And so Lana leant over to me and said, ‘Darling, kiss with passion, not pressure!’ Such was the punch-line being delivered as I tardily entered the Union’s debating chamber to watch Sir Roger Moore talk. This particular quote was apparently in reference to a love scene between Moore and Lana Turner (who?) in the 1956 ‘classic’ Diane (a film that I obviously missed between the Boxing Day repeats of Only Fools and Horses and a re-run of Lawrence of Arabia). The laughter that met this line, and many such similar ones, was the same as the laughter at a 21st speech; most of the audience don’t really get the anecdote not having been there or, in this particular instance, alive, but everyone laughs out of politeness and drunkenness anyway. Perhaps on this night it is more from politeness than drunkenness, but it is difficult not to be endeared to Moore, whose decision to perch on the desk rather than sit behind it gave the talk an air of a rambling conversation with one’s great uncle at Easter.
Like many a mediocre journalist, I had already scoured his Wikipedia page, and rather oddly found his talk to be an almost word for word repetition of it, interspersed with the odd quip of some description. If it weren’t the case that he professed himself to not be very good with gadgets (a cover, perhaps?), I would be inclined to say that he wrote it himself.
Leaving the Union chamber, I met him in an upstairs room where a bar was, predictably, laid out with Martini glasses (clearly election to the Union is not dependent on a bitingly original sense of humour). Opting for a plain cranberry juice (disappointed faces all around), I was relieved to realise that he had had enough of recounting his acting career because, despite being a big fan of the name drop, it is hard to get too excited about someone whose death preceded one’s birth by a good two decades, even if they were a socialite.
While from the debating chamber’s balcony he had appeared only slightly older than the image one recognises, up close, although he lacked a single grey hair, no number of cosmetic procedures can hide the marks of a youth spent in the south of France with a bottle of tanning oil. Yet, despite this, he has aged remarkably well, and one would never have guessed that he was ripe eighty two. Perhaps his age was more apparent when he talked; the quietness of his speech rendering its slow pace a blessing for my strained ear.
Our ‘chat’ – more conversation less interview – began with some banal questions on my part about his work for UNICEF, for which he has been knighted (incidentally, I failed to address him by any name all night, as ‘Sir Roger’ sounded, in my head, both sycophantic and yet overly familiar, and I was terrified he’d pick me up on calling him ‘Mr. Moore’). His work as a Goodwill Ambassador sees him being lovable and charismatic in order to raise awareness and funds for UNICEF, something in which I’m sure he has more success than fellow Ambassador Craig David (whose reworking of 7 Days – ‘Met this girl on Monday, took her to a charity auction on Tuesday…’ – failed to break much ground in the UK charts).
He is clearly dedicated to the cause, and one of his particular interests is the effect of sport (UNICEF is branded on the front of Barcelona’s football strip). ‘It’s very important, the welfare of children. When there was a big thing about child soldiers, the head of UNICEF told me how important football was because boys who were killing one another a month before were now kicking a ball around’. The soft concern of his voice made me rather ashamed of my prepared list of inane questions (now most certainly was not the time to break out the old classic ‘So, boxers or briefs?’)
Despite the worthiness of the conversation, however, there were some great lines that ended up coming out: ‘I remember the first thing I did with UNICEF was to go to FIFA, and it was the first time I experienced a [Mexican] wave. I was with the German Minister for Culture at the time, and it was sort of funny, the two of us going up and down’ – some quotes are just begging to be taken out of context.
Moving on to lighter topics, I asked him about the string of cameo roles that he has committed himself to, these past few years. Always playing variations on the same character, he appeared as the ‘The Chief’ in Spiceworld: The Movie (Bond, but a music manager), an aging homosexual in Boat Trip (Bond, but gay) and is soon to appear as a voice in Cats and Dogs 2 (Bond, but feline, one assumes). I asked him what he honestly thought about Boat Trip, ‘Crap. But it did have a great script’. Ah, that old chestnut. However, he did reward me with replay of his line, raising his right eyebrow, ‘I wonder whether you’d like a bite of my sausage?’
I would like to pretend that it was not deliberate, but I hope that the reader is impressed that I made it all the way to the previous paragraph before mentioning Moore’s most famous screen incarnation. I realised during his talk that I would do best not to launch straight in with Bond questions; a member of the audience’s ‘Which was your favourite Bond girl’ was met with a cutting ‘That’s an original question!’ (which saw me hastily scrubbing off the first of the few questions I had prepared.) However, we was not so deluded as not to realise that for every person in the audience who came to see a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, ten came to see 007.
I don’t want to sound catty, because Moore was so terribly sweet and jibes about his acting abilities have been doing the rounds long enough (the whole three expressions joke; ‘right eyebrow raised, left eyebrow raised and eyebrows crossed when grabbed by Jaws’), but meeting him I couldn’t help thinking that maybe the critics are right, for the man I met was an octogenarian incarnation of Moore’s Bond. He was cool, suave and immaculately dressed, the only thing missing was the sardonic quip, that seems in the mellowness of age to have been replaced by luvvie references.