him for years; since he worked in the mailroom of MGM. . . "
Dame Joan and Percy married in 2002
& # 39; And he kept asking you, & # 39; Percy says smiling.
& # 39; Anyway, & # 39; Joan continues, & # 39; after about ten minutes we heard this high beep. & # 39;
Percy adds: & honestly, if it wasn't for the fact that you've heard like a lynx, I don't think I've thought much about it.
& # 39; But I paused the movie and the beeping went on and I assumed it warned us that the batteries in the smoke detector were dead. But when I opened the bedroom door, there was a blanket of smoke at the end of the corridor.
& # 39; I must have said, "Oh my god. It really is a fire! & # 39; & # 39;
& # 39; Then you shouted: "Call 999 and go away!" & # 39; Joan remembers. & # 39; So I headed for the front door and the smoke grew thicker by the second. & # 39;
Percy says: & # 39; And I grabbed the fire extinguisher and ran down the corridor. I could see flames in the bathroom and the door was half open, so I squirted through the opening, then kicked the door open and saw that the window was broken.
& # 39; The heat made my eyes poke. I could not see or breathe well. That's why firefighters tell you, "Don't do this because you might be overwhelmed."
& # 39; I used a fire extinguisher and then went down to see Joan. I continued to worry that a spark could ignite another fire, so I grabbed a second fire extinguisher and went back upstairs, and the towels were on fire, so I tore them off the rail and sprayed them. By then the firemen had arrived and they told me in clear terms that they had to leave. & # 39;
Two fire engines with crews of ten years fought the fire for more than an hour, and finally brought it under control by 5.36pm.
& # 39; They came from the showbiz fire department & # 39 ;, says Percy. & # 39; It relates to the theater country. Fortunately there was not much traffic and they came to us quickly. & # 39;
& # 39; And did a fantastic job & # 39 ;, Joan adds.
In the meantime, the police had closed the street. & # 39; The NHS crew was so helpful & # 39 ;, she says. & # 39; They examined our nose, ears, and throat to see if we had inhaled too much smoke. & # 39;
She later tweeted her gratitude to them, the fire department and the police. & # 39; They were just great & # 39 ;, she says. & # 39; I was a wreck and they comforted me; no makeup on in my bathrobe. & # 39;
& # 39; Everyone knew it was you, but they didn't want to say anything and that was thoughtful because you felt less self-conscious & # 39 ;, Percy adds. & # 39; I didn't feel self-conscious & # 39 ;, says Joan. & # 39; I didn't care. I lived! & # 39;
& # 39; They asked if we wanted to go to the hospital and we didn't feel it was serious enough & # 39 ;, Percy continues.
Joan says: & They said we shouldn't stay in the flat and my brother, Bill and sister-in-law, Hazel, who live just two blocks away, wanted us to stay with them, but I really love my own bed so we stayed here.
Dame Joan was shocked that there was a fire in her house
& # 39; Percy sleeps quickly for nine hours & # 39; in the evening – after all, he had fire fighting! – but it is unnecessary to say that I have hardly slept. I kept coming out to check if everything was turned off. I walked around. I went back to bed. I dozed off stupidly.
& # 39; But I don't want to complain. We just feel so grateful and grateful that we are still alive. & # 39;
She jumps to the kitchen to get some Easter chocolate – a chic chest given to her by her daughter, Tara – to cheer us all up & # 39 ;. We all opt for one and chip away.
Dame Joan belongs to a Stoic race, raised during the Second World War, who regards groaning as weakness. It appears that she has endured several fires: the first, when she was a baby, completely destroyed her childhood at home.
& # 39; I don't remember anymore, but my parents came back to set fire to our entire flat. They talked a lot about it. My mother was always terrified of fire, so she went out to turn everything off & night. & # 39;
There was another one, in a hotel in Paris, where she stayed on the sixth floor with the then newborn Tara.
& # 39; It started above us, and the firefighters told Tony [Newley] and I to crawl down on our stomach. I was terrified, & she remembers.
Then, in the hills above their home on the French Riviera, heat waves caused flurries, one of which came dangerously close. & # 39; Eleven of us – family and friends – had to evacuate the house. I just grabbed my passport. Fortunately we were all safe. & # 39;
Apart from this, she retains the unsatisfactory perspective of the Blitz generation: & our house was hit, but I was protected from the ugly truth about what exactly had happened. I was six or seven. All my toys were gone.
& # 39; We came from Marble Arch Tube after an air strike and our house was no longer there.
& # 39; But, & # 39; reflects them, & you can't attach to things. I realized this when my sister died. & # 39;
In 2015, novelist Jackie Collins died of breast cancer, just before her 78th birthday. & # 39; She was a big collector. Her house was full of images, paintings and photo albums, but they are all things. Ultimately it will all be in the hands of someone else.
& # 39; My mother said, "Never miss anything you don't miss." She meant that people are important; things are not. & # 39;
It is quite a catastrophe of disasters and, when I show her forbearance, Joan says that this last fire came after a flood last year in which water from an upper floor flowed through their ceiling and flooded their dining room, which had to be completely renovated.
& # 39; We had to move for almost a year and we are still unpacking boxes full of papers, DVD & books; all the waste that you have collected over the years, & she says.
I'm joking that they have to be bullied now. & # 39; Yes! We haven't had the locust plague yet, & Percy laughs. & # 39; But we have had moths. & # 39;
They have weathered it all with a mix of grit and good humor, and Joan – who is after all an old school trouper – says: & I am a positive person. I probably got that from my parents.
& # 39; We should never feel sorry for ourselves. I went to 13 schools during the war. I had to be resilient: a new child, a new school. I went to some of them for just five or six weeks.
& # 39; So I don't like the negative. People who are too introspective get pretty boring. We just continue, & # 39; she says, adding sharply, & # 39; people from my time do that. & # 39;
& # 39; Yes, & # 39; agrees Percy, & # 39; she has the ability to bounce back much faster than the average bear. & # 39;
Joan bowed a finely shaped eyebrow. The joshing affection that they share is moving.
On the wall next to her, an interpretation of the rose window on Notre Dame Cathedral reminds us of the epic destruction that was brought to Paris last week.
Today she says: "I was almost crying when I saw it burn, especially when the steeple went down. The Eiffel Tower. The steeple of Notre Dame: two icons of Paris.
& # 39; I don't think people know how dangerous and terrifying fire is – how easily it has started – until it happens to them. So, like Scouting, we must all be prepared. & # 39;
She and Percy have good advice for all of us: get fire alarms and fire extinguishers. & # 39; And if the worst happens, ask an independent damage assessor; someone who is on your side ", Percy adds in a pragmatic way.
It's time to say goodbye and Joan, who is reluctant to pass on her cold germs, gives me a fist bump while Percy brings me outside.
In the graceful corridor with travertine floors – all shimmering white marbles and chic gray lacquer colors – I think a week ago of Dame Joan, standing there and vulnerable, and the image lingers.
Even the most unlikely elegant and stylish disasters among us. And have days when only a cozy pajama and an old movie do it.