Mandy Rice-Davies – From High-life Scandal to High Life

I met Mandy Rice-Davies in the summer of 1989. mandyjani

We got on like port and nuts. She invited me to have supper with her and Ken Foreman, her husband, at Le Caprice in Arlingston Street, Picadilly.

She said she was interested in how my life was going to turn out.

It was with sadness that I read of her death this week.

This is the interview I wrote after meeting her.


The first thing you notice about Mrs Foreman, née Mandy Rice-Davies is that she looks innocently young. It’s been 26 years since that spot of bother with Profumo, Keeler and Co which led to the collapse of Harold Macmillan’s government. But the years have passed without leaving the barest trace.

Enviable figure, too, Wafer-thin and perfectly groomed, she looks exactly right in the opulent setting of her Knightsbridge drawing room. ‘This old pair of camel slacks? It’s from the corner shop.’ Mandy’s corner shop, you understand, is Harrods.

‘I hate shopping.’ she says, ‘Sometimes Valentino around the corner will call and say there’s something I should look at, so they send it around. But I’m not a shopper. I hate buying things you have to try on. Shoes are better. I love shoes. And paintings.’

Your eyes travel from a pair of lambs-ear-soft black ballet pumps to the opposite wall. A Picasso portrait of a woman. Is it real?

‘Hope so!’ giggles Mandy.

‘There’s also an Andy Warhol somewhere in the cupboard …’

The telephone ‘prillos’ discreetly in another room. ‘Please excuse me, that’s my daughter. She’s opening a restaurant so she’s on the phone to me every five minutes. She’s 21 and wildly in love. God, it’s so boring. I wish she’d grow out of it.’

Mandy Rice-Davies is a remarkable woman. Perhaps one of the quintessential ’60s icons, she has survived not the sulphurous singe of scandal, but baptism by its fire…

At 16 she looked much as she does now – a pretty, blue-eyed blonde bimbo. Except she had brains. Her pony Laddie (he was called Silver Socks for gymkhanas) interested her more than men. Top student at junior school in Solihull, Warwickshire. Never anything less than A’s.

‘My heroes were the show-jumper Colonel Llewellyn and his horse Foxhunter. I stuck pictures of them all over my bedroom wall.’

Somewhere between mucking out the stables, doing a paper round and reading romantic novels, she decided she wanted a slice of Saturday night (make that a large slice of Saturday night). She started to feel misplaced in the life that she was in,

Stunningly pretty, she’s got so much personality she could sell it by the kilo. She always got what she wanted in life. Self-disciplined and single-minded, she’s a perfectionist, a shrewd businesswoman. And not one to look the gift pony in the mouth.

She took a job in a snooty grocery store and was soon modelling during the lunch hour. (One of the other mannequins is now the Mayoress of Westminster. (She left after six months. She was awfully grand.)

One catwalk leads to another. In 1959 the wraith-like blonde was crowned Miss Mini.

Picture the scene, October 1959. Mandy. Draped over a Mini. The combination of Mandy mit Mini was revolutionary! Grand Prize R100. One week in London, wined, dined and feted.

‘I thought ”This is for me!” I went back home and it was all rather flat and dull, When I asked my parents if I could go to London there was a resounding ‘No!’ So I ran away.’

It was your actual She’s Leaving Home script: Note on pillow. Twenty quid in pocket. Cardboard suitcase in hand.

‘I thought that if I didn’t get a job, I could always go back. But of course, you don’t, do you?’

She saw an ad for dancers in a club and got the job on the spot. Then she met Christine Keeler – Britain’s notorious good-time girl whose liaisons with War Minister John Profumo and a soviet naval attaché led to the 1963 scandal.

The rest is history. Or money in the bank.

She laughs her gorgeous giggly effervescent laugh.

But while Christine has shrivelled under the limelight, Mandy seems to have become Mandy – but more so.

In the best Dale Carnegie tradition, she neatly (well, perhaps not that neatly) reversed the worst scenario into the best opportunity.

She went on to open a string of restaurants and nightclubs in Israel, published the first glossy magazine in that country, released hit-records and starred in movies.

‘I haven’t seen Christine at  all. We’re two different characters.

It’s a question of perseverance and courage. It’s the ability to put things behind, not continually harp on what was and what will be, but what is now. And to take if from the Socratic each time. Life is one thing after another? You have to be very careful not to make historic mistakes.”

Has she made any historic mistakes?

‘Well, yes. Obviously!’ She is practically overcome by a surge of giggles.

‘But lets get back to how I reacted differently to Christine, I’m a great believer in not subscribing to the victim theory in life. I’m in charge of my own head.’

