Indian brave, courtesan, slave and the world’s loudest snorer
MANY LIVES: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY BY STEPHANIE BEACHAM (Hay House £15.99)
Spiritual side: Actress Stephanie Beacham
It takes a while to get into this book because first you have to navigate a prologue and not one but two forewords, the first by the author’s 11-year-old grandson, who reveals that at 4 a.m. without make-up Stephanie Beacham has green skin, witch-like hair and gives him nightmares. But it’s well worth the wait because, uniquely for an autobiography, you get not just a solitary life, but loads of them.
Stephanie is one of those people (usually old actresses resident in California) who have lived before. Visiting Versailles brought back her time as a courtesan there during the ancien regime; touring Egypt she recalled being an Israelite slave. In the Wild West she was an old Native American woman with sore feet. When she took mescaline once she looked in a mirror and saw her previous incarnation as a South American Indian.
She’s always had a spiritual side. At her North London convent school, little non-Catholic Stephanie spent so many hours gazing at a statue of the Virgin Mary the teachers contacted her parents and suggested she was ripe for conversion.
She’s had her fair share of what might be called paranormal experiences too. After an operation once, she ‘died’ and found herself floating above her bed and then being led towards a bright light by four Franciscan monks. She was brought back to life, only to find herself minutes away from having a permanent colostomy bag fitted. Luckily a friend advised her to visualise a wounded kitten in her stomach which did the trick; Stephanie passed wind and the bag wasn’t necessary. Phew!
Another time, trying a ‘personal healing, diagnostic and wellness system’ derived from non-terrestrials she had a vision in which she was poked about by a French doctor who looked a lot like Hercule Poirot.
On stage in ‘Masterclass’ playing Maria Callas (‘What David Beckham was to football, Maria Callas was to opera’), the dead diva popped up beside her and started gabbling in Greek in her ear. Stephanie was so shocked she couldn’t speak for two days.
Unluckily – or perhaps spookily – Maria chose her left ear. Stephanie has always been deaf in her right, a handicap she battled bravely against to become a distinguished stage actress, as well as starring on TV in Tenko, the Colbys and as another notch on Ken Barlow’s bedpost in Corrie. She also appeared on the big screen opposite Marlon Brando in his worst film. Apparently Brando was enthusiastic about mouthwash. On Celebrity Big Brother her snoring was so spectacularly loud it was sold as a ringtone on eBay.
Stephanie is a post-modernist writer, eschewing a conventional, chronological account of her 64 years and leaving the reader the jigsaw task of putting randomly dotted – and dotty – facts together. She went to RADA, married actor John McEnery, had two daughters, was divorced and existed as a single mum on poached eggs and spinach.
This would make the perfect Christmas gift for someone who likes books by lovable and batty old actresses but who already has Shirley MacLaine’s complete works.