I met Michael Winner three years ago when he emailed me out of the blue, inviting me round his house to interview him about his new TV show. I was so excited that I whizzed over to his impressive pile in Kensington almost immediately.
He was charm personified. We went down to his personal cinema in the basement where he had prepared a gift bag for me, containing a nice bottle of champagne and some signed copies of his books. Being an easily bought, sorry excuse for a journalist this won me over immediately (oligarchs and Arab princes take note).
We talked down there for most of the afternoon. He had some forthright views on restaurant service, as you might expect, and a bunch of celebrity tales. But, to be honest, I found the details of his lifestyle more fascinating than anything else. He told me that he drove everywhere in London, avoiding traffic by using the bus lanes. “The cameras hardly ever catch you so I might get two £300 fines a year which works out quite cost effective,” he said. He just pulled up right outside whichever restaurant he was visiting and left the motor on a yellow line while he ate. He reasoned that the parking ticket was only £60 – the same price as a return taxi fare. “And the difference is I don’t have to walk around in the rain looking for taxis. I just leave the restaurant and step straight back into my car.” There was a certain logic to his extravagance that I found very convincing.
He was more quietly spoken and humble than his E-Sure ads had led me to imagine. He suggested that the whole cigar chomping posh dickhead thing was just a daft routine. I wound up believing him. “I’m not very sociable at all,” he said. “Most nights I have an early dinner, then go upstairs and watch a movie in bed. I only go out to eat about once a week.” Who with? I asked. “Michael Caine usually,” he shrugged.
Next we went up to the bedroom. It was the size of a football pitch, with a gargantuan bed sitting in the middle on a raised platform. The huge windows looked out over spectacularly beautiful gardens. He waved at his neighbor in the adjacent garden. “Isn’t that Jimmy Page?” I asked. “Yes, it is,” he beamed.
The films he made weren’t all that great were they? But he wouldn’t tell you any different. He didn’t seem to regard himself as anything special and saw he world he lived in as completely absurd.
He left me with one last piece of advice as I left. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you see that bit of hair that’s receding at the front of your head?” I touched my wispy fringe self-consciously and nodded. “You should wash that in lager. It helps it grow back. But only use Heineken, the rest doesn’t work so well.” I actually tried it the next day. It didn’t work. He’d been taking the piss out of me just like he continually took the piss out of himself. But most of all he took the piss out of life – just like all of us dream of doing. Not many have the wit or the balls to do it with quite the same panache as Winner.