Week Five: David Hartnell, Charles and William: Kindred Spirits at Last, plus, Today in History!

Welcome back to a A Quiet Cuppa! Put the kettle on, it's time for a catch-up with old friends.

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Anyway, let’s get on with things! Time to pop the kettle on if you haven’t already.

In today’s edition:

Sit down for a cuppa with… David Hartnell

With his catchphrases of “I’m not one to gossip, but…” and “My lips are sealed!” David Hartnell forged an international career as the man with all the inside gossip and celebrity tales from Tinsel town. At 75, the gossip columnist is still a busy man! It’s a treat to have a cuppa and a good old gossip with him in Auckland, where he lives with his longtime partner, Somboon.

The Covid-19 crisis caused the pair to return home on just day five of a long-awaited 27-day cruise back in March. They decided to do the right thing and go straight into self-isolation, meaning their lockdown time started two weeks early – and although David laughs that his wheelie bin got to go out more than he did, he was very productive. “I learned to groom the dog, I stopped biting my nails – a habit I’ve always had but managed to stop, in an effort to stop touching my face to avoid spreading the virus! – I cleaned the office and read through six biography books!”

David has written a book of his own, and my word, does he have a story or three to share. From Elizabeth Taylor to the stars of Coronation Street – he can tell you about it all…

Now, take us back to the beginning of it all when you were a make-up artist – actually, the first in-store male make-up artist in Australasia, working for Revlon in Sydney! Who was your first celebrity encounter with?

Phyllis Diller! Back in the ‘60s the Vietnam War was on and instead of taking the boys all the way back to America for some R&R they would bring them to Sydney. So, the Chevron Hilton Hotel in Sydney would bring out big international American stars and put them on so the boys had somewhere to go that felt like home. I was living on that street and went past the hotel every day and I knew Phyllis was there, so I got hold of a newspaper – as you know, I’ve never been one to stand in the 17th row of the chorus – so I rang the paper and said, “look, let’s do a story on Phyllis” and they said, “great idea!” So from that day on in 1968 until her death we were very good friends. I would stay with her in America and partner her to many things.

And from there your make-up career took you around the globe..

Yes, I went from Australia, to Hong Kong to London to live in New York and then in Los Angeles, because I realised the mountain was never going to come to me, so I would go to it! It’s funny, I just thought of it the other day, I was the make-up artist on the 1970 Miss World contest in London at the Royal Albert Hall. That year they had Bob Hope as the star act and it went live – that was the year a lot of feminists in the audience threw papers and all sorts while it was live. The News of the World did a story on me saying I was the only male allowed in the dressing rooms of a Miss World contest.

And what was it like being backstage at a Miss World contest??

Well, it was like any other show! Backstage is always backstage, it doesn’t matter whether you’re at the Royal Albert Hall or any other theatre. It just feels like a hospital unit, to be quite honest! Just doors and corridors everywhere.

When did you move from being a make-up artist to being a gossip columnist? People do say that it’s the make-up artists who hear the best gossip…

Yes, because, you see the stars would come into the room totally bare, no make-up on and they’re very vulnerable and just talk! If you wanted the good gossip you’d always go to the hair and make-up department on any film or television studio!

When I would do lectures on make-up or when I’d be interviewed for stories, I’d always be asked the same thing, “What was Elizabeth Taylor like?!?”

Well, one day after writing five books about make-up, I’d been in the industry for so long, I was getting a bit bored of it, so I thought I would start writing about what people asked me about: celebrity gossip – but tongue in cheek, not nasty. Everyone said to me, “you’ll never make any money being a gossip columnist!” Well, here I am 53 years down the track still doing it!

Okay, well now I have to ask, what was Elizabeth Taylor like?

Well, she could swear like a sailor! And she didn’t have lilac coloured eyes – she was using contacts way back in the day before anyone did that. She insisted that in any photographs they would bring out those lilac eyes. Now, in those days you didn’t have computers, you had air brushers doing all that work. I’ll always remember them employing the air brushers on Vogue magazine to take out all the kneecaps on the models! I don’t know why, but they had to have entirely smooth knee-less legs!

But back to Elizabeth, she had a wonderful wicked sense of humour. I had a lot of admiration for her. She was a total professional and wonderful to work with – I never heard anybody say a bad word about her. The only thing was, she was always late. If Elizabeth Taylor needed to be there at 11am, you would call her at 8am so you knew you had a few hours up your sleeve. She actually had it written into her will that she was two hours late for her funeral! It was a standing joke.

Who were you favourite celebrities to work with?  