‘That’s why I always have framed photography of Einstein around – to remind me of the power of logic over emotions – the way that  you can get anything you really want in life. Being blown off course is depressing. And annoying,

Fearless as a child, she admits that she ‘got her breath knocked out of her in 1963. ‘I no longer lapse into hubris. I also don’t read newspaper cuttings. I keep them in a bag for about three years.

‘People go on about having a free Press. What we must aim for is a free and responsible press. What makes me very angry is injustice and bureaucratic stupidity. I’d still give myself six-and-a-half out of ten for a life score.’

There are Writing Days and Other Days. A Writing Day starts like this:

‘My husband makes me coffee and I lie in bed and smoke a cigarette. Ah, you’ll have to ask my husband what I wear in bed. He gets up at some horrible, unearthly hour like seven o’clock. If it’s a Writing Day I think what my character is going to do, or about the article I’ve got to write.

Then she drags herself to the bathroom, splashes water on her face and brushes her teeth.

‘Then I go to the kitchen for my second cup of coffee and my second cigarette then my third cup of coffee and my third cigarette…And I think about dinner that evening, whether we need fresh flowers or anything else I can to avoid writing.’

‘I put it off and put it off and put it off. But when you start you’re in Never-Never- Land. You can’t stop!’

‘Huge panic when hub calls. Jump into shower. Make-up. Perfume. He comes in the door and it’s ”Hellooooo darling!” ‘

At night it’s all restaurants. For business entertaining. She likes French, Italian. The Connaught for upmarket occasions. Scotts for upmarket occasions. The Savoy for (very rare) lunches.

She has summer drinks and winter drinks. In summer she sticks to champagne. Bollinger. And she likes vodka. Neat.

And of course wine. Ken’s something of a connoisseurs so coming to South Africa will be fun. Mala Mala sounds like her kind of place.

The Scarlet Thread is her second novel. It’s been described as a stirring wartime saga in the spirit of Gone with the Wind.

The dangerous world of the crumbling Ottoman Empire is the dramatic backdrop. It took three years to write. Her compassion for humanity is apparent. And sincere. ‘But,’ she giggles, ‘I don’t think the world is ready to accept my book on philosophy yet.’

Hers has been a Rich and Colourful life. The highs have been perilously so (acting with Sammy Davis, launching her autobiography Mandy andstarring in Tom Stoppard’s Dirty Linen in the West End.

Let’s not dwell on the lows. She hasn’t.

Perhaps Emily Brontë’s quote would be an apt description of the Mandy Rice-Davies phenomenon;

No coward’s soul is mine. 

The first thing you notice about Mrs Foreman, née Mandy Rice-Davies is that she looks innocently young. It’s been 26 years since that spot of bother with Profumo, Keeler and Co which led to the collapse of Harold Macmillan’s government. But the years have passed without leaving the barest trace.

Enviable figure, too, Wafer-thin and perfectly groomed, she looks exactly right in the opulent setting of her Knightsbridge drawing room. ‘This old pair of camel slacks? It’s from the corner shop.’ Mandy’s corner shop, you understand, is Harrods.

‘I hate shopping.’ she says, ‘Sometimes Valentino around the corner will call and say there’s something I should look at, so they send it around.But I’m not a shopper. I hate buying things you have to try on. Shoes are better. I love shoes. And paintings.’

Your eyes travel from a pair of lambs-ear-soft black ballet pumps to the opposite wall. A Picasso portrait of a woman. Is it real?

‘Hope so!’ giggles Mandy.

‘There’s also an Andy Warhol somewhere in the cupboard …’

The telephone ‘prillos’ discreetly in another room. ‘Please excuse me, that’s my daughter. She’s opening a restaurant so she’s on the phone to me every five minutes. She’s 21 and wildly in love. God, it’s so boring. I wish she’d grow out of it.’

Mandy Rice-Davies is a remarkable woman. Perhaps one of the quintessential ’60s icons, she has survived not the sulphurous singe of scandal, but baptism by its fire…

At 16 she looked much as she does now – a pretty, blue-eyed blonde bimbo. Except she had brains. Her pony Laddie (he was called Silver Socks for gymkhanas) interested her more than men. Top student at junior school in Solihull, Warwickshire. Never anything less than A’s.

‘My heroes were the show-jumper Colonel Llewellyn and his horse Foxhunter. I stuck pictures of them all over my bedroom wall.’

Somewhere between mucking out the stables, doing a paper round and reading romantic novels, she decided she wanted a slice of Saturday night (make that a large slice of Saturday night). She started to feel misplaced in the life that she was in,

Stunningly pretty, she’s got so much personality she could sell it by the kilo. She always got what she wanted in life. Self-disciplined and single-minded, she’s a perfectionist, a shrewd businesswoman. And not one to look the gift pony in the mouth.

