IT was all so terribly James Bond. I was to wait for an exact early morning time slot in which to call Sir Roger Moore at his Monaco home.
Of course, I must then destroy the telephone number immediately, presumably in case it got into enemy hands.
I was involved in a real life spy thriller at my desk in Redbridge on a wet Tuesday morning.
I could picture the screen legend lounging in the vast garden of his mansion with room for all those fast cars, nursing a Vodka Martini, shaken not stirred, ready to leap onto his speedboat and into action at any given moment.
The reality was rather less glamorous, he told me.
“The sky’s been black and there have been all sorts of flashes, shaking and noises,” he explains in those famous dulcet tones.
It all still sounds very dramatic, but the screen icon, who turns 85 this month, in fact paints rather a normal picture of everyday life.
“I don’t collect things, well apart from dust, which is all over my office.
“My wife despairs of me. It’s not that I’m a hoarder, I just don’t throw things away. I have magazines and books everywhere. I love to read.”
Of course Sir Roger’s life has been anything but normal.
He famously lived the Bond lifestyle himself, dressing in handmade suits and shoes and enjoying a taste for Champagne and the high life.
Sir Roger’s looks are legendary and legions of women are reduced to putty in his hands at the mere raise of a famous eyebrow.
He married and divorced three times before finding happiness with the fourth, Danish-Swedish socialite multi-millionaire Kristina Tholstrup who lived in a neighbouring property. The couple now mainly divide their time between their chalet in Crans- Montana in Valais in Switzerland and the Monaco apartment.
“I’m just another poverty stricken out of work actor here,”
he tells me.
“Monaco is full of millionaires and in Switzerland, they are used to me being around. It’s no problem.
“I’m just me, just as Sean (Connery) is Sean and the others are themselves when they go home at night.
“We don’t walk around with a Walther PPK shooting people.
“But I’m privileged to live in a couple of very nice places and, although my doctor doesn’t always like it, I do like to live a good life.”
It’s all a long way from his humble beginnings as the only child of a London policeman who was evacuated to Worthing during the Second World War and returned to the capital to attend the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA).
His big break came in the 60s as Simon Templar in The Saint, the most successful TV series of the time.
It is a subject that Sir Roger it set to revisit, he reveals. “My sons have been pursuing a remake of The Saint. Hopefully they are going to give their old father a nice part where I don’t have too many lines to remember.
“I’m interested in that, but I don’t want to play Lear. It’s terrible to say, but I have no ambition really.
“This is only for the sake of my children really. They say why haven’t you got an Oscar, but I told them it was because I had never managed to steal one.”
As ever, it’s his most iconic role that is currently looming large in his life.
Ahead of the release of the 23rd instalment Skyfall, he’s releasing a book Bond on Bond, to mark 50 years of the film franchise.
That comes with a tour of UK theatres, including Southampton’s The Mayflower, The Pavilion theatre in Bournemouth and Basingstoke’s The Anvil, all in October, which he hopes will prove popular.
“I hope I find a theatre full of people. I expect they will be curious as to whether I’m still alive or whether I die on stage,” he quips.
Gareth Owen, the actor’s personal assistant and the book’s ghost writer, will help recount all the witty anecdotes from his seven movies, before the floor is opened up to the audience.
Sir Roger says he is ready for anything more probing than the usual favourite Bond Girl (his wife Kristina), favourite Bond villain (a toss up between Christopher Walken who played Max Zorin and Curt Jurgens playing Karl Stromberg) or his favourite Bond film (The Spy Who Loved Me).
Father to Deborah, Geoffrey and Christian, Sir Roger, who also appeared in The Persuaders alongside Tony Curtis, now devotes most of his time to his family and the charity work for which he was Knighted during the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 2003.
“I wouldn’t say I’m a hands-on grandfather (to Ambra, Jessie, Mia, Tristan and Maximilian) but we do see them as often as possible. I rather like what they say about being a grandparent. You get them when they’re clean and when they start crying, you can send them home.
“But apart from my wife, children and grandchildren, UNICEF has been the most important thing in my life for the past 22 years. I’ve lost count of the number of trips I’ve done for them over the years.
“It was Audrey Hepburn who first asked me to get involved when we co-hosted some childrens awards. I knew Audrey quite well, we were neighbours and she would sometimes ask me to do things for local schools and I never had any hesitation.
“When she showed me some of the photographs and the programming, I just felt like I had to learn more. I’ve met the most extraordinary people and experienced civil war while I learnt.
“Luckily my wife supports it entirely and we have travelled to places where there is poverty everywhere you turn. You go to a favela (a Brazilian shanty town) and there is no running water and there is human waste running down the street.
“I remember one hut was actually made of x-ray plates. Can you imagine the radiation for the poor children living in it?
“This is why I get so angry when people won’t give to charity as they say it goes into the wrong hands.
UNICEF doesn’t just hand it around willy-nilly. That’s why I’m happy to work with them.”
Sophisticated, charming and an incredible humanitarian.
Rather than the epitome of Bond, during our brief chat he proved a more Saintly figure.
- An Audience with Sir Roger Moore is at The Mayflower on October 16, The Pavilion on October 17 and The Anvil on October 23.
The first Bond girl visits Beaulieu - for the interview and video click here