Would that we were all so lucky as to have a favorite relative who proves that life is a banquet, while overcoming insurmountable obstacles along the way. Yet in 1982, I had that experience, albeit archetypal, when I interviewed Shirley Conran. Unbeknownst to her, she was in rehearsal for that real-life role. Shirley was on a stopover in San Francisco to promote her latest book, Lace. Read by millions, seen by millions (TV series), it made her millions.

Her PR man escorted her to our reserved table at lunchtime. Impressive, she was rich, famous and beautiful, looking somewhat like a dark-haired Julie Christie (today a blonde). She had a star power all her own. Better still, she was sharp, original, direct and witty. We hit it off! After the usual hype for the book, “It’s all up here [pointing to her forehead], you have to write out the dynamics first – start to finish. I started Lace, after having been a journalist [she would have liked to have had an interview with Jackie Kennedy]. “One of the most fascinating women in the world.”

When I was staying at the Beverly Hills Hotel, I couldn’t sleep and began writing on a little shorthand pad. Her editor at Simon & Schuster, Alexander Korda, sent her summary back twice. She eventually connected with Michael Korda and success.

Bantering back and forth, my recorder caught some of her philosophy; “I try to avoid complications with people I love.

“I don’t mind complications with people I don’t know.

“I rather enjoy that.

“Experience is worth having, and a good thing to remember when things go wrong, as they always do.

“Successful people are very good at hiding their failures. Can’t have success without risking failure. Failure is a challenge.”

Well, one asks, what can we get out of this?

She would become the ex-wife of Sir Terrance Conran, later she remarried twice before going solo. Proud of her two sons, Sebastian, a designer and entrepreneur for Mother’s Care (children under 10), and Jasper, another famous designer who has designed costumes and sets for ballet, opera and theatre productions. He has been awarded (among many from 1982-2008) an Officer of the British Empire and the Lawrence Oliver Award for costume design. Princess Diana was a patron. Much has been written about his home in Dorset, resulting in a book, Jasper Conran Country.

Their mother, Shirley, is living in Putney, South of London, as last reported. She is the founder and chairwoman of the Work-Life Balance Trust Conference. True to her British “Mame” image, Shirley endorses the theory that life is an adventure. You have to get out and make things happen. I suspected she might have an interest in metaphysics. Her astrologer and great friend, columnist Patrick Walker, has been accurate, she said; it all came true.

When Shirley autographed her book to me she wrote, “For Gene Arceri – who saw right through me – with warmest good wishes”. I can say the same about her – a perceptive, empathetic, unforgettable woman of characteristic style and earthy elegance. I hope our paths may cross again. Until then, may the stars shine on her. I’d like to imagine her a centrifugal force, slightly off-kilter, an influence to her sons and a volatile mother whose life is a tour de force. A rare species indeed!

Gene Arceri has gained world attention as a writer, critic, award winning PBS reviewer and publicist. A native New Yorker, Gene resides in San Francisco and spends considerable time in London. Among his best selling books are: ‘Elizabeth Taylor: Her Life. Her Loves. Her Future’, Susan Hayward’s ‘RED’ and ‘Charlie of Nob Hill’. {San Francisco’s most famous cat} arcgen@sbcglobal.net


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