From Joanie to unbreakable Arnie: ROGER LEWIS on the year’s top celebrity memoirs and


Behind the Shoulder Pads: Tales I Tell My Friends

by Joan Collins (Seven Dials £22, 288pp)

Who else can say, as a matter of historical record: ‘I met Marilyn Monroe at a party of Gene Kelly’s?’

Behind the Shoulder Pads: Tales I Tell My Friends by Joan Collins (Seven Dials £22, 288pp)

Behind the Shoulder Pads: Tales I Tell My Friends by Joan Collins (Seven Dials £22, 288pp)

Joan Collins is the last person left alive who, in person, overheard Judy Garland apologise for being late, as ‘Liza wouldn’t stop crying’.

Hollywood was horrible, nevertheless. The producers expected sexual favours. Joan was offered Cleopatra, if only she’d be ‘nice’ to the head of 20th Century Fox. She backed away indignantly, so instead ‘Elizabeth Taylor got the part opposite Richard Burton, another predatory actor’.

Despite her ‘inexhaustible appetite for life’, and her love of bling, crazy costumes and the disco din at parties, Joan has had to endure many a disaster — an abortion after sleeping with Warren Beatty, violence on stage at the hands of Frank Langella, sibling rivalry with Jackie (‘things were so cool between us, when we went to the same parties we would not even speak to each other’) and houses engulfed in forest fires. Joan was hit by a flying bread roll at the Chelsea Arts club and ‘I broke my toe in Minneapolis’.

This is by my calculation Joan’s 13th memoir. Unstoppable, Joan is a veritable living legend, who has great eye-witness tales about Bette Davis, Gregory Peck, Paul Newman and John Gielgud.

Joan Collins is the last person left alive who, in person, overheard Judy Garland apologise for being late, as 'Liza wouldn't stop crying'

Joan Collins is the last person left alive who, in person, overheard Judy Garland apologise for being late, as ‘Liza wouldn’t stop crying’

Karma: My Autobiography

by Boy George (Blink £22, 304pp)

Karma: My Autobiography by Boy George (Blink £22, 304pp)

Karma: My Autobiography by Boy George (Blink £22, 304pp)

South London Irish, Boy George is a Holy Terror, completely unapologetic about the way ‘I lost my rag a lot’, because the reason was existential — ‘I’m screaming at the universe’.

Summing himself up as ‘a working-class poof with a swift right hook’, we are told in unsparing detail about George’s drug addiction, boozing, convulsions and other ‘public car crashes’.

Having hit the big time with Karma Chameleon in 1983, George was soon ‘incoherent behind dark glasses’, and eventually went to prison for assault. It is not hard to see how he became as he did — his father was ghastly. The best thing George can say about him is he ‘wouldn’t have stolen goods in the house’.

George lived in squats, ‘with lots of speed and acid’, though still got his mother to do his laundry. Influenced by Bowie, Quentin Crisp and Vivienne Westwood, he was a sort of performance artist. ‘I just wanted to shock,’ he states. He plaited his hair with ribbons and, when challenged, said: ‘What about the Pope? He wears dresses.’

George’s angry energy propelled him to the top in the pop business, as well as driving him to the depths in his personal life. He’s quite something.

Be Useful: Seven Tools for Life

by Arnold Schwarzenegger (Ebury £20, 288pp)

Be Useful: Seven Tools for Life by Arnold Schwarzenegger (Ebury £20, 288pp)

Be Useful: Seven Tools for Life by Arnold Schwarzenegger (Ebury £20, 288pp)

Having been through bad times — heart valve replacement surgery, a protracted divorce — Arnie found himself ‘face down in the mud, in a dark hole’. Nevertheless, he still feels a need to impart his wisdom, chiefly the need for resilience, though the effect is rather spiritual and philosophical: ‘For you, the path will be different; so will the destination.’

Arnie was raised in Austria, where his father was a beast. ‘There were times he would come home drunk after work and hit us.’ In compensation, training for five hours every day, Arnie became a body-builder, emigrating to California in 1968, where he found the local populace ‘douchebags, pricks and assholes’.

‘Before I came to America,’ says Arnie, ‘nobody ever left Austria’, which will be news to the Von Trapps, who moved to the U.S. in the late 1930s.

‘Being a body-building champion’ led to Arnie becoming ‘a millionaire leading man’, and by 1987 he’d killed 283 people on screen. At one point he was making $20 million per movie, though he didn’t take a salary for Twins, his first comedy, but the film went on to gross more than $100 million.

