I was casually watching a programme on BBC iPlayer when my past came back to hit me slap bang in the face. Yikes! It was a documentary about the making of The Exorcist. The film was released in the UK in 1974 to mass hysteria: young women fainted or walked out. At the end of the programme, a reporter is shown interviewing cinemagoers as they emerged. And there, in all his carcoated, hair-curling-round-hiscollar, chisel-faced gorgeousness is the first man I ever slept with.
Fast forward to 1978, when I was 19 and sharing a flat with drama students in London. One, Chris, went to Central School of Speech and Drama, which meant our house parties were populated with the likes of Rupert Everett and Julian Wadham (The English Patient). One evening, I went to meet Chris in a pub on Cambridge Circus and there, emerging from the shadows, was Russell, the most handsome man I have ever seen*. A Jewish East End cockney, also studying acting at Central, he was tall and slim, with dark eyes so large you could swim in them.
Now, we all know that I never get the men I fancy. I got one, David, and that was only after three decades of reconstructive surgery and several quite tiring Pilates courses. But, for some reason, Russell took a shine to me, kissing me at one of our famous parties. A few days later, he took me to a wedding as his date. That night, he came back to my flat in
the Barbican. Luckily, the girl I shared a room with was away, and so I invited him to stay.
The most handsome man I have ever seen spent the night in my narrow single bed.
We didn’t have sex, as I was too terrified, and worried my mum would find out. I had also erupted in terrible acne, so there wasn’t really anywhere safe for him to land. But he did hold me, before falling asleep.
The next day, I got up and went to make him coffee. I remember standing for ages in the original 70s galley kitchen (quite prized now), wondering whether to take the cup to him in bed. When I finally plucked up courage, I saw he had fallen asleep. Again.
I rarely saw him again. I think he secretly knew I was in love with my flatmate, Chris, who threw me over for Joanne Whalley, for which you can’t really blame him. But even though my liaison with Russell was brief (he didn’t even remove my knickers), I know that… I can go to my pauper’s unmarked grave knowing I shared, just for one night, a narrow single bed with THAT.
Since spotting him in the clip, frozen for all eternity in the moment he was most gorgeous, I’m now wondering what became of him. Whom he married, how many children he has.
Of course, when we met, I was in the grips of anorexia (hence the awful skin). I didn’t want him to undress me, as he would have been horrified. I’d missed a session at the Tao clinic in Knightsbridge ‒ where the War on Superfluous Hair took place ‒ so had little bastards sprouting like asparagus everywhere: nipples, belly button, chin. I was also suffering from broken capillaries on my face and had spent my student grant on visits to a countess on Beauchamp Place to have them cauterised: they were still healing so were dark brown, scabby. I was deaf, so couldn’t hear a word he said. I wasn’t interesting, just painfully shy.
All in all, I wasn’t best placed to be a girlfriend. But, my goodness, that night has to go down as a triumph. I touched a man’s bare skin. I felt normal. A handsome actor liked me enough to ask me out. I thought everything was going to be OK…
*Do go on iPlayer and have a look. He’s right at the end. Even though it has been 41 years since I last clapped eyes, I’m still going, ‘Who is that woman he’s with!? Who did he take to the cinema!?’ in a jealous rage.