Numéro: The photographer David Bailey describes you as a ‘virulent old aunt’. I take it the photo shoot went well then.
The very dear David has an annoying habit of reducing people to one or two epithets, which are generally odious. When I was in his studio, for example, he called me “old monkey”. Which, perhaps coming from him, should be taken as a compliment.
What memories does this old monkey have of the Second World War?
We all slept under tables, in case the roof fell on our heads. Sirens, curfews, rationing… Despite the darkness of the time, my parents taught me to leave the planet in a better state than that in which we found it. They were very hospitable to evacuees and German prisoners of war, which certainly made a splash amongst the cottages. I also remember they housed the first black man that Wigan – our little hometown in the north of England – had ever seen. Henry. A sublime man, like an ebony sculpture. The village children, who were used to seeing their fathers return from the mine with faces blackened by the soot, couldn’t believe their eyes. They would follow him down the street like the messiah.
How did you cope with the untimely death of your mother when you were 12, and then your father when you were 24?
I never got over it. My biggest regret is not having known my parents in my adult life. Never having had the chance to talk about essential, fundamental things with them. Never having been their confident or their friend. Never being able to tell them about my homosexuality.
Have you always assumed your sexuality?
I realised at a very young age that I found Michelangelo’s David much more arousing that Botticelli’s Venus. But at that time, it wasn’t exactly something we shouted about from the rooftops. And for good reason: homosexuality was repressed in Great Britain until 1967. Strictly speaking, I was therefore a criminal until the age of 28. And when it wasn't the police wanting to throw you in prison, it was opinion that would lynch you in the public eye. It was abominable.