Absent Friends

Now the dust has settled for the awards season, the End of Year Retrospectives on famous faces we have said goodbye to had a very poignant, personal meaning.

2012 was the year I lost two that were very dear to me. Both were English Gents who were family, and both, oddly enough, were East End London boys made good, who had transplanted to a life less ordinary in Los Angeles. Both retained their English sense of humor and intrinsic silliness and were Master Raconteurs who elevated any dinner party from mere dinner to a memorable event.

Ian, who was presenting, and lucky guest at the BAFTAs, Beverly Hills

Ian, who was presenting, and lucky guest at the BAFTAs, Beverly Hills

The first was my Uncle Ian, Ian Abercrombie, who over a lifetime of following his acting dream had appeared in nearly a hundred movies and several of the planet’s most watched TV shows, from Dynasty to Seinfeld, the latter of which he was best known in for his portrayal of the irascible Mr. Pitt, Elaine’s fastidious and impossible-to-please boss.
On his birthday, which would have been last September, his good friend Cathy Lind Hayes was kind enough to post a lovely memorial video of some of his best moments.
I wasn’t able to go to the service in Los Angeles in May, which made my heart ache, but I had written a blog honoring him and our thirty years of friendship. I thought I had put my grieving behind me quite tidily until I viewed the video reel in September, but suddenly, a flood of tears was upon me and a wave of missing dear Ian washed over me. You’ll understand why when you see it. The last moments, despite the laughs that come before, broke my heart. I haven’t been able to watch it since; just the thought of it sets me off.
See the countless famous names Ian worked with here:

http://vimeo.com/49196736?action=share

The second, of course, known to you all, was the inimitable, influential and ground-breaking Vidal Sassoon.

My best friend in the world is Simon Sassoon. Vidal was his Uncle, brother of Simon’s dad Ivor, but since Simon’s parents both died in his childhood, Vidal became his de facto father for the rest of his life, stepping in and keeping a paternal eye on Simon. They were buddies for their lifelong shared passion for seeing the Chelsea soccer team play and the port of call on Thanksgiving.
I was fortunate enough to be invited to many a Thanksgiving at the stylish, modern art-filled Sassoon Neutra-built mansion in LA, beneficiary of the superb chef skills of Vidal’s amazing wife, Ronnie, who thought nothing of cooking incredible food for up to thirty guests at a time and showing us all just how the perfect hostess does it. Vidal would be in charge of the music during dinner, always his beloved jazz artists. We shared a love of the great female singers, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday. I remember at the end of one such impeccable evening, sitting in the sculpture filled garden under a warm, starry sky, he coerced me into singing a Billie classic for him in her style of vocal. I was shy to do it, but he was so appreciative of anyone who shared his adoration of the music, and it was a charming, intimate moment that I treasure.
In later years I was honored that he had read a piece I wrote on the nature of celebrity and was kind enough to tell me he thought it was ‘spot on, excellently written.’ High praise indeed from a man who not only read prodigiously but authored several books, including his superb autobiography, published in 2010.
The last time I saw Vidal was at a small and inevitably stylish dinner that Ronnie cooked herself at their fabulous, Sixties Moderne London home for Simon, myself and my brother. Vidal was in the country to promote his autobiography, even though he’d been gravely ill and had been undergoing treatment for the leukaemia that would eventually claim him. As ever, he was fighting fit and full of life. Vidal loved English jokes, and you could invariably crack him up with anything by Tommy Cooper, that corny, eccentric comedian particularly taken to heart by the Brits. I gave him my worst that night and he responded with many of his own.

Vidal left us in May, but it wasn’t until October that his beautifully planned memorial service came to fruition in that grandest of all venues, St. Paul’s Cathedral. I was lucky enough to be invited as one of many who came to hear tributes to this extraordinary man by such luminaries as Jeremy Irons and Sir David Puttnam. We sat next to Tracey Ullman and behind Michael Caine, Mary Quant and Zandra Rhodes, the later of whom, although quite terrifying in their late 70s and 80s respectively, made me hope that when I get to their venerable age I’m still as boldly and madly stylish as they are.

The magnificent setting

The magnificent setting

Jeremy Irons after his reading

Jeremy Irons after his reading

Ronnie receives guests

Ronnie receives guests

Michael Caine, looking dashing

Michael Caine, looking dashing

Terrifyingly Fabulous, Mary Quant and Zandra Rhodes

Terrifyingly Fabulous, Mary Quant and Zandra Rhodes

I took my daughter Sunny to the service. As we entered the magnificent, world famous building I marvelled at how far Vidal had come – a poor Jewish kid from the East End to St. Paul’s. Not far in miles – but a leap of a lifetime, around the world and back.
Sunny, who has the LA Rock Star look down pat, with her blonde hair and big shades, and who definitely looked famous that day, nipped out to the front steps for a naughty cigarette before the service, and got frenziedly snapped by a hundred photographers waiting outside, which she thought marvellous. In among a sea of Vogue editors and fashionistas with their precisely cut, tastefully blonde and highlighted symmetrical bobs, in themselves a tribute to Vidal who invented them, were Sunny and me with our tasteless, out-there bleached and unruly manes, sticking out like sore thumbs. I feel sure that Vidal, who loved the bouffant pink in its prime and always kindly complimented it, would have approved of the rebellion of it all.

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About alisonlouisehay

Assuming Alison was a cat, it would be safe to say she had already used up a fair proportion of her nine lives. Not long after leaving school as a disgraced convent girl she met a young hairdresser and became a canvas for multiple styles, cuts and colours as his model in competitions, but fortunately for her scalp he was to find fame as a founding member of a global phenomenon called Culture Club. Careening around the continents as Eighties Ambassadors For Excess was only part of the story as their relationship weathered a move from London to Los Angeles in what is commonly known in 12 Step circles as 'doing a geographic' in the erroneous hope that a) life will improve and b) the tax man will not catch up with you. They paused from their mission of world domination in 1986 to bring forth a daughter in an earnest bid to propagate the wildest offspring on the planet; would that every day could begin at 4 am with a voice on the telephone saying, "This is the LAPD - are you the mother of Sunny Hay?" Divorce followed in the mid-nineties and Alison embarked upon the wonder of American Men, including a former Playgirl Man of the Year, satisfying herself that everything is indeed, bigger in America, and occupying herself with the occasional spate of interior design for Sharon and Ozzy amongst others. Later she assumed the job of growing the company of English lingerie purveyors Agent Provocateur in the U.S, affording her the opportunity of seeing the world's most famous women naked and introducing her to the London based and married CEO with whom she eloped on a rashly considered two year stint in the Middle East as the only pink haired woman in the region while rearranging the face of Middle Eastern retail. Keen to fuck up her life on a fresh continent, she escaped back to London to spend a year living with her old friend Boy George as a refugee in his Gothic mansion until finding her own sanctuary. Alison is currently Nana Pink to LA's coolest kid, Lion, and resides in East London. Hobbies include collecting orange carrier bags and research into disposing of moths in ways that don't leave obvious scuffs on walls.
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One Response to Absent Friends

  1. Really loved the photo of Mary Quant and Zandra Rhodes. I was wondering what Mary Quant looks like these days.

    My condolences, regarding the loss of the two men you spoke about in this post.

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