Peter James: A-listers being in awe of each other, why I quit the movie business and sandwiches with Joan Collins

PUBLISHED: 09:49 17 January 2017

Peter James and Joan Collins

Peter James and Joan Collins


Bestselling crime writer Peter James talks us through his gastronomic adventures and keeps us abreast of everything relating to his fictional detective, Roy Grace

Celebrity is a curious thing. I learned years ago in my film producing days that even among Hollywood’s A-list there is a pecking order. Back in 2003 I was making what turned out to be a rather lacklustre film, The Bridge Of St Luis Rey, despite its quite stellar cast of Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, Kathy Bates and Gabriel Byrne. During the course of filming, Harvey Keitel confessed that he was nervous working with De Niro because he was so in awe of him. Byrne said he was nervous of working with Keitel for the same reason, and Kathy Bates said she was in awe of Keitel and Byrne. I never found out who De Niro was in awe of.

As a producer you pander to the whims of your stars and the riders that are part of every contract these days. Although I guess riders aren’t a new thing. When the late Sir Christopher Soames agreed to take the post of Governor of Southern Rhodesia, it was on condition he would be able to have his customary full English breakfast every morning, and roast pheasant, grouse or partridge, with game chips and all the trimmings for his dinner daily throughout the UK game season.

Not all movie stars have egos the size of aircraft carriers – Al Pacino and Jeremy Irons, who I worked with on The Merchant Of Venice, are wonderfully grounded and fun people. And so are the two stars of my new play, Not Dead Enough – fabulous Shane Richie, who will be playing Roy Grace, and the truly delightful Laura Whitmore – who had a brilliant stint in Strictly – who will be Cleo. I’m looking forward to starting rehearsals. The play begins a nationwide tour on 25 January, and will be at the Theatre Royal, Brighton the week of 13 February.

I’ve had my fair share of difficult actors. One memorable nightmare of an occasion was filming in Toronto with Ernest Borgnine and Michael J Pollard – who shot to fame as CW Moss in Bonnie and Clyde. I was summoned by the night manager of the Hyatt hotel, at 3.30am, to remove a rooster, which was keeping all the hotel guests awake, from Mr Pollard’s suite.

For anyone who has ever wondered why I quit the movie business for a career in writing novels, I rest my case... And the beauty is that in my books my characters do exactly what I want – I don’t have to pander to any of their whims! Although sometimes during the course of promoting a book I come across some challenging requests from my fans. Two in particular stick in my mind. The first was being asked by a husband to sign his wife’s breast, at a very posh Royal Naval Voluntary Reserve dinner in Shoreham! The other was to sign the inside of a gentleman’s coffin – fortunately he was not in residence at the time.

The launch of my YouTube channel, Peter James TV (, has brought me back into the orbit of stars. Among them Joan Collins (pictured with me). I’ve always found her and her husband, Percy, utterly charming, but I’ve also seen her Grande Dame side, and no one wants to be on the receiving end of that. So imagine how I felt a few weeks ago when Joan was at the Theatre Royal in Brighton, doing her brilliant one-woman show. She has a number of Brighton and Sussex connections, including her father who spent the last decade of his life in the city. We arranged I would interview her for Peter James TV before the show, and afterwards she, Percy, Lara and I would go to dinner at English’s. Everything was arranged with the restaurant, we were to have an upstairs area – totally private. So imagine my surprise and consternation when we turned up at English’s at our booked time of 10.30pm to find it shut. Clearly a big misunderstanding somewhere, and my first black mark for the place in very many years of considering it my Brighton go-to eatery.

So what to do with a tired, thirsty and hungry Joan Collins, in the middle of Brighton on a freezing Monday night? I needed either a bright idea or a knight in shining armour. The latter appeared, just as we turned away from the locked door and darkened windows, asking if we were okay. When I explained the situation he said he was the manager of the pub right across the alley, The Sussex, and whilst his chef had gone home for the night, he’d be happy to rustle us up some cheese and pickle sandwiches.

Joan took it all with good humour. We ended up having a fun time, with great sandwiches, and booze flowing. When we had finished, our shining and very charming knight refused to accept one penny for the food or drink. Sometimes, celebrity rocks… And, hey, how many people have been able to call Joan Collins a cheap dinner date?

The paperback of Peter James’s latest Roy Grace novel, Love You Dead is out now. He donates his fee for this column to his charitable foundation supporting Sussex charities and this month’s fee will be given to the Terrys Cross Trust.


Peter James: visiting some creepy crawlies in Holland, confronting a demon and dinner with Norman Cook

Latest from the Sussex Life