Former Bond girl Britt Ekland — the perkiest of 78-year-olds — has quite a list of tips for how to age gracefully. Do NOT go grey she insists (‘if you let your hair go grey, your brain will go grey, which is boring’). Wise words, indeed.
Do not let a man into your home, unless it’s as a gardener and you are paying him (it’s a straightforward transaction then, she explains, entirely seriously).
Her top tip, however, is to ‘never, ever, ever, mess with your face’. She offers her own up as evidence of what can go terribly wrong. We are talking fillers here and Britt has an awful lot to say about those. She was repeating her ‘just say no’ mantra in a magazine this week and will keep on saying it.
‘Biggest mistake of my life, and I’ve spent 20 years paying for it,’ she says. ‘I’ve had thousands of injections ever since, trying to dissolve them, and there is still some in there. It ruined my career as well as my life physically. I would say to everyone out there: DO NOT DO IT.’
She reveals, that whereas other celebrities could be accused of not knowing where to stop, she has spent the past two decades trying to undo what she had done.
She is acutely — and jaw-droppingly — opinionated when it comes to the celebs she thinks have overdone it.
Former Bond girl Britt Ekland (pictured left now and right as Mary Goodnight in The Man with the Golden Gun) — the perkiest of 78-year-olds — has quite a list of tips for how to age gracefully. Do NOT go grey she insists (‘if you let your hair go grey, your brain will go grey, which is boring’). Wise words, indeed
Donatella Versace, she says, ‘probably feels like me, regrets what she did. We are the most alike in what we did to ourselves.’ Madonna? ‘She looks like Mr Potato Head.’ Nicole Kidman, who has admitted to Botox in the past, gets a mention, too. ‘I saw one film in which she just looked consistently perplexed.’
Yet she would still love to be one of those actresses who seems to have aged effortlessly. Emphasis on the seems.
‘Look at Helen Mirren five, six, seven years ago, and look at her now. She looks amazing. I wish I had her doctor.’ (Although it should be noted Mirren has never confirmed having had any cosmetic tweakments).
But of course there’s more to glorious (and brutally honest) Britt Ekland than her face. A lot more, so where should we start?
Perhaps at the top, with her hair, which is still quite something. Britt — once the blondest of blonde bombshells — comes out with another startling revelation. She was never as blonde as everyone thought.
Whisper it, but she was actually quite mousy, back in the day. ‘When I first went to Vidal Sassoon, in the 1960s, they lifted my hair up and went “Oh my god, this is what everyone wants”, but I’d highlighted bits myself, just by putting peroxide on some cotton wool and dragging it through. I’d been doing that since I was 16. Naturally, I was never dark, but I was more a mouse colour.’
There were other parts of her people were enchanted by, obviously, but the hair was very much part of the package. When Peter Sellers — possibly the most famous of her exes, and almost certainly the most dysfunctional — first took her to meet Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon at Kensington Palace, Snowdon insisted on photographing her with the light bouncing off her blonde locks. ‘He made me put on a blue linen shirt and undo the button. And that was before lunch!’ she says.
Later when she was Mrs Sellers and holidaying with the royal couple in Sardinia (‘with the Aga Khan and his boat’) she says Princess Margaret used to like to touch her hair, too. Pardon?!
‘She loved my hair. We would sort of stand together and she put her hands over the back of my hair.’
For her last acting role — playing the part of a dowdy 1950s housekeeper in play The Cat And The Canary — she had to bundle it into a grey wig, which she found thrilling (‘because it was wonderful to play a part that was age-appropriate, and not glamorous’).
She’s clearly not embracing the grey in real life, though? ‘That’s my most unfavourite word in the world,’ she says. Grey? ‘No, “embrace”. It means f-all. I wish people wouldn’t use it. Another one is “journey”. Everyone is on a journey. Stop with the journeys, unless you are on a bus.’
The short answer is that, no, she has not embraced the grey, and thinks no one should. ‘In lockdown everyone was going on about it. NO! It’s just lazy. The pharmacies were open. I did my colour myself. You just get rubber gloves, squoosh it in, make a parting. I can do it in half an hour. It doesn’t even have to be well done. Just do the front. Wear a hat if you have to.
‘I will never go grey. You are more likely to see me bald than grey.’
It really is rather a treat to take tips on how to grow old from Britt Ekland. Yes, yes, she does the yawn-yawn green tea-and-yoga stuff a lot of celebs do, but she’s also full of common sense.
‘I’m Swedish,’ she explains. ‘We are very practical.’
Today she is being practical in her garden ‘in the middle of nowhere’ in Sweden. She spent lockdown marooned in London, but has just returned, and been reunited with her tractor. She loves her tractor. ‘It’s quite big. I cut the lawn myself. I am quite a perfectionist so I love the straight lines. When I plant flowers, they have to be in a straight line.’
Maybe she craves order now because her life has been quite disordered in many ways.
She’s always been defined by her relationships with famous men. She had a daughter, Victoria, with Sellers (yes, Princess Margaret came round, and ‘brought a teddy bear’) and then two sons — Nikolaj, with record company executive Lou Adler and Thomas with Stray Cats drummer Slim Jim Phantom.
She is a doting grandmother now, and on good terms with all the surviving fathers of her children, ‘because you have to be when there are children involved’. She has no relationship (“neither good nor bad”) with Rod Stewart, another high-profile ex.
She has been single for 20 years, though, and what a relief that is.
