Friday, 17 January 2014

Tara Browne, Amanda Lear and Brian Jones

During the autumn of 1965 I was studying fine art in London. To help pay for my drawing lessons and the rent of my small flat on Chelsea’s Sloane Avenue, Catherine Harle, the director of a Parisian modelling agency, suggested that I should come to Paris and model for haute couture collections. One of Catherine’s close friends, a German girl named Anita Pallenberg, was the lover of the Rolling Stones guitarist, Brian Jones. She often spoke of him and I was fascinated not only by his personality but also by his clothes. As for me, I had fallen madly in love with a friend of Brian’s, an Irish boy with a somewhat feminine name, Tara.  He was married to a friend of mine and they had two small children. Quite soon Anita decided to drop her guitarist for Keith Richard, another member of the group. In order to take his mind off things, Tara invited Brian to Paris, where his very wealthy mother lived. On the night of their arrival we decided to eat at Castel’s in the rue Princesse. 

Amanda Lear

Brian, as one might expect, was dressed in typical rock musician gear: long scarves, beads around his neck, a wide brimmed hat and dark glasses. Tara was dressed in a lacy, frilled shirt and purple velvet suit, which might have come straight from the time of the Restoration. I was wearing a miniskirt and boots. Our entrance didn’t go unnoticed. I immediately stumbled on a couple of friends from London, John and Dennis, identical twins, both beautiful and bronzed from a holiday in Spain. They were sitting at a long table presided over by Salvador Dali and they asked us to join them. The Master was sitting on a kind of throne, surrounded by his adoring courtesans and favourites.

I couldn’t resist the idea of meeting Dali in the flesh. He rose to greet us, went through the motions of kissing my hand, then exclaimed pompously: "How do you do? I see the heavenly twins have done a good job."

Without asking our names he introduced us to his Court: “Mademoiselle Ginesta, the Rolling Stone, Lord…you must be a Lord aren’t you?”

Tara tried not to laugh and Brian, behind his dark glasses rolled his eyes in disbelief.  I had the distinct impression Dali was making fools of us and said huffily, "My name is Amanda, not Ginesta, and ‘His Lordship’ is Tara, and the Rolling Stone is, as I think you know, Brian Jones.”

"But of course, the famous musician."

His English was comical and he rolled his r’s in an exaggerated fashion.

"Amanda!, What a pretty name!" We’ve never had an Amanda at the Court. We have a Saint Sebastian, a Red Guard, a Unicorn, a Cardinal… sit down beside Louis XIV, I beg you. She speaks excellent English. Did you know that Louis spoke English in New York with Greta Garbo?”

Louis XIV turned out to be a blonde woman, dripping with jewels, who did ask me one or two questions in English. Dali was balding and slightly overweight. I found him pretentious and, to be quite honest, ridiculous with his waxed moustache and gold lame waistcoat. To add emphasis to his words he brandished a gold-topped cane…

Early into the evening Dali got up and announced that he was going to bed —“Gala doesn’t like me to stay up too late” -at the same time insisting that we stay on as his guests. Louis XIV and one of the young girls also rose to leave. As he departed, Dali kissed my hand emphatically and asked if I was free for lunch the following day. Without waiting for my answer, he continued: “Bring your friend. I shall be waiting for you at Lasserre’s. You know it? See you at one o’clock on the dot.”

Then he was off in a wake of tuberose; he wore a bloom behind his ear, while the young “virgin” solemnly carried one in her hand like a candle.

Brian was thrilled. “He’s crazy, man, completely crazy!”

"The following day Tara was eagerly awaiting our lunch at Lasserre's so I made myself up carefully and picked out a mini-dress in violet silk, knee length boots and put on all my lucky charm rings.

Dali was seated at a long table by the window. One could see that he touched up his famous moustache with black pencil. He scrutinized me by the light of the window.

"Are you Chinese?"

"No, English."

He suddenly asked me point blank if I was a lesbian. I was speechless.

"All girls have a bit of lesbian in them, just as all boys have a little of the homosexual. I bet your friend here likes boys, like all well-bred young Englishmen."

Tara laughed nervously. As for myself, I was never able to accept this need to shock at any price. It was, of course, a surrealist's gambit but which I always felt unnecessary amongst friends....

The meeting with Dali had left me worried. Until then Tara had been the most important person in my life. He still was, but I was suddenly beginning to realize that outside my world of rock music, drugs and fashion there was a whole new world waiting to be discovered., ..and Dali had given me a glimpse of it.

Tara wasn't looking forward to dinner (with Dali) at the Hotel Meurice. He had had an unpleasant meeting with his lawyer that afternoon. He wanted a divorce and had made me sign various testimonies. I had done so against my better judgement, but he wanted the custody of his two children and therefore had to prove that their mother was irresponsible. I was so much in love with him that I would have done anything in the world to please him.

At the Hotel Meurice the doorman directed us to the suite occupied by the Dali's, number 108. Dali introduced us proudly as his latest discovery. When it was time to leave for the restaurant he took my arm and guided me towards the elevator. Tara and I took our seats in his Cadillac to go to Ledoyen's, a huge restaurant tucked behind the Petit Palais on the Champs Elysees.

