Fiona Russell Powell
Long before 68-year-old opera singer Anne Howells' recent kiss 'n' tell in The Oldie about her affair with "Clyde" - the widely suspected nom d'amour for married Clive James (he denies) - the former Australian TV entertainer, poet, polymath and pal of Martin Amis enjoyed a five-month relationship with the writer and former ABC band member Fiona Russell Powell between 1987 and 1988.
The first the public got to hear about it was courtesy of a News of the World splash. “He had this thing about my breasts, he liked to look at them. He was very fond of turning all the lights off when the moon was out and getting me to sit on the sofa to the strains of Bizet," she told the tabloid. He loved soaping her tits in the bath and she revealed he was desperate for a knighthood: he's still waiting. Perhaps, like Christopher Lee, he'll have to wait till he's 87.
The paper also reported that Fiona, then 34, was threatening to sue James, then 57, for libel over a "blonde nutter" lead character called Jane Austen in his novel Brrm! Brrm! She claimed Austen was plainly modelled on herself. Nothing happened thereafter. James only admitted that his literary character had the same hair, wrists and slash marks as Fiona.
So I caught up with Fiona - who used to write for The Face, I-D and Blitz - to talk about what had mystified me all along: why she'd gone to the paper in the first place.
Darling, always a pleasure to talk with you. Clive James is back in the news and you've been mentioned. Again!
There was a big piece in the Sunday Telegraph the other week on his latest "alleged" infidelity with the opera singer that was taken from an account she wrote for The Oldie. The journalist covering it for the Sun. Tel. had a paragraph about me, that's all.
What are your thoughts on Howells?
I would like to add a couple of things. First of all, I'm not surprised to hear about the opera singer because I remember Clive telling me that he still saw old girlfriends. He said whenever he went back to Australia, he would sleep with a girlfriend he had gone out with in the late 50s, ages before he met his wife, and he's kept it going throughout his marriage.
When I wrinkled up my nose at the thought of him shagging an old bird (I was young, remember!), he said he loved women of all ages. He was quite flattering because he said I was the sort of woman who would always be fanciable, even when I got older. He also said he had girlfriends in many cities all over the world, who he saw whenever he was in their country.
By the way, I'm not the first young woman to have been bedded by Clive to appear in one of his books although he gave me the dubious honour of making me a lead character. In a book he wrote called The Remake, he told me a young blonde features in it who is based on a literary graduate he knew.
His sexual charisma is something else, and not immediately apparent I must say. But Fiona, why did you tell-all to the News of the World in the first place? Isn't it all a bit tacky?
The thing I want to point out about the NOTW story is that it wasn't me who kissed and told, it was Clive who kissed and wrote first. When I finally read the book (Brrm! Brrm!) I realised he had stolen my life lock, stock and barrel - so that I was totally recognisable to anyone who knew me; but he also had used it as an opportunity to put me down. Someone read it recently for the first time and emailed me to say that, in their opinion, it's very nasty and that I must have really got under the old boy's skin.
I gave Clive a chance. I called him and confronted him about the book and it was his response that made me decide to go to the papers. Bear in mind that when I rang him, it had been several years since the book had been published or since we had been in touch. He recognised my voice immediately, saying: "I wondered when I would hear from you. You took your time." Obviously he had been expecting me to contact him about it. He was very relaxed about it and still called me darling.
But what did he say about "your" character in his novel?
When I talked about the book, he denied it, and I asked him how he could do that, who was he kidding? I told him that I was considering legal action and it was his reply that told me just what an utter cunt the man is. He said, "Darling, the girl in the book takes drugs, is an alcoholic and a suicidal nut. Are you prepared to take the stand and admit that you used to be a junkie, drank like a fish and had psychiatric problems?"
To which I bravely replied, "If it's relevant, I'm not afraid to tell the truth." He said, "I think you will find, darling, that you won't be a credible witness. They won't take you seriously." I thought, "So, you stole my life without asking because it makes good material for your book but when I object, you're quite prepared to turn around and use it against me."
That's when my mind was made up. I would do to him what he had done to me: expose him publicly. I knew he would hate that more than anything because, although in those days his profile was high and he seemed to be everywhere, in fact, he is an intensely private man who likes to control his image very carefully and hates anything about his private life being revealed.
Can you believe it (so sure was he of himself) that at the end of that phone call, he actually had the cheek to say he missed me and invited me round to his flat? By the way, I called his publisher and they were very rude to me too, which wasn't very clever on their part.
So what did you do next?
As soon as I got off the phone, I called Max Clifford. However, I still think Clive got off lightly. Although they had the answering machine messages on tape, the NOTW lawyer said that, because he only mentioned love, but not sex, and considering Clive would probably sue, it was best to err on the safe side. That's why they didn't run the original story in the end but went with the fact that I had served a writ on him.
Why didn't you sue him?
Simply because I couldn't afford it. As you know, in this great country of ours, unless you are rich, you don't have a reputation worth defending. It cost £5,000 just to serve a writ on him. I was advised that, though I would probably win the case, Clive could afford the best lawyers who would do everything to got to delay the case until I ran out of money.
Max took his cut - I even got screwed there; he's supposed to take 20% and I got £20,000 from the NOTW. However, when I received my cheque from Max, it was for £15,000 so he'd actually taken 25%. I asked for the grand he owed me but never got it. Watching the way Max works is an education in itself but I'm not sure it was worth a quarter of my fee.
Incidentally, years later, when Clive thought it safe to do so, he more or less admitted to it, first in an interview in the Evening Standard, about four years ago, when he said something along the lines of I had "good reason" to complain. He also talked about me in an interview Ginny Dougary (is that her name?) did with him in The Times about 18 months ago. I've got it somewhere if you want me to dig it out.
Thanks Fiona. Let's talk again soon - about current work projects, life and, oh, anything really.
PS The Ginny Dougary interview in The Times for May 12, 2007: the relevant passage starts - after mention of Brrm! Brrm! - with James saying: “I’m sorry about her [Fiona]… she was a talented young girl.” Since there is something elegiac about his tone, I ask him whether she’s still alive. “I have no idea,” he says (she is). “She had some very...” Drug problems? “Yesss. I regretted that. The occasional busy journalist, especially in Australia, likes to run an article when they hear about this, saying that Clive’s marriage is on the rocks, and I have to point out, if I get the chance, that my marriage has been on the rocks for 40 years.” Click here to read the piece in its entirety.
Fiona's website click here.
And who's wearing the dildo belt at 1.25 on? Catch the face at 2.11.