Eighties femme fatale Stephanie Beacham is seriously spiritual, fell in love over email and is keen for more reality TV. Hannah Stephenson discovers there are more than a few surprises up the sleeve of this actress
Published 13/11/2011 | 08:00
She's famed for playing glamorous bitch Sable Colby in The Colbys and then Dynasty, but there's a softer side to Stephanie Beacham, who lives in a pink cottage in Malibu, overlooking the sea.
Indeed, since moving to Los Angeles in the 1980s she has embraced all that is liberal about California, including spiritual counsellors, self-help and a belief in angels.
Yet meeting her today, this classic actress who retains her cut-glass English accent and elegant looks at 64, seems as far removed from the hippy dippy brigade as anyone can be.
"I don't think it's a load of Californian psychobabble, but I must be off my trolley to have revealed that side of things," she laughs, talking about her autobiography, Many Lives, which charts a life and career that took her from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art to the Liverpool Everyman and subsequently all over the world, performing everything from Harold Pinter to Oscar Wilde, and TV roles including Tenko and Connie.
"But it's just as important as the bitchy little stories I could have told," she adds, mischievously.
The way she ended up in California is almost as odd as some of the off-the-wall alternative therapy about which she writes. She had a vision, she says, that God was going to send her to California. The next week she was called for an audition for Dynasty.
"I have such fond memories of Dynasty and The Colbys. That was a long job. I had my name on a parking bay at Paramount Studios. I do like knowing where I'm going to park. I think one of the nicest things about working in Hollywood is having a parking space next to the studio."
But she keeps a home in London, where she spends as much time as work allows. Her grown-up daughters, Phoebe and Chloe, from her marriage to actor John McEnery which ended in divorce, live in England along with her only grandson, Jude.
And she keeps in touch with her old on-screen adversary Joan Collins, who played Alexis Carrington in Dynasty.
"I saw Joan recently. We did a Snickers ad together. It's terribly funny. Joan's fantastic. It was fabulous getting together again."
While Beacham is famed for her glamorous roles, she relishes dressing down when she's not in front of a camera, although she doesn't have make-up-free days.
"I never go without lipstick. Lipstick, sunglasses and sunscreen is what I do and I never go without nail varnish, even on my toes when they're hidden. I would consider cosmetic surgery but I'm a coward. My neck needs doing so badly. Maybe bulldog clips would work..."
Two years ago she spent four months in a less glamorous role on Coronation Street as Martha Fraser, Ken Barlow's love interest, and formed a lasting friendship with actor William Roache, who has written the foreword to her book.
"He's a lovely man. He's just put me on to a doggie psychic. I wanted to know what I could do about my badly behaved barking dog and why she was so snarly with others. I only have two dogs at the moment. I tend to adopt and rehouse."
Born in Southgate, north London, the daughter of an insurance executive, Beacham was brought up in a middle-class household in Barnet, Herts, and soon knew she wanted to be an actress.
While many of us will know her from the shoulder-padded, glamorous 80s series Dynasty, Beacham was an acclaimed actress of both stage and screen long before that, having worked with the likes of Marlon Brando, Ava Gardner and Roy Scheider along the way.
And she believes we still have that calibre of actor today.
"You give me Brad Pitt and I'll make a great man of him," she jokes.
"We have our stars but we don't cultivate them as we did. But Hugh Grant is someone who almost seems like he was in the studio system - he's managed to have films made for his particular talents."
She met her current partner, Dr Bernie Greenwood, online nearly four years ago, through mutual friends.
"He's gorgeous," she beams. "We met through friends from different continents by email. We emailed each other intently for several weeks and I hadn't even heard his voice. It was terribly romantic, almost Victorian.
"I didn't even know what he looked like, but I already knew that I loved him before I met him. My fear was that I wouldn't fancy him. But my first impression when he walked into my house was every fluttery thing a teenager's ever felt. The first thing we did when we met was just hug."
Their work takes them away from each other a fair amount, but they share homes when they're in the same town.
There has been talk of marriage, but Beacham's attitude is, 'If it ain't broke don't fix it'.
"My life in Malibu is dogs, gardening, walking, friends, painting and yoga. It's the retired life, if you like. It's a healthy life.
"I come back to London for friends and family, and it sharpens me up a bit because we're so rude and funny, aren't we?"
Yet just two years ago, she had a health scare when Greenwood noticed a mark on her nose that turned out to be skin cancer. Today, she brushes off the diagnosis as if it were a wart.
"It was just on my nose and I've now had to have it treated three times. It's from years of being in the sun too much. I wear a hat all the time in Malibu now."
Her deafness has had a much more profound effect on her life, she reflects. She was born completely deaf in her right ear and with only 80% hearing in her left.
For years she tried to cover it up, pretending to be bored with the conversation, excluding herself and refusing to learn sign language.
Today she has become an ambassador for the deaf, working with several charities to support the hearing impaired:
"I have a great empathy for people with hearing loss. People don't have respect for deaf people because you can't see it."
But she has turned her disability into a strength.
"If I hadn't been deaf I wouldn't have been such a strong person. You have to make disadvantages your advantages."
She has certainly taken advantage of the reality TV she's been offered and, while she hated doing Strictly Come Dancing four years ago, has no regrets about taking part in Celebrity Big Brother last year, in which she was the last woman left in the house.
"Oh my God, it was such fun. I did it for the money. I kept saying 'No', but the fee kept going up. I thought I'd be out in a day because I'm not in a demographic anyone's excited about. I loved the experience because I found out I liked being me."