Joan Collins (W&N £20, 384 pp)

National Trinket Dame Joan could give lessons in the art of celebrity — how many matching suitcases to take with you for a weekend in a grand hotel (about 15); how to swoosh along Fifth Avenue shopping for ‘cushions, ashtrays and accessories’ while wrapped in white fur; how to get in and out of stretch limousines while posing for the paparazzi. Joan knows all the Hollywood agents and producers by sight — and she knows which ones to cold-shoulder, which ones to embrace.

UK-based literary critic Roger Lewis has rounded up a selection of this year's must-read celebrity memoirs - including My Unapologetic Diaries by Dame Joan Collins (pictured)

Roger Lewis, a UK literary critic has selected a few of the year’s most important celebrity memoirs. This includes My Unapologetic Diaries (pictured) by Joan Collins. 

What I loved about this book is Joan’s brilliant disdain. Kevin Costner is ‘a bit thin on top’, Bill Cosby is ‘as funny as a funeral’, Sophia Loren ‘has very odd teeth’, putting Joan in mind of an elephant with protuberant tusks, and Jay Leno is ‘one of the unfunniest men in America, as well as one of the most unattractive’.

By the end, Joan’s world, populated with freaks improbably called Dominique Sirop, Dr Rock Positano and Aaron Tonken, seems the opposite of enticing. She has to spend many an evening with ‘a complete crush of hags, facelifts and ancient old men in flashy suits’. 

Premieres and charity balls may look glamorous from the outside, but Joan tells us about the reality of plastic plates, over-familiar waiters and the disco din that’s replaced graceful orchestras. ‘All they want to do,’ she says of her Hollywood peer-group, most of them now dead or cancelled, ‘is eat their caviar and get the hell out of there.’


Paul McCartney (Allen Lane £75, 912 pp)

This extravagantly made two-volume boxed set is sure to go under Christmas tree. It took five years to create. McCartney leads us alphabetically through All My Loving To Your Mother Should Know. He shares his inspirations, recalls recording sessions, and finally gives us something that is almost like an autobiography. ‘It’s all to give a sense of what was happening then,’ he says now — and there’s something deeply moving about the way he looks back at a long-vanished Liverpool and a long-deceased John Lennon.

Paul McCartney (pictured) reveals the sources of inspiration throughout his musical career in The Lyrics

Paul McCartney (pictured above) discusses his sources of inspiration during his entire musical career.

‘My relationship with him was very mixed,’ he says. ‘He really was a bit loony’ — but this is all affectionately meant.

Penny Lane is where McCartney changed buses when going to Lennon’s home, for afternoons composing. Let It Be was all about having to grin and bear it because Yoko was always around — yet the phrase, we are told, also comes from Hamlet: ‘But let it be, Horatio.’ He’s quite a swot, is Paul. His school was unique in that he could spell phlegm.

Spike Milligan, The Goons and others influenced some songs. ‘As we became more experimental and leaned towards streams of consciousness, we actually gained fans.’ Other Beatles’ numbers (From Me To You, Love Me Do) were frankly simply randy. Jane Asher received And I Love Her (on hotel notepaper).

Linda McCartney is to be credited for saving sheets of handwritten lyrics and pasting them in scrapbooks for posterity.

Recalling that the Beatles are the most well-known band of all time began in an old van driving through the snow in search of a gig at the Town Hall in Abergavenny is amazing to me.


Eileen Atkins (Virago £18.99, 320 pp)

I’m on record as saying Eileen’s wit is drier than a martini. In fact, Eileen is a mix of a martini and a bowl full of olives.

Now nearly 90, she has vivid recollections of the war — the vile-tasting food, the bombs and ‘the kick of adrenaline as you realised that you hadn’t been killed’. Arthur, her father, was an inspector of gas meters. His little moustache made him look like Hitler. A woman in Lower Clapton Road pushed him in a cupboard and called the police, telling them she’d captured Adolf.

Eileen, as a ‘simpering show-off’, went to ballet and tap-dancing classes, but the shoes she had to wear deformed her feet. To this day she wears orthopaedic sandals, originally designed in a factory in Czechoslovakia ‘where Tom Stoppard’s father was employed as a doctor’. She was also a ‘nervy girl’ and has been on sleeping tablets for 55 years.

Eileen should have a good time with Volume Two. Here, we can talk about Alec Guinness and Richard Burton.

I very much like the way she plays Martin Clunes’ serious-minded and kindly aunt Dr Ruth Ellingham in Doc Martin. Indeed, whenever Dame Eileen Atkins makes an appearance, in anything she does, we know we’ll be guaranteed some class.

All About Me

Mel Brooks (Century £16.99, 480 pp)

Mel Brooks (pictured) reflects on the making of classics including Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein in All About Me

Mel Brooks (pictured) reflects on the making of classics including Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein in All About Me

Here’s another show business legend heading towards his centenary. But Mel, born in 1926, still behaves like a very noisy infant, shouting, screaming, banging the furniture — anything to get attention.

