Michael Winner and a Hollywood send off

Unlike Frank Sinatra, Michael Winner couldn’t make the comeback he had hoped for after illness forced him to stop writing his Sunday Times column – but, as the Sinatra lyrics say – “I did it my way”!!

Michael Winner was certainly his own man, and endlessly fascinating.

I avidly searched the paper’s back page of the News Review after Christmas hoping that Michael was well enough to make that comeback, but sadly he died yesterday after an extraordinary life.

I enjoyed reading about his romances before he wed the lovely Geraldine. He was such a romantic and on one occasion he booked an orchestra to play Happy Birthday from his garden for one of his girlfriends, actress Jenny Seagrove. Didn’t he say he was going to include all his girlfriend’s in his will?

I enjoyed reading about the wonderful restaurants Michael visited around the world in some of the most beautiful locations, and his amusing escapades with the stars, like Michael Caine, Joan Collins and John Cleese, who he counted among his friends. His column had so much glamour about it and I often thought, “lucky you, how the other half live”, and after reading about his favourite destinations, adding them to my holiday wish list too.

I loved his indignation and refusal to sit at restaurant tables big enough only or two (I wish my husband would complain about this too), and I could imagine only too well how restauranteurs and waiters quaked in their shoes in fear of a poor review after he walked through their door.

I thought of him last month when visiting the stunning Hollywood Costume exhibition at the V & A which he highly praised in one of his last columns. He had  been too ill to eat at restaurant, but wanted to give the wife of his friend a good plug, Deborah Nadoolman Landis, who had spent five years collecting the must fabulous collection of Hollywood costumes used by our great artists, from Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra to Judith Garland in The Wizard of Oz. As a film lover, this exhibition was totally exhilarating. This was Michael’s world and I hope that his funeral, and certainly his memorial service, will have a touch of glamour about them, the Hollywood touch that he so loved, with mourners not wearing black but their finest clothes, while celebrating his life and their memories of a very remarkable man by enjoying the best food, wine and champagne.

Who knows, he may have already planned this very last detail!

This is an extract from Michael’s last article for the Sunday Times. RIP Michael.

Marriage hasn’t made a lot of difference to my life except that I now say “Yes, dear” and “Darling, you’re absolutely right” much more than I used to.
Last week Geraldine said: “What’s the point of being a restaurant critic if you’re so sick you can’t eat? It’s time you gave up that column.”
And I said: “Darling, you’re absolutely right.”
So this is it: goodbye. I’ve been writing this column for nearly 20 years and I don’t want a carriage clock or a gold watch. I am trying to get rid of stuff, not collect it.
When I think back over the best things I’ve written about, I think of my divorcey-moon with John Cleese after he split from his third wife, Alyce Faye, and had to pay her millions. That’s what always put me off marriage: a neon sign above every girl’s head, flashing the word “Alimony”.
We set out for Lucerne. He drove. I navigated. We lunched at the hotel St Wendelin in Greppen on Lake Lucerne. Marvellous fresh fera fish from the lake. Idyllic view of meadows, little chalets, the lake and mountains. When I came out John was in the car.
“As you’re the driver you should open the door for me,” I said.
“I did open the door — that’s how I got into the car,” he responded.
As the manager showed us to our rooms at the Grand Hotel National in Lucerne, John observed: “Travelling with Michael Winner is exactly like travelling with Alyce. They’re both neurotics, control freaks, horrible map readers and they never stop talking. The only thing is Michael’s funnier and he’s got money.”
“So has Alyce, thanks to you,” I replied.
The experience wasn’t enough to put him off: he got married again. Don’t be fooled by me either. I love to think of my honeymoon with Geraldine at the Hotel Splendido in Portofino. Marvellous food, hospitable and capable staff, the greatest view in the world: a pine-covered hill, an old castle, the harbour and the Ligurian coast.
Portofino, a fantastically preserved port, houses the best Italian restaurant in the world, Puny, run by 80-year-old Luigi Miroli. We started with scampi caught that day. The texture, unlike the over-travelled, rubbery stuff you get in London, was perfect. Then flat pasta with a brown sauce. Delectable. Followed by baby octopus, which I normally hate. Then sea bass cooked in salt. Everything had a memorable flavour.
We both like to spend Christmas at the Gstaad Palace. A huge lounge with log fire and mountain view. A couple of years ago we saw Roman Polanski handing out DVDs of his film The Ghost, Sir David Barclay and his beautiful wife and a parade of interesting visitors plus a great gypsy band. Lightning service everywhere.
What a hotel. For New Year’s Eve, usually a disaster, it had 730 diners. Beyond belief efficiently dealt with, service impeccable, great food, more caviar than I’ve ever seen, lovely entertainment, no drunks. While I was there I booked for this Christmas and new year.
Who knows, after Christmas I might make a comeback. How many times did Sinatra do it?

*In this Mail on Sunday interview, Geraldine describes what it was like being married to Michael.

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