She took a job in a snooty grocery store and was soon modelling during the lunch hour. (One of the other mannequins is now the Mayoress of Westminster. (She left after six months. She was awfully grand.)

One catwalk leads to another. In 1959 the wraith-like blonde was crowned Miss Mini.

Picture the scene, October 1959. Mandy. Draped over a Mini. The combination of Mandy mit Mini was revolutionary! Grand Prize R100. Pne week in London, wined, dined and feted.

‘I thought ”This is for me!” I went back home and it was all rather flat and dull, When I asked my parents if I could go to London there was a resounding ‘No!’ So I ran away.’

It was your actual She’s Leaving Home script: Note on pillow. Twenty quid in pocket. Cardboard suitcase in hand.

‘I thought that if I didn’t get a job, I could always go back. But of course, you don’t, do you?’

She saw an ad for dancers in a club and got the job on the spot. Then she met Christine Keeler – Britain’s notorious good-time girl whose liaisons with War Minister John Profumo and a soviet naval attaché led to the 1963 scandal.

The rest is history. Or money in the bank.

She laughs her gorgeous giggly effervescent laugh.

But while Christine has shrivelled under the limelight, Mandy seems to have become Mandy – but more so.

In the best Dale Carnegie tradition, she neatly (well, perhaps not that neatly) reversed the worst scenario into the best opportunity.

She went on to open a string of restaurants and nightclubs in Israel, published the first glossy magazine in that country, released hit-records and starred in movies.

‘I haven’t seen Christine at all. We’re two different characters.’

‘It’s a question of perseverance and courage. It’s the ability to leave things behind and not continually harp on about what was and what will be, but what is now. And to take it from the Socratic each time. Life is one thing after another. You have to be very careful not to make historical mistakes.’

Has she made any historic mistakes?

‘Well, yes. Obviously!’ She is practically overcome by a surge of giggles.

‘But lets get back to how I reacted differently to Christine, I’m a great believer in not subscribing to the victim theory in life. I’m in charge of my own head.’

‘That’s why I always have framed photography of Einstein around – to remind me of the power of logic over emotions – the way that  you can get anything you really want in life. Being blown off course is depressing. And annoying,

Fearless as a child, she admits that she ‘got her breath knocked out of her in 1963. ‘I no longer lapse into hubris.I also don’t read newspaper cuttings. I keep them in a bag for about three years.

‘People go on about having a free Press. What we must aim for is a free and responsible press. What makes me very angry is injustice and bureaucratic stupidity. I’d still give myself six-and-a-half  out of ten for a life score.’

There are Writing Days and Other Days. A Writing Day starts like this:

‘My husband makes me coffee and I lie in bed and smoke a cigarette. Ah, you’ll have to ask my husband what I wear in bed. He gets up at some horrible, unearthly hour like seven o’clock. If it’s a Writing Day I think what my character is going to do, or about the article I’ve got to write.

Then she drags herself to the bathroom, splashes water on her face and brushes her teeth.

‘Then I go to the kitchen for my second cup of coffee and my second cigarette then my third cup of coffee and my third cigarette…And I think about dinner that evening, whether we need fresh flowers or anything else I can to avoid writing.’

‘I put it off and put it off and put it off. But when you start you’re in Never-Never- Land. You can’t stop!’

‘Huge panic when hub calls. Jump into shower. Make-up. Perfume. He comes in the door and it’s ”Hellooooo darling!” ‘

At night it’s all restaurants. For business entertaining. She likes French, Italian. The Connaught for upmarket occasions. Scotts for upmarket occasions. The Savoy for (very rare) lunches.

She has summer drinks and winter drinks. In summer she sticks to champagne. Bollinger. And she likes vodka. Neat.

And of course wine. Ken’s something of a connoisseurs so coming to South Africa will be fun. Mala Mala sounds like her kind of place.

The Scarlet Thread is her second novel. It’s been described as a stirring wartime saga in the spirit of Gone With The Wind.

The dangerous world of the crumbling Ottoman Empire is the dramatic backdrop. It took three years to write. Her compassion for humanity is apparent. And sincere. ‘But,’ she giggles, ‘I don’t think the world is ready to accept my book on philosophy yet.’

Hers has been a Rich and Colourful life. The highs have been perilously so (acting with Sammy Davis, launching her autobiography Mandy, starring in Tom Stoppard’s Dirty Linen in the West End… The lows have been What-Can-I-Tell-You-Doris-If-It-Had-Happened-To-Me-I-Would-Have-daaaaaard..

Perhaps Emily Brontë’s quote would be an apt description of the Mandy Rice-Davies phenomenon;

No coward’s soul is mine. 

 

*This column originally appeared in the South African Sunday Times on September 10, 1989. It was Jani Allan’s final column for the publication.