I refer to the fact that she lives alone. ‘No, not alone,’ she corrects. ‘I have lots of spiders and wasps, beasts and loads of mosquitoes and ticks and horse-flies. I’m far from alone as a person. Yes. It’s just me living here, which is kind of sad because it’s quite a lot of room. But it is the way it is.’
Last time I interviewed her, she told me she didn’t need a man, so that’s still the case? ‘Oh I need a man desperately,’ she says. ‘I need a man to do the heavy work in the garden. But I only want a man I can pay.’
She is frank and funny and (outwardly, at first) seems utterly fearless. Yet she confesses that lockdown had rattled her, quite unexpectedly.
‘I thought I was only afraid of two things in life — ice (she says she will never walk on it) and fire, because they are things I cannot control. But I had panic attacks during lockdown. I was terrified of being on a ventilator. Even the word makes me shiver now. I kept imagining the tubes and the mask pressing down on me. It’s silly really. I don’t even have breathing problems, but it got to me.’
So did the emotional punch of having her much-wanted theatre role ripped away due to the pandemic. The Cat And The Canary is due to reopen later this year with Britt back in her grey wig, but when the curtain came down in 2020 she was gutted.
She’d seen it as a huge career revival, and running alongside a successful stint in The Real Marigold Hotel TV series (where older celebs hole up in India), she had a career to be proud of. ‘It was like Him Upstairs gave me everything and then, within three months, took it away. There was a lot of “Why? Why me?” going on.’
Britt’s career has always waxed and waned. In the past few decades, though, there have been few acting parts to speak of. You might assume she has suffered from that too-common affliction of parts drying up for actresses who were famed for their looks.
Today she suggests something different was at play: she took herself out of the game due to the trauma from that botched cosmetic surgery in the 1990s.
‘It’s my biggest regret,’ she says, going into more detail than she ever has done about the fallout from her ill-advised procedure.
‘I’d been to my niece’s wedding and saw a photograph of myself. My mouth just seemed to be hanging, and I didn’t like it. A friend suggested her surgeon — a French one, just off Harley Street — and he was using these new fillers.’
A series of small injections followed, ‘not into my lips but around them, all the way up to my nose’. She looked forward to her perkier face, and promptly went skiing.
‘The first I realised that things weren’t right was when I couldn’t put make-up on. It slid off because the skin was stretched so tight.’
Then the horror began. ‘The stuff he had put in started to travel around my face. I could literally see it. It was my biggest mistake and I have spent 20 years paying for it.’
She still looks astonishing, it has to be said, but compliment her and she shrugs, and details the trauma in getting this far.
‘I have had thousands of injections — you would not believe the pain — where they have tried to dissolve it. There is still a little in there, not a huge amount, but still some. I look fine, but . . .’
Those close to her had to tread carefully, she says. ‘I didn’t talk about it to my sons. It’s not the sort of thing you say, “Oh I have ruined my face” but they knew they couldn’t photograph me at certain angles.’ She is still sensitive about that, she admits.
The perfectionist in her was devastated. I do wonder if she made it into more of an issue than it was, though.
‘A girlfriend thought I had body dysmorphia,’ she admits. ‘She said: “You see things we don’t see”.’
Was she right? ‘We can debate that, but I know I looked terrible. The mouth is right in the middle of the face. If you mess with it . . . well, just don’t. Don’t!’
She has a complicated relationship with ‘procedures’ though. Botox has been her friend, ‘although it can only do so much’. She thinks she ‘probably’ had some before she went on the Marigold programme, but can’t be entirely sure. ‘I know I can’t do fillers. My skin is too sensitive, but I am also lucky that I am not phenomenally wrinkled. Well I am wrinkled, but not phenomenally.’
She reckons she was ‘quite brave’ to go back in the limelight, with the Marigold TV show. ‘It was filmed in India and the lighting wasn’t great, but I’d accepted myself by then. It was time.’
Now, she consciously puts pictures of herself on Instagram, ‘and not retouched’. She says her face should be a lesson to younger women.
And (‘no, no, NO!’) she would not like to be a lithe young woman today. She is appalled at the pressures piled on the Instagram generation. ‘I feel terribly sorry for them. Being young today is almost like being a kid in a candy store. Which way do I turn? You know, do I want to be male or female? Do I want to do plastic surgery? Do I want to add something to my breasts, to my face, my cheeks, my lips? Everyone is a copycat.
‘I guess we were in the 1960s as well, with our white plastic boots and knee socks and blonde hair, but we didn’t face all these choices.
‘Now if you haven’t had your boobs done at 18, what is wrong with you!’
We talk role models. She despises the Kardashians and all they stand for. ‘You can’t even talk about them in this context, because they aren’t real.’
But weren’t Bond girls almost the Kardashians of their day — role models, setting impossibly idealised standards of beauty. She practically explodes.‘No, no, no, no, NO! At least we Bond girls had some talent. Do not compare us to that utterly untalented bunch.
‘If I may be so bold, with Bond girls what you were looking at was pure natural beauty. Yes, ok, there was a bit of mascara and lippy, but we were real. It was nothing like today.
‘I do worry about where we are today. It’s an over-the-top tragic situation for young people. How are they going to live nice, calm, fulfilling lives, with all these expectations on them?’
Perhaps they should think about getting a tractor sooner, rather than later? ‘Yes!’ she says. ‘I would advise it.’