Laughter, he reckons, ‘is a protest scream against death . . . It’s a defence against unhappiness and depression’. Maybe so, but what I enjoy about The Producers, Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein is the unadulterated farcical rudeness — there’s neither time nor space for anything deep.

Mel fascinatingly tells us about the making of all these classics, including his least well-known work (my favourite) The Twelve Chairs, made in Yugoslavia in 1970, and where there was nothing to do on a Saturday night ‘because Tito had the car’.

The book includes transcripts of favourite scenes (‘Could be worse. Could be raining’ — when Marty Feldman’s Igor is digging up a corpse) and Mel reminisces about working in the 1950s with the volatile Sid Caesar, who ‘picked me up by my collar and my belt and hung me out of the window’. He also recounts the hard slog making the transition from television to films — movie moguls thought Mel ‘too self-assured, cocky and brash’. Were they right?

Hayley Mills (pictured) shares key moments from her life in Forever Young

Hayley Mills (pictured), discusses key moments of her life in Forever Young 


Hayley Mills (W&N £20, 400 pp)

Hayley’s late ex-husband Roy Boulting was 32 years her senior and had been married five times.

In this book he is presented as a total monster: he hit Hayley about, turned her against her parents, made her cancel her 21st birthday party, and at home in Chelsea, Roy ‘grabbed me, ripping my dress’. The neighbours heard her screams and anxiously knocked at the door.

Hayley was innocent, hadn’t seen anything of the real world. Her parents were actors Sir John Mills and her mother was a Richmond nanny. By the time she was 12, Hayley was producing films for Walt Disney. Her fee was £200,000 a year in today’s money. She won the Oscar in 1960 for Best Juvenile. This was following Shirley Temple’s footsteps and Mickey Rooney. She’s very good in Whistle Down The Wind as the girl who mistakes Alan Bates for Jesus in a barn.

I’m not sure anyone today can tolerate Pollyanna, in which Hayley was horribly wholesome.

It was a disasterous time in her teen years. The spotty Hayley piled on the weight, smoked 40 a day, and became ‘this balloon of a girl with a face like a big brown bun’. After her marriage to Roy broke down — he didn’t like her to have her own friends and, when she was pregnant with their son, future singer-songwriter Crispian, Roy didn’t speak to her for eight months — she grew up and recovered sufficiently to be in dozens of episodes of Wild At Heart. The taxman grabbed ninety eight percent of her Disney earnings that she had kept in a trust account until she turned 18.


Miriam Margolyes (John Murray £20, 448 pp)

Anyone fond of Miriam Margolyes from her outspoken travel documentaries won’t be disappointed by her hilarious book.

Convinced she is ‘gorgeous, truly gorgeous, impish and mischievous and adorable,’ Miriam can’t wait to tell readers of her uterine fibroids and weak bladder. When she took her driving test, she tells us, ‘my knickers fell off’. She made a film with Leonardo DiCaprio, whom she adored — they spent time ‘fossicking around flea markets’ together — though ‘I was immune to his groin charms’.

Miriam Margolyes (pictured) is hilariously candid in her memoir This Much Is True

Miriam Margolyes, pictured (pictured) is hilariously open in her memoir This Much Is True 

Her family came originally from Belarus. They got off the boat at Leith in Scotland believing it was New York. Miriam’s father became a GP in Oxford and her mother was a landlady who did the housework naked. One of the tenants was John Betjeman’s son. Sir Ferdinand Mount also lived there. One time, Miriam was lying on a floor and he wondered if she suffered from narcissism.

Miriam is indefatigable and took out Australian citizenship. Heather, her partner, is a professor who specializes in Indonesian trade routes. Miriam’s mother was devastated when informed about her lesbianism, and she regrets telling her to this day.

Her father made her swear on the Torah she’d give it up. Instead, she and Heather ‘didn’t get out of bed for a week’.


Stanley Tucci (Fig Tree £20, 320 pp)

Stanley Tucci, the first-class, puckish and stone-bald actor of character, has been fighting cancer for a long time. His jaw began to hurt four years ago. He needed surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy to remove a tumor at his base.

Tucci couldn’t swallow for months. His salivary glands had been compromised, and Tucci needed a feeding tube to help him. ‘I did go through with it because I had to,’ he says matter-of-factly.

Tucci needed expert help to stop his vocal cords and tongue muscles atrophying. It was all horrible — even water ‘burned like battery acid’.

The thought of delicious Italian food was what sustained him.

The book is mostly a journey down the gastronomic memory lane with many evocations from his mom’s recipes, including clams with mussels, shrimps with peppers, pasta with broccoli, and other dishes. The Tucci kitchen was full of fresh herbs, tomatoes, and peaches that were soaked in wine.

Actor, who is also married to Emily Blunt’s sister, the literary agent, lives now in London. He is amused by the way we call jelly ‘jam’ and he thinks some of our typical fare is like ‘overdone slop given by Mr Bumble to workhouse boys’, although he loves his wife’s goose-fat roasted potatoes.

Since his illness, Tucci says he has discovered food wasn’t only a huge part of his life, ‘it basically was my life’, not only sustaining him but enriching him. It is an enriching read.