Belfast Telegraph

Trailblazer Jackie Collins stayed true to her image until the end

By Gail Walker

Jackie Collins - the very name conjures up images of Eighties glitter and glitz, shoulder pads, backcombed hair, leopard print and sheer get up and go.

And also a "don't give a damn what you think" pride.

Since her first novel, The World is Full of Married Men, Jackie always delivered on her own terms. Not for her, writing to explore this or unearth that; not for her, the praise of literary coteries and the culture supplements; no, she wrote to dazzle, to entertain, to shock and to be read. She wrote stories.

Thirty-two New York Times' bestsellers says it all, really. She wrote, and like many of her heroines, she didn't give tuppence what her "betters" thought. She came from that great line of commercial writers - Harold Robbins, Sidney Sheldon, Irving Wallace, Jacqueline Susann. Make the reader turn the page, turn the page, turn the page …

And although we didn't always admit it, we did, we did, we did … passing them surreptitiously between each other on the school bus. It would be a bit much to see Jackie Collins as a feminist icon, but she is a symbol of a certain kind of liberation, the liberation to be as hard, as tough, as driven as men. She was always keen to highlight double standards: "I am still shocking people today and I don't know why. Is it because I am a woman talking about sex and men? One magazine said no one writes sex in the back of Bentley better than Jackie Collins."

She was fearless, but with a fun, ironic sense of herself.

She both revelled and mocked through excess the idea of stardom. In some ways, she and her sister Joan were one of the last links with old Hollywood.

They always gave good face, as the song says, and never more so than in that iconic photograph by Annie Leibowitz of the pair of them in the back of a limo in an explosion of fake tan, sunglasses, leopard print and bling.

Although Jackie's unexceptional career in the movies had fizzled out by the Sixties, she knew everyone in Tinseltown and loved the lifestyle. Not for her the miserablism you get from so many stars. She didn't demand to be understood - she was too busy enjoying being a star.

But she had the common sense to know when it was time for a change and not to outstay her welcome. Like all true people with a gift for survival, she could read the times, see the way people were thinking.

We may like to sneer at the sexual liberation of the late Sixties and Seventies as basically shallow libertinism, but for many women it was also a revelation, a broadening of the horizons of life. True, it may have been fantasy for many, but sometimes even our fantasies need liberating.

In Jackie's books, women ruled the roost. And in a familial osmosis, she relaunched the stalled career of her sister, Joan, in the film adaptations of her novels The Stud and The Bitch.

True, viewed today, the films are a mixture of all-too-British seediness and sexploitation. But they were hugely successful at the box office, something that was not to be sneered at in both Jackie and Joan's world. Jackie Collins was the symbol that women could be successes - on their own terms and in the real world. There was no need to wait for the revolution. You could have everything. Now.

Superficial? Perhaps. Hedonistic and materialistic? Yes, and yes again. But Collins herself and her novels were lessons to women that they could have it all, years before Madonna was singing the same mantra.

The thing is, as recent events have shown, Jackie was more than just her image. In fact, her image was the real Jackie. She was courageous, independent and doing it on her own terms - and nothing was more becoming than her leaving of life.

Diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer more than six years ago, she kept the news largely to herself. She only told her sister Joan that she was ill two weeks before she died. In her final interview she explained that she had withheld the information so as not to be a "burden" to her.

Jackie could not bear to be the subject of pity. How could the ultimate individualist just crumble in public? She didn't. No, she kept writing, kept promoting, kept on keeping on - producing in the process five more novels.

She flew from the States to London just nine days before her death to give a dazzling performance on ITV's Loose Women. It reads like a dramatic final chapter from one of her own novels. When only 15 years old, Collins was expelled from her private school for throwing her uniform into the Thames.

It was a telling beginning because she spent the rest of her life refusing to be what others wanted her to be, determined to be herself for good or for ill.

In that last interview, Jackie explained memorably and compellingly: "Looking back, I'm not sorry about anything I did."

Which is a fitting epitaph and victory cry.

Belfast Telegraph


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