Deciding to leave acting for public service, Arnie, like Ronald Reagan before him, was elected governor of California.

He brought in policies to save the environment, reform gun laws and improve healthcare. It is not generally known that in addition to horses, Arnie can ride camels and elephants.

Arnie was raised in Austria, where his father was a beast. 'There were times he would come home drunk after work and hit us.'

Arnie was raised in Austria, where his father was a beast. ‘There were times he would come home drunk after work and hit us.’

Berserker! An Autobiography

by Adrian Edmondson (Macmillan £22, 416pp)

Berserker! An Autobiography by Adrian Edmondson (Macmillan £22, 416pp)

Berserker! An Autobiography by Adrian Edmondson (Macmillan £22, 416pp)

Though he yearns to be taken seriously as an actor in his own right, even in his own memoir Ade is eclipsed by Rik Mayall, who was a force of nature, and who died in 2014, aged 56.

Ade met him at Manchester University’s drama department, where Rik was ‘shockingly handsome’ and seemed to ‘glow from within’ with sheer charisma.

Then, as later, his every move was calculated to say: ‘Look at me, look how great I am!’ While this was wonderfully funny and exuberant, Rik’s mania eventually led to a falling out — and he and Ade had little to do with each other in the final years.

As for Ade, he endured a brutal boarding school (‘You’re an insolent boy, aren’t you. Bend over. I’m going to hit you until you cry’), and his father was a grim sort who liked ‘to assert his highbrow credentials by looking down on popular culture’.

When Ade said he wanted to become an actor, his father said: ‘Adrian, you’ll never get a mortgage.’ In fact, Ade has made a fortune — from The Young Ones (‘I was bloody good in it, actually’) to Bottom, which, like boarding school, was ‘chock-a-block with violence, disorder and brutality’.

After Manchester, Ade and Rik became the Dangerous Brothers, ‘two psychopaths who think they are light entertainers’. Their double act endured for 30 years.

They appeared initially at the Comedy Store in Soho. As members of the Comic Strip repertory company, Rik and Ade then made a series of films for Channel 4, where they worked with Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders, the latter now Mrs Edmondson.

It’s tragic, Ade now says of himself, ‘I’m a man without focus’, doing lots of television cameos. I get the impression he is a bit like Ernie Wise after the demise of Eric Morecambe.

My Name is Barbra

by Barbra Streisand (Century £35, 992pp)

My Name is Barbra by Barbra Streisand (Century £35, 992pp)

My Name is Barbra by Barbra Streisand (Century £35, 992pp)

When Frank Sinatra said to Barbra, ‘Kid, if anybody ever bothers you, just call me, I’ll take care of it’, a lot of people, on the evidence of her memoirs, might have found themselves sleeping with the fishes.

There are dreadful co-stars, sleazeball producers, and Walter Matthau, who told Barbra: ‘I have more talent in my farts than you have in your whole body.’

Barbra has had to endure the Press calling her a human anteater, a furious gazelle and a seasick ferret. Undeterred, and knowing ‘I just happened to be born with a good voice’, by force of sheer will she made best-selling albums, films and television spectaculars. She appeared on Broadway and on stage.

There was insecurity and opposition to overcome — her mother ‘instead of being proud of me, she actually resented my success’.

Barbra took acting classes in Manhattan, was offered gigs in nightclubs — and she was a sensation. Handed a microphone, ‘I was in control’.

A star was born. Barbra married Elliott Gould, though ‘the bond suddenly felt too tight’.

She collected Art Nouveau furniture and had placemats made from Munch’s Scream — Munch Mats, they should be called.

Barbra has great comic vitality, which is more evident in performance than in her book, where she sees herself as a successor to Maria Callas. I think of her more as a reincarnation of Dame Edna.

The Woman in Me

by Britney Spears (Gallery £25, 288pp)

The Woman in Me by Britney Spears (Gallery £25, 288pp)

The Woman in Me by Britney Spears (Gallery £25, 288pp)

Britney has been to hell and back, except I’m not sure she’s back. She makes herself sound like a heroine in a Victorian novel, abducted by villains and flung into a mental asylum — a $60,000-a-month facility in Britney’s case.

Britney was born in Mississippi in 1981. Her father was an ‘extremely mean’ drunk, and her mother’s ‘screaming would echo through the house’.

