I see that reports have appeared in the press about my supposed impending demise. One would imagine that they had better things to trouble their heads with in these days of despicable expenses-fiddling MPs and global economic gloom. Still, I take some comfort in the knowledge that I have not been completely forgotten despite my irremediable decrepitude, and that the seemingly all-pervading worship of youth has not entirely overcome our society. Indeed, my initial reaction on reading the article in the Times was not one of indignation at such an outrageous breach of my privacy, but rather a flutter of—I don’t know what. Joy? Relief? Fame is an addiction that can never be fully shaken off, even by a cynical old pro such as myself.
They’re right of course. I don’t know where they got the story. From a hard-up junior doctor willing to cast his graven image of Hippocrates into the flames in return for a few pounds? Or from one of my so-called closest friends, of whom I have many, each one more untrustworthy than the last? But yes, by the time you read this, I will be long dead, and probably glad to be so. The pancreas: such a neglected organ and yet, they tell me, quite vital to one’s continued well-being.
But my health woes are by-the-bye. My purpose in writing this epistle for posterity is not to treat the reader to a description of my ever-expanding list of symptoms, but to clear up a number of misapprehensions that have persisted over many years regarding my relationship with Lionel French. Ah! I hear you say. At last the old has-been is going to dish the dirt about the man whose tragic early death deprived the world of one of its finest actors, and led to much wailing and gnashing of teeth in the streets on the part of some quite frankly unhinged young women. His untimely decease also, it goes without saying, propelled him immediately into the ranks of those legends whose lustre will never fade—those who had the good fortune to depart this earth before their skin began to sag like melting wax, the telephone calls diminished to a trickle and they were reduced to appearing in—say it quietly and with a shudder—daytime soap operas.
Lionel. Leo. The light and the bane of my life. I have a scrapbook of photographs that I compiled many years ago while still a wide-eyed naif, overwhelmed and overjoyed at the adulation and plaudits that were showered upon me from all quarters, and every once in a while I take it down and look at it until the pain of what was and what is now becomes too much to bear and I put it away from me petulantly. One picture in particular never fails to hold my eye. In it, Leo and I are emerging, ridiculously and gloriously drunk, from some fashionable nightclub or other, after a riotous celebration of our triumphant first night of Othello, the production that in 1966 cemented the two of us as the very brightest of all the stars in Britain’s theatrical firmament and won us award after award—he for his masterful performance as Iago and I for my tour de force in the title role.
What an exquisite specimen he was! A veritable god, far above other men. Even now I catch my breath and have to turn my face away from his beauty. At that point my eye invariably lights upon the third person in the photo. She is walking a little behind us both, her face in shadow, uncharacteristically allowing us to take the limelight even though she was the biggest star in the world at the time. Madeline Masters: at twenty-four she had already drained and discarded three husbands and was looking for a fourth. She was filming in London at the time, and I do verily believe that she sized both of us up and selected Leo as the weaker of the two, since all those who knew me were perfectly aware that I had no truck with the female of the species. They also knew, though naturally it was never disclosed to the world at large, that Leo and I had an exclusive arrangement.
Of course, there have been many rumours over the years about our relationship, but most of the people who were in the know are either dead or have chosen to be discreet. Very well, then, as one of the parties concerned, and now that it no longer matters to his reputation or mine, let me hereby affirm that Leo and I were lovers for six years or more. How could it have been otherwise? We were both young, beautiful and talented. We starred, together and separately, in some of the most admired and lauded films and theatre productions of the age. Everything we touched turned to gold. Had one of us been a woman the world would have clamoured to see us as a couple. As two men, however, we had to be circumspect, since the viewing public were—and are still—mystifyingly reluctant to accept a homosexual man as a romantic lead. Leo was far more jealous of his public image than I, and was never seen out without some well-upholstered beauty on his arm. I, relying complacently on an ex-wife acquired in my extreme youth, took fewer precautions. That was, perhaps, my mistake.