Michael Winner: ‘I was definitely addicted to women’
The outspoken director and critic talks about sex, phone hacking and why he’s really a bit of a loner
After reading previous interviews with Michael Winner, I know what to expect: a seat in the private cinema downstairs, surrounded by pictures of him and famous movie stars; a servant-master dialogue with his assistant and a tape recorder (his, as well as mine) getting all his expletive ramblings down on record.
But, as I enter his house (after a mini security check), surprisingly, I am escorted to what one of his assistants calls “Mr Winner’s office”. The office comprises two lush, emerald velour sofas with a coffee table centrally and, tucked around the corner, through a large archway is a desk, with none other than “Mr Winner” behind it.
I had originally invited Winner out for lunch, to talk about his one-man show fundraiser coming up at the King’s Head Theatre, but his assistant tells me, ‘He doesn’t do lunch.’ I find out online, that he doesn’t do dinner either, thanks to his eat-whatever-you-want-but-eat-it-before-dinnertime diet. So when does he eat? “I don’t go out to dinner because there are very few people I want to go to dinner with, very few. And if you eat late, you put on weight. I have a very tiny dinner, very early at 6.15,” he says. “And I don’t go out to lunch dear, in fact, I am going out today. I’m a recluse. It really pi**es me off when the newspapers say, ‘boulevardier Michael Winner’. Boulevardier? I don’t know where this f**cking boulevard is. I’m walking up and down this boulevard, with a cane, silver top, dropping in and eating... it’s absolute s**t. I very seldom go out at all. I find there’s very little out there that amuses me more than staying here.” He reminds me that his large house has a swimming pool and a home cinema, so I assume he entertains here? “No, I don’t want people in the house,” he says. “Agony. Agony. No, no.”
He’s not a sociable person, he says, he’s actually a bit of a loner, with very few, very few, he stresses, real friends. “Marlon Brando rang me one night, he used to ring me every night, and he said, ‘You know Michael, I now realise that nearly all my friends were good-time friends and I think I only have five real friends left in the world and I hope you’re one of them.’ I said, ‘Marlon, if you’ve got five real friends in the world then you’re doing very well, don’t complain, that’s bloody good dear.” Winner says he’d be hard pressed to count more than five, but one of those five is Michael Caine, so that’s something.
Winner is looking forward to his one-man show, which he has done at other venues before. A lot of people will go to see him, I say. “Yes but they won’t be able to get in because it’s so small,” he adds. So he’s been to the King’s Head before then? “Of course I bloody have,” he says. Has he been to those famous pub operas? “I don’t do opera, dear. Opera is above me, I have no intellect at all.”
During the course of my research (which I shouldn’t have bothered doing as it’s all on his website, apparently), I find out: that Winner wants his house to be made into a museum when he dies (but the council have other ideas), that he is banned from at least two elite London restaurants (for giving bad reviews – “they’re out to get publicity”); that he called Richard Littlejohn an a***hole on his own chat show. “That was one of my great moments: he was an a**hole”; that he collects the teddy bears of his ex-girlfriends (the number of which he estimates to be around 130) and that, during the 1960s, he couldn’t say no to a one-night stand. Is he an old English eccentric or a sex addict? Or both? “I was definitely addicted to women, I don’t know if I should have gone to what they now call sex therapy. I loved it. My entire ambition was to make love to every woman I ever saw and I achieved a great deal of that. What’s wrong with that?”
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He tells me one of his tricks of having multiple girlfriends was to tell them that he wanted to marry them when he had no intention of doing it. “Only two went to the News of The World, so that was OK,” he laughs. Does he think because of his reputation he may have been phone hacked? “The police, who were running the enquiry, rang me and said, ‘You’re on the phone list of one of the principle phone hackers.’ I said, ‘Wonderful. Wonderful. Let’s get some evidence and I can get some damages from News International and give it to the Police Memorial Trust’” (a charity that he founded).
He may have led a life of scandal but I know him really as the man on the adverts, whose catchphrase was even adopted in parliament by the Prime Minister, in 2011, to a big fuss. “At the time, we were fighting two wars, the economy was totally down the toilet, there was a lack of housing and healthcare and everything and the socialists are going on about him saying calm down dear. I mean please – get your priorities right. This is not an event that requires any nonsense.” Is he bothered that he’s known, and known only, for that phrase by many people under 30? “Calm down dear became a national institution and it makes people smile. It will still say when I die, which could be tomorrow, it will say: Death Wish director dies, not calm down dear dies.”
I tell him I expected to be shown to his cinema – so he asks me if I want to see it. I say yes, so he loudly shouts for one of his assistants, who he tells to turn on the lights. “How many assistants do you have?” I ask him. “There’s a PA next door and a person who lets people like you in,” he says. “To field off all the stalkers?” I joke. “We had a very bad stalker,” he says. “I thought she was nice but she kept threatening the staff and saying she was going to kill them. She was a very respectable but nutty woman. We used to get between 30 and 80 phone calls a day. Anyone who answered she’d threaten to kill them. She only wanted to screw me.” Would he? I enquire. “No, of course not. I was busy.”
Michael Winner: My Life In Movies And Other Places is on February 19. Tickets at https://kingsheadtheatre.ticketsolve.com.