Always expect the unexpected… by
2012/05/01  |  By:   |  Features  |  
But sometimes it is just too unexpected to be believed. I have certainly be taken by surprise by all the extraordinary events that have unfolded since I first set out to write my novel about The Spenders – Britain’s most famous family. Dead Rich. It has proved to be one of the most enjoyable and surprising experiences of my life – totally unexpected!The twists and turns that have led from its first inception to publication, seem like an endless succession of happy accidents, and to some extent they are. But thinking about what informed the novel and the question that lies at it’s heart – ‘Is a life of fabulous wealth and fame really everything it’s cracked up to be?’ I realise that all the strands of my life and experience are woven together and I have drawn upon them to make up this novel – it is a work of imagination which demonstrates what I believe to be true and that is – to quote Brad Pitt – Fame is a bitch, man.I was born as far away from the life depicted in Dead Rich as it is possible to be…my father was a sheep farmer in South Wales and I grew up on a beautiful welsh mountain. I ran wild, raised pet lambs and hardly ever went to school – it was idyllic. Both my parents were very hard working and sociable – our house was always full of people – farmhands, friends and fun. Unfortunately, when I was about eight, the bailiffs turned up and that was the end of our life on the farm – nobody expected that!

My parents dealt with such a bitter blow with extraordinary pluck, humour and resourcefulness.  We moved around for a while, dependant on the kindness of friends, until my father became journalist on Farmer’s Weekly and Le Figaro. My sister and I trained wild ponies – which Mum sold on as riding ponies.  We learnt useful lessons early on – you can always work your way back from financial disaster and that family and friends are what matter most.

After a few happy years at the local Grammar School I decided, aged 16 that I needed to move to London. Tired of mud – I wanted pavements – and the pavements of 1970’s London seemed like the most exciting place to be. A brief secretarial course was undertaken (remember those?!)  and I was out into the working world.

Unfortunately, I was the worst secretary on earth. Having been sacked from a job at the Economist – there followed brief and unsatisfactory spells in a couple of advertising agencies – more Sad Men than Mad Men – I began to think I might be unemployable.

I had a wonderful Uncle, who used to hang out in a very disreputable afternoon drinking club, The Colony Room in Soho – famously the haunt of Francis Bacon, Lucien Freud and, less famously, Brian the Burglar.

One drunken afternoon my Uncle met a brilliant designer called Thea Porter at the club. He mentioned his niece ‘was interested in clothes’ To be honest, the only evidence of this, was that I had exhausted my mother’s supply of old table cloths and curtains by making them into very ‘interesting’ dresses. As I say, he mentioned me and I suddenly found myself with the job of my dreams.  I was 17 – Thea Porter was at the height of her fame – making exquisitely glamorous, boho clothes for the most famous actresses, pop stars, directors, writers and artists of the 1970’s. Her exotic, souk/bazaar/shop in Greek Street, Soho was visited by an endless succession of stars; Elizabeth Taylor, Diana Ross, Barbara Streisand, The Stones, Rod Stewart and even Dame Edna…trying on clothes, hanging out, drinking and smoking – telling the stories of their lives – so it was there that I first got a glimpse of what lay beneath the façade of fame. Fascinating, fabulous people – but I couldn’t help noticing that some of them were very fragile indeed…

In those years I often travelled to Paris and LA and visited the houses of many of the Hollywood stars, I hung out with their kids and got a glimpse of what life was like for the families of the famous too.

Then, aged 20, I met and married my husband Theo – this was also pretty unexpected, as we hardly knew each other – but he was very handsome and funny and he asked me… what more can I say! We set up home in a damp little flat, which never had the phone or heating on at the same time – this meant we had to go out – a lot. We met a huge amount of people in those party years and many of the friends we made then remain so today.

Theo was working very hard, beginning to build a career as a jewellery designer and I went on from Thea Porter to become a photographer’s agent – which, not unsurprisingly, took me into the world of photographers, models and advertising agencies. Managing the careers of creative’s was something I enjoyed enormously for a few years – but, after my daughters were born, I found working long hours away from them too difficult – the dilemma of every working mother – I missed them too much.

So I returned to my roots in the rag trade and set up a business that I could run from home, selling Designer samples and excess stock to a list of private clients. I have been doing this happily for the past 20 years. Many of my clients have become great friends. Dressing women is a very intimate experience – the vulnerabilities and insecurities, which so many of us share, make my job very revealing – in every sense. Some of the things I have been told by people have very surprising indeed and I am often reminded that life really is stranger than fiction.

Then along came this novel – quite unexpectedly – although I have been writing for years. Book outlines, screenplays, a TV series or two. I never had the confidence to show them to anyone – until Dead Rich.  When I told a friend about The Spenders – three generations of a rich, famous family behaving very badly – she just said ‘write it’ and gave me a copy date. That was the spur – The Spenders had lived inside my head for a long time before I started to write about them…so when I finally let them out they were soon elbowing each other out of the way to get as much page space as possible. Lots of things they said and did shocked even me!  So, where did all this stuff come from…pouring out onto the page? Where indeed?

Then I look back at my life so far and I realise – ah – that’s where!