Friday, 18 May 2012

'I'm resigned to it. I've had a wonderful life'

Barbra Paskin knew Vidal Sassoon since she was a child. In this extraordinary interview, he revealed to her the illness that was killing him – and the spectacular memories that gave him so much comfort…

Written by Barbra Paskin

It was only a few weeks ago that I was sitting with Vidal Sassoon in the living room of his sprawling Bel Air home. We were drinking green tea – it was always green tea for Vidal – and he’d been reflecting on his earlier years in Hollywood.

He stared at me intently across the coffee table, his eyes probing mine penetratingly. And then with a sudden sigh, he leaned forward and carefully, softly, uttered the words. ‘I’ve got leukaemia.’ Before I could react, he inhaled deeply and added, ‘I’m really quite ill.’

He saw the shock in my face and continued softly, ‘I’m resigned to it. I’ve had a wonderful life. A fantastic life.’ He gave a slight smile that was tinged with sadness. ‘I can’t complain. I’m 84, I just had my birthday a short while back. It’s been a fabulous ride.

‘I got diagnosed two years ago but I wanted to keep it quiet. Now it’s progressed and I go to hospital for treatment a couple of times a week. My life revolves around that now. And reading. I used to swim every day for exercise but I don’t have the energy to maintain that regimen.

‘I get terribly tired. It’s very difficult for me to walk far. I have to rely on a walking stick, in case I get into trouble. Some days I’m OK, others I’m just overwhelmed by tiredness. But what can you say about it. I’m not in pain. I just get very tired easily.’

It was devastating news. I’d known Vidal since I was a child – my ‘uncle’, Robert Zackham, was Vidal’s oldest friend and working colleague, and my hairdresser father had partnered Robert in his salon, where Vidal often visited. Our last rendezvous took place recently. We’d talked on the phone and I arranged to go to his house a few days later. I wanted to capture some of his memories for a BBC radio documentary I was writing. ‘As long as I’m fine on the day,’ he added cryptically before ringing off.

Little did I know that it would probably be his last interview.

Read the full interview in the May 18 print edition of The Lady Magazine.

© The Lady/Barbra Paskin 2012.

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