First Impressions: SHIRLEY CONRAN
SHIRLEY CONRAN was born in London and is famous for the saying, ‘Life’s too short to stuff a mushroom’. Her first book, Superwoman, was a worldwide bestseller. She was married to designer Sir Terence Conran, and both their sons, Jasper and Sebastian
What are you working on at the moment?
The guest list for my 80th birthday party, which is the gift of Canongate, Britain's hippest publisher. Moët & Chandon is giving me the champagne; the sexy French château in Lace is really the Moët château, a fabulous place to visit for research.
When were you at your happiest?
When I was first married and believed it would last forever.
What is your greatest fear?
Every mother's greatest fear: the death of a child.
Who has been your greatest influence?
Gordon McKenzie, features editor at the Daily Mail, when I started as a journalist, and George Seddon, my boss at The Observer when I was fashion editor: they both encouraged me to be myself. Of course, if you are yourself, then by definition, you are different from everyone else – you have discovered your own style.
What do you most dislike about yourself?
That I have so little energy, because I contracted ME 38 years ago, and had to stop working in journalism.
What is your most treasured possession?
A Stone-Age knife that was dredged from the Dordogne River and used to make a path in my French garden. As soon as I saw it I recognised it. I have a small, squarehand, which is the size of the original owner, so it fits like a glove. I picture the Stone Age man skinning something and dipping the blood-slippery knife in the river to clean it. And then it slid from his hands. Sad – I expect it was his most treasured possession.
What trait do you most deplore in others?
Talent wasted through laziness.
Do you have a fantasy address?
The Plaza, New York. When first working in New York, I would take children from London for Saturday tea in the Palm Court at the Plaza, which was a bargain, and made them feel posh.
What do you dislike about your appearance?
By the time you're my age, there's very little left to really like. Fashion becomes camouflage.
What is your all-time favourite book?
When she was expecting her second baby, my mother taught me to read so that I could entertain myself – I've been a bookworm since I was three. I don't know whether to say Black Beauty or War And Peace.
What is your favourite film?
The Paper with Glenn Close and Michael Keaton. A behind-the-scenes story of newspapers, marriage and other forms of combat.
Your favourite meal?
An English summer menu: chilled Vichyssoise soup, followed by poached salmon mayonnaise with cucumber salad, peas and minted new potatoes, then a smelly Munster cheese; after which, Elizabeth David's chocolate mousse.
Who would you most like to come to dinner?
The trick is getting interesting people who don't hog the conversation, so: me, Queen Elizabeth I, Kenny Everett, Marlene Dietrich, Cole Porter, the Reverend Sydney Smith (19th-century essayist), writer Virginia Woolf and my witty American lawyer, Morton Janklow. I would have La Rochefoucauld on standby.
Which historical character do you most admire?
That little terrier, Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson, because only death could stop him.
What is the nastiest thing anyone has ever said to you?
When we five children were evacuated to Hereford in the Second World War, some local children called us 'the London pigs'.
Do you believe in aliens?
Only the arrogant would think ours is the only life in the universe.
What is your secret vice?
Do you write thank-you notes?
Which phrase do you most overuse?
Going through emails: 'First things first and second things never'.
What single thing would improve the quality of your life?
My life changed when my son, Sebastian, gave me an iPad for my birthday.
What would you like your epitaph to say?
She was a good mother.
Shirley Conran's Lace has been reissued by Canongate, priced £7.99.
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Daily tip from the lady archive
"DEEPLY-ROOTED is the idea that men are indifferent to dress, while the ladies, God bless them, think of nothing else"The Lady, With Prejudice, 8th January, 1942