Looking back, Phyllis, of course. And Joan Collins, she reinvents herself constantly, even today at 87. She’s extraordinary. And Danny La Rue, the world’s greatest female impersonator. Dick Emery, Bob Hope – he was a bit of tyrant with the ladies though, I must say!

I did a stint working with stars of Coronation Street, including Jean Alexander, who was of course Hilda Ogden. I did a makeover on her and she was an absolute delight – she was never any trouble. I found the English stars were the best to work with, the Americans read into their own publicity – they had too many hangers on!

(David interviewing Dame Joan Collins)

How did your catchphrases come about?

Well, nobody ever wants to be a gossip, so everybody would say to me, “oh, I’m not one to gossip David, but you might be interested in this… “So, I thought that’d be a great way to start my column too! And the other one, sometimes people would say that to me too – “oh, I can’t say much, my lips are sealed, but…”

What is it about gossip, do you think? Why do people love hearing about celebrity gossip?

The whole thing about gossip is this, I think – the celebrities are living in another world that we, mere mortals will never live in. And, from the outside it looks like it is all glamour, but when you get to look inside, you see it’s not. It’s a fantasy.

It’s a lot of smoke and mirrors. Was it a world you admired – did those stars of Hollywood seem like happy people?

No. The comics are the saddest people I’ve ever worked with – people like Frankie Howard, Dick Emery, Eric Sykes – all those English comedians, they seemed to be really sad people.

There were very few – I’ll go back to Phyllis as an example, because she invested well. She invested in real estate and art because she knew that at some stage she wouldn’t have status and wouldn’t work! As it turned out, she worked her whole life until a month before her death. But many others just spend, spend, spend, and the fame wears away and they’re left with nothing at the end of it.

Everyone thinks of Judy Garland – when she died she had so much outstanding debt! That’s one of the things I really admire about Liza Minnelli is she paid all that debt off – which is extraordinary really.

What do you think of today’s celebrities?

Everybody is a celebrity today because they can be on Facebook, Instagram or Youtube and everyone wants to be a star. But the longevity of these people, well, it doesn’t last. It lacks substance. I mean look at the Kardashians, I have to admire them for making something out of nothing, but when it comes to it, they’re just trailer trash really. Back in the golden era, stars were stars – partly because they were owned by the studios and they had a good hold on them, today the studios don’t own anyone so they can say and do what they want.

Do you think that takes away the glamour and mystique of it all? Do we know too much about today’s stars?

Totally. I’m the patron of the Brotherhood of Auckland magicians and I put all of the magic and entertainment business within the same idea – if you show how a magic trick is done, it’s never going to be the same to watch it ever again. It’s the same with celebrities. If you give too much away on Facebook or whatever it is, that whole magic and mystique of that world of glamour and glitz, well, it all disappears.

What’s your favourite memory from your childhood?

I had a wonderful childhood, brought up by my mother solo mostly, and my grandparents had a big hand in bringing me up. They were always so supportive of what I decided to do – even when I left school on the day I turned 15!  The saddest thing was when I was awarded the NZMN, that neither my grandparents, nor my mother were alive to see that. When I went to government house in Wellington to receive the award, I had made a bow tie and hanky made out of my late grandfather’s paisley scarf which I always liked. It was also a bit of him with me on the day, because as a child he would always say "what do you want, a medal?" when I did something I thought he may like. So on the day in the grounds of Government house I looked up to heaven and said, "Well, there you are Pop, I have a medal!"

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve taken?

Years ago I remember reading a quote by Mae West who said, “if you keep a diary, one day it will keep you”. And I thought, ‘oh I can’t be bothered keeping a diary’, but instead I kept every article I ever wrote, every picture with a celebrity and in 2011 I wrote my book, Memoirs of a Gossip Columnist, and that really paid off. I thought, my god, Mae West was right!

What matters to you most?

At my age now, my health – which touch wood is going pretty fine. I’ve been in a partnership now for 28 years, with my partner Somboon and that matters to me a lot. When we met he had no idea who I was, which made things quite nice. He’d never seen a stage, had never heard of Joan Collins! And friends matter – I know a lot of people but I can count on one hand my true friends, and they couldn’t care less if I’ve just had lunch with Barbara Streisand, which is great.

And to finish off, who would you most like to have a cuppa with?

The Queen. I’m a royalist at the heart of it. And when you look at it, the royal family, well, it is show business really. And the only person I feel sorry for as we speak today, is the Queen. I mean, will Harry and Meghan last? No! I gave it two years from day one! I’m sure they would have made Meghan welcome, because they would have been scared stiff of doing a Diana. I think Meghan knew what she was getting into, and I think Harry is just besotted with her. In the end I think the royal family will take him back. But that’s what goes on in the royal family – it’s all show business really!     