As with Streisand, ‘When I sang, I came alive’ — and she started singing early. Britney was signed by a talent agency as a child, started driving at 13, was having sex at 14, and had a recording deal at 15. By 1999, her debut album had sold 10 million copies.

All this success, all this instant fame, all this front-page attention, and yet she never had the space or privacy in which to grow up.

‘I connected with a boy named Justin Timberlake,’ but the relationship was cataclysmic, leaving Britney heartbroken. She had an abortion, which left her traumatised. She married someone called Kevin, had two children in quick succession, and nobody cared about her post-natal depression. It was more important she was shoved back on a world tour.

‘I had a dark cloud over my head,’ writes Britney. ‘I’d become weird.’ She dyed her hair, then shaved her scalp. Her estranged husband and parents had her tied onto a gurney and taken to hospital. Her every move was monitored. She was spied on against her will.

It’s hard to believe this is modern America — but a conservatorship was imposed by the courts for 13 years. Britney had no control over her affairs, money, even what she ate. She lost custody of her children. Britney’s evil father was put in full charge, syphoning off her fortune.

While I felt immensely sorry for her, I also thought the Princess of Pop is probably very tough to have achieved what she has achieved. A thoroughgoing victim would never have risen above the melodrama.

Straight from the Heart 

by Bonnie Tyler (Coronet £22, 240pp) 

Gravel-voiced Welsh singer Gaynor Hopkins, better known to the wider world as Bonnie Tyler, says: ‘I was a very shy child.’ 

I could say the same about myself, and I relished Bonnie’s, or Gaynor’s, evocation of her Swansea upbringing, with the house ‘buzzing with people, and relatives and friends who were always popping in and out’, if only to use the outside lav. 

Tina Turner and Janis Joplin were coming from the record player, and Gaynor, or Bonnie, loved dancing with her mates at the Top Rank Club, the rugby club and in Swansea pubs, where she got a job as a resident singer. 

She went to London to record a demo disc and was signed by RCA. Bonnie’s songs did well in Germany. More Than a Lover was banned by ITV for being too raunchy. 

Bonnie supported Gene Pitney in Wolverhampton and Tom Jones in Los Angeles. Her collaborations with Jim Steinman sold six million discs. She knocked Michael Jackson off the top of the charts. 

She’s also had 195million ‘streams’ on Spotify, whatever that might be. 

In 1973, Bonnie married judo Olympian Robert Sullivan — they are still happily together. This is a jolly, chatty, infectiously English-speaking South Welsh book, though don’t be misled by the portrait of the minx on the cover. The real Gaynor is 72. 

Scattershot: Life, Music, Elton and Me 

by Bernie Taupin (Monoray £25, 320pp) 

Scattershot: Life, Music, Elton and Me by Bernie Taupin (Monoray £25, 320pp)

Scattershot: Life, Music, Elton and Me by Bernie Taupin (Monoray £25, 320pp)

‘Taupin’ should be pronounced the French way, as Bernie is of French descent, even if he grew up in Lincolnshire, with its fogs and damp and people called Bonehead, Wiggy and Grunter. 

Bernie’s home town, where his parents were poultry farmers, was Owmby-by-Spital. Bernie was — is — Elton John’s lyricist, and their friendship began in 1967, when Bernie went to lodge at Elton’s family home in Pinner. 

There was nothing sexual about the relationship Bernie is at pains to stress. ‘If we’d been sexually like-minded, it would have crashed and burned.’ Even so, there was a lot of provocation for other reasons, chiefly because until he met David Furnish, Elton was ‘deep in the stranglehold of addiction’. 

He was sleeping all day, working at night, ‘until the cocaine got the better of him’. He deployed volcanic rages to get his way in negotiations. 

Meanwhile, Bernie bought his first property in Los Angeles in 1973, rather preferring the place to Owmby-by-Spital. He met people such as Graham Greene and Salvador Dali, enjoyed collecting first-­edition books, took up horse riding and entered rodeo competitions, but had his own issues with the grog. 

Bernie once made a tour of ­England, sampling each craft beer in existence. This sort of caper led to ‘anxiety, irritability, paranoia and depression’, requiring rehab, where ‘smooth sailing has no place’. 

Elton, too, went into rehab, where for the first time in his life he made his own bed and learnt how a washing machine operated. 

I was fascinated to hear the phrase ‘candle in the wind’ comes from Solzhenitsyn and Rocket Man derives from Ray Bradbury. This is because Bernie is well-read, highly literate and, on the evidence of his memoir, a man of wise, sensitive intelligence. 



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