Tara, unhappy with his place at the table sulked. I began to find Dali more and more charming. One quickly forgot the waxed moustache and bizarre clothes, so fascinating were his stories and so kindly his manner.

Dinner was coming to an end. Dali, who hadn't touched his glass of wine and never drank coffee started to ask everyone at the table: "No coffee? No coffee? His tone was authoritative that no one dared take it. Asking me whether I intended going on to a nightclub, Dali suggested that I keep his limousine and chauffeur. Tara, however, was returning to London the following morning, so we decided to go straight home , after first dropping Dali at his hotel.

Tara and I discussed the evening. On the whole, I had enjoyed myself, but Tara less so, since his French wasn't very good. He found these people old fashioned and frivolous. Dali was clearly fascinated by the sexual prowess of the various members of his Court....he had asked me to pose for him and I was frightened of the idea, fearing that the whole thing would be just a pretext for messing around. At any rate this was what Tara thought and he joked about what would be waiting for me should I undress before the Master in his suite at the Hotel Meurice.

I was so much in love with my beautiful Irish boy that I couldn't imagine going to bed with another man - least of all Dali, who was over sixty. I wanted to live life to the fullest, have fun, love passionately, paint and dance. I lived from day to day and did not have one penny put aside. But Tara had inherited wealth, and if we stayed together perhaps he would provide for me.....

Tara Browne's House

In the meantime he left for London, where he was living with Brian Jones while he tried to escape his divorce. I stayed on in Paris, living with Catherine Harle. Tara called me often.

Tara came back to spend a few days with me in Paris. It had looked like I was going to have to stay longer than originally intended, so I had moved in with another girl from the Harle agency, and we shared a small flat in the rue Vaneau. In a few weeks I was off on a modelling assignment on the Ivory Coast, before going back to London to spend Christmas with Tara.

Half-heartedly I took up my modelling career again, posing for a series of bra advertisements destined to adorn the sides of the Paris buses. The trip to Africa was dreadful. I had to pose for hours under the burning sun in full make up and a wig.

Exhausted, I flew back to Paris and heard some terrible news. Tara had just been killed in a car crash.

Tara's death left me heartbroken. Catherine Harle did all she could but even her friendship couldn't alleviate the grief.

He blew his mind out in a car,

He didn't notice that the lights had changed,

A crowd of people stood and stared,

They'd seen his face before,

Nobody was really sure

If he was from the House of Lords.

He had been killed one night when, driving home in his Lotus, he had crashed into a truck. He died instantly. His wife was kind enough to phone me, but I was in no fit state to go to the funeral. I spent Christmas alone and miserable so I left and went back to the small apartment I was renting in Chelsea.

I felt better at home amongst my London friends. London had changed: Carnaby Street, fashion, the Beatles, and the King's Road, where everybody met on Saturday afternoons. I met up with old friends again such as Mark Palmer, Brian Jones, Patti Boyd, Twiggy and Julian Ormsby-Gore, the son of Lord other words, a safe little world of dandies to which I belonged, whose only interest was having fun.

The fashionable boutiques were Hung on You, Biba, and Granny Takes A Trip. We went to Sybilla's, the discotheque in Piccadilly and also the Ad Lib Club in Soho. The occasional French celebrity might be seen --Francoise Hardy, for instance. I remember Brian Jones telling me that the only reason he wanted to get into rock music was that he wanted to meet Francoise Hardy who he was in love with at the time.

Surrealism was all the rage and when I announced that I knew Dali I became a kind of celebrity. Some months earlier Tara had invested some money in a boutique on the King's Road called Dandy Fashions. One Saturday afternoon I was walking along the road with the twins and we decided to stop in and have a look. I was trying on a dress when the police burst in, demanding to search everybody. A police-woman went through my bag and found the small Victorian pillbox I had brought in the flea market in Paris, in which I kept the anti-depressants Catherine Harle's psychiatrist had prescribed for me. The policewoman sniffed at these pills, conferred with her colleagues and asked me to accompany them to Chelsea Police Station.

I was horrified. My fingerprints were taken and I was forced to strip; I was informed that I was being held on suspicion of drugs. I tried to explain that these pills had been prescribed for me by a doctor in France, but they replied that they would have to be analysed. I was allowed to go home but only on the condition that I appeared before the magistrate at nine o'clock the next morning.

I was shaken. Brian promised me that his lawyer, who was experienced in such cases, would take care of me. The headlines screamed: MODEL ARRESTED FOR DRUGS, with my photograph splashed across the front page.

The following morning I arrived at Marylebone Magistrates Court with Brian and his lawyer. The photographers waiting at the door were impressed by the pale blue Rolls-Royce. The hearing was brief and I was out on bail. Eventually, the analysis proved that the famous pills were not illicit drugs. I was free and cleared of any charge. But of course my arrest was remembered far more than my proof of innocence and I had to go through the humiliating experience of finding myself barred from certain nightclubs and restaurants--even as far away as Paris - just because my name had been linked to a drug case....."

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