Charles and William: Kindred Spirits at Last

They’re some of the warmest, most candid and personal snaps ever released to the public - a touching series of a father with his three children, rolling around in the grass and playing on a swing, and an equally moving snap of a proud dad embracing his son. 

For any other family, the images the royal family released last week - a collection showing Prince William (37) and his three children Prince George (6), Princess Charlotte (5) and Prince Louis (2) in the backyard of their Norfolk home, and an older snap of Prince Charles and William arm-in-arm - would have been normal social media fodder. 

But these intimate and informal snaps, taken by Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge (38), show that things are changing within the House of Windsor, with Charles and William’s growing bond at the centre. 

And it’s been fuelled, in part, by Charles (71) and William’s united front when it came to helping find a solution for Prince Harry (35) and his wife Meghan, Duchess of Sussex (38) as they desired a life away from royal duties. 

Royal expert Camilla Tominey say the heirs to the throne have enjoyed working together on royal matters in recent years, and become closer when trying to navigate the dual issues of the Sussexes as well as Prince Andrew’s legal matters. 

“Seemingly at odds with the family ‘firm’, it was soon Harry and Meghan who were starting to feel marginalised as William and Charles worked closely together in a bid to insulate the monarchy from the crisis which threatened to pitch the Sussexes in direct competition to the House of Windsor,” tells Camilla. 

“Behind palace gates, Charles was increasingly involving William in his decision making - much to the chagrin of Harry who felt pushed out by their ‘away days’.

“Insiders now describe the three generations of monarchy working in ‘lockstep’, with the Sussexes’ departure said to have fostered a ‘newfound spirit of cooperation’ between the trio of households.” 

It’s a new chapter for Charles and his eldest son, who didn’t have the easiest relationship while William was growing up, especially after his mother Diana, Princess of Wales died. 

“It’s no secret that Charles and his son have had us and downs in the past, but the relationship today is very solid and strong,” a palace source nods. 

“It is built on love, affection and respect. They are on the same wavelength these days and when Charles talks about William it is with great pride. 

“They will both be kings one day - and William’s eldest son will be king - and that is something that connects them and has brought them closer in recent years.” 

Charles has also somewhat slowed down over the last year or two, much to William’s relief, and spends a great deal of time with George, Charlotte and Louis. He’s also “mellowed” a great deal, according to pals - case in point, allowing such an intimate picture to be released to the world. 

“He looks positively doting, he loves the picture and was happy for others to see it,” says his friend, adding that Charles now makes a point of scheduling in time to see his son and daughter-in-law. 

“It has meant their relationship has become much closer.” 

Test Yourself! Quiz: This Week In History…

  1. On June 22 1954 the world was shocked by the cruel murder of Honorah Rieper, at the hands of her teenager daughter, Pauline Parker and her best friend Juliet Hulme in Christchurch. What was the name of the 1994 movie based on the murder, directed by Peter Jackson. (Bonus point for naming the two stars!)

  2. Pablo Picasso opened his first exhibition in Paris on June 24 1901. How old was he: 9, 19, 29 or 39?

  3. On June 22 1965 Lana Turner married Robert P. Eaton. How many times had she been married before?

  4. On June 23 the contraceptive pill was released in the US. What year was it: 1960, 1965 or 1970?

  5. Two big American celebrities passed away on June 25 2009 - one a singer, one an actress/model. Who were they?

  6. On June 26 2017 Emirates Team New Zealand defeated Oracle Team USA 7-1 at the America’s Cup in Bermuda, with the youngest ever helmsman leading them to victory, aged 26. Who was that helmsman?

  7. Judy Garland passed away on June 22 1969. How old was she?

  8. On June 21 1964, 7000 hysterical fans made their way to Wellington Airport for the arrival of who to New Zealand?

  9. On June 27 the world’s first ATM was installed in Enfield, London. What was the year: 1967, 1977 or 1987?

  10. On June 22 1963 Stevie Wonder released his first single, Fingertips. How old was he: 13, 23 or 33?

    Check your email inbox later this week for the correct answers!

Coming to your inbox later this week: ‘Nici’s Easy Hand-Rolled Pasta’ & How to Garden When the Soil is Too Cold For Your Hands!!’

Have you ever made your own pasta or has it always sounded too hard? Nici’s here to tell you this is the simplest recipe for handmade pasta – no machine or expert technical skills needed and the results will delight you!

Have a wonderful day! We look forward to seeing you again later this week. And, remember to hit reply to this email and get in touch in the meantime. We’d love to hear from you!

We look forward to talking again soon!

Alice, Kelly & Nici x