By Jeremy Miles
The last time I saw Britt Ekland in Dorset she was playing a vicar’s wife and being chased by hordes of men in clerical dog-collars with their trousers round their ankles.
Such are the curious joys of end-of-the-pier farce - just one of the many strange experiences that have enriched the life of the woman who, along with Volvo, Abba and IKEA, must count among Sweden’s most famous exports.
Mind you it’s unlikely that the two month season she played in See How They Run on Bournemouth Pier back in 1998 will feature particularly heavily in her latest one-woman show An Audience With Britt Ekland.
She remembers it well and with some considerable affection - “It was gorgeous being by the seaside” she coos. “I remember riding my bicycle along the prom in the sunshine. I loved it.”
Unfortunately summer seasons, panto runs and tours with the stage production of Grumpy Old Women are not what the punters want to hear about.
To them Britt Ekland will forever be the sultry, smouldering Scandinavian sex kitten who married Peter Sellers when he was 38 and she was barely into her twenties. She’s the Bond girl Mary Goodnight, the former lover of rocker Rod Stewart (who predictably perhaps referred to her as his ‘sex kitchen’), actors Warren Beatty and George Hamilton and the record producer Lou Adler. She’s the woman who at the age of 42 married the 23-year-old Stray Cats drummer Slim Jim Phantom. It all ended in tears of course and now it’s been turned into a show.
So it is that An Audience With…. which comes to the Regent Centre in Christchurch on June 6, finds the still stunning looking 67-year-old Britt, preparing to bare all, metaphorically at least.
An evening of two halves, it will first tell her extraordinary story and then invite questions from the audience.
Nothing, she tells me, will be off bounds. “How could it be? Everything’s out there on the internet. You only have to Google me and you’re going to find out all sorts of things. Some of it is even true.
“I’m happy for people to ask me absolutely anything. You can’t live the sort of life that I have and then refuse to talk about it.”
Britt is astonishingly candid and looks back on her own life with a degree of fascinated detachment.
“I don’t think people realise how innocent I was when I married Peter (Sellers).”
Sellers, already a hugely successful actor and comedian, famously knocked on her hotel room door after seeing her picture in the paper. Ten days later they were married.
“I’d never lived with a man before I lived with him. Until then I’d been at home with my single bed in my little girl bedroom. Can you imagine what it was like?
“I look at those old Movietone films with their commentaries” - she puts on a clipped English accent: ‘And here comes Peter Sellers with his new young bride’ – “It makes me laugh.”
Does she have any regrets? “I don’t believe in regrets, I just believe in trying not to make the same mistakes twice,”
And what about the girl on the Movietone films does she feel she’s still the same person?
She pauses for a moment before telling me: “The core is the same but the shell has hardened a bit. I suspect I could give that little person a word or two of advice, like it’s probably not a good idea to marry someone you only met 10 days ago.”
The marriage lasted four years but it was a disaster. Sellers, she says, was complex, difficult and controlling. “He’d hire and fire people all the time. It was crazy but I just let it happen. Look at those pictures of me standing next to him, gazing at him with those big eyes. I was besotted. To me he seemed so suave and sophisticated…”
In fact life with Sellers soon turned into a nightmare. He was possessive, jealous and deeply unhappy.
“Peter hated being at home. He bought all these toys: expensive cameras, reel-to-reel tape recorders, all kinds of equipment and, if we were ever at home, he’d play with them for maybe half-an-afternoon before announcing that we had to go to Paris or Rome or Zurich or some other place. We were always getting on planes.”
By contrast, she says, both Rod Stewart and Slim Jim loved nothing more than staying in. “I think it’s to do with the rock and roll lifestyle, all that touring, all those hotels.
Rod in particular liked the quiet life. “People have this idea that we had a wild relationship. In fact Rod’s idea of the perfect evening in was to flop out in front of the TV wearing a pair of disgusting old sweatpants and having a cup of tea.”
Following her divorce from Sellers Britt says she made herself two promises - that she would never get jealous and never marry again.
She claims she has managed to keep the first resolution but, after 20 years, found herself embarking on a second doomed marriage.
Today she is resolutely single. The only special male in her life is her beloved pet chihuahua Tequila who will star alongside her in An Audience With..
The show is directed by her long-time friend the actor Victor Spinetti who was also in the cast of See How They Run in Bournemouth.
“Victor’s amazing,” she says. “He’s nearly 80 but he’s so sharp. I remember at Bournemouth he was the life and soul of the cast.” Britt has warm memories of her summer in Dorset, appearing alongside Su Pollard, Jeffrey Holland and Allo Allo veteran Hilary Minster.
“We had a wonderful time in that show,” says Britt who rented a luxurious old apartment on the West Cliff. Her youngest son TJ (from her marriage to Slim Jim) visited for the holidays.
The 10-year-old was able to enjoy the beach while his glamorous mum turned the heads of passing holidaymakers. “We had such fun,” she says. “I really have been incredibly lucky.”
*An Audience With Britt Ekland is at the Regent Centre in Christchurch on Sunday June 6.