To mark the announcement that Roger Moore will be releasing a new book, Bond On Bond, in celebration of 007’s fiftieth anniversay on the silver screen, GQ.com revisits what happened when Simon Kelner had lunch with the suave actor at London’s Quo Vadis.
I was horribly late for my lunch with Sir Roger Moore, but he was neither shaken nor stirred by my tardy arrival.
He was sipping a cold beer, the very embodiment of calm and elegance, wearing a white shirt open at the neck, blue blazer with brass buttons and grey flannel trousers. The bright midday sun streaming in through the stained glass window lent him an appearance that was serene, iconic and almost ethereal.
A Saint, perhaps.
Sir Roger is, indeed, a saintly figure, and not just through his portrayal of the eponymous hero of the Leslie Charteris books. He’s someone who operates on a plane way above mere mortals, a film star who can stop the traffic, a man whose good works are legendary and, on the evidence of our lunch, truly delightful company. He told me not to worry about being late. “It happens to me all the time when I’m in London,” he said, the voice still sounding as if it is drenched in molasses. “Sometimes, I think it would be easier to get here on skis.”
Sir Roger was on a brief visit to Britain to publicise his autobiography, “My Word Is My Bond”, the story of the boy from Stockwell who became James Bond. Today, he lives in Monaco, which he says is “the safest place in the world – there is no crime at all, save for the fact that they allow me to live there”. His conversation is littered with self-deprecating jokes; he is, after all, the man who once said, “I never thought I was much of an actor anyway. My acting range has always been something between the two extremes of ‘raises left eyebrow’ and ‘raises right eyebrow’.”
The eyebrows were on good form today, and were used as a comic device whenever possible. I asked him whether he insists on people calling him ‘Sir’. “Of course not,” he replied. He thought about it for a few seconds. “Although,” he added, almost conspiratorially, “when I called room service this morning and the voice on the other end said: ‘How can I help you, Mr Moore?'” He then mimed holding the telephone away from his ear, startled, and raised his left eyebrow. Brilliant. Puncturing his own pretensions, parodying himself, and, of course, letting me know that he does, in fact, prefer Sir Roger.
He was knighted five years ago, largely for his work with Unicef, which he has undertaken for 17 years. He says, in a well-rehearsed line, that he was terrified about the investiture, because “when I got down on my knees, I didn’t know how I was going to get up again. Luckily, there was a handrail on the thing you kneel on so it wasn’t a problem.” Sir Roger, who was introduced to the work of Unicef by Audrey Hepburn (“When Audrey asked you,” he said, “you didn’t say no”), has travelled around the world extensively with the charity and believes that, even at 80 years old, it is still a tremendous learning experience. “I get one dollar a year for it,” he adds, and then leans across the table to whisper, accompanied by some heavy eyebrow action, “tax free.”
Paying tax, it has to be said, would never be listed among Sir Roger’s most favourite pursuits. “I live in Monaco for a very good reason,” he said. “If I hadn’t left England in the Seventies, I wouldn’t even be able to afford to go to Southend for my holidays. At that time, tax was 80 per cent of my earnings. As an actor, you have to pay tax at that level when you’re earning well, but you don’t get it back when you’re out of work.
I think that’s unfair. Luckily,” he added, “I never stopped working. I agree with Noël Coward who said that you should accept every job offered, because if you’re not working, you’re not an actor.” Sir Roger has not quite finished his testimonial for Monaco, however. “You pay no tax, there’s a fabulous police force, everything is within walking distance and Prince Albert is a super guy who I’ve known since he was a child.”
We were lunching at Quo Vadis, a suitably venerable venue in the heart of London’s Soho, but which has had a number of owners in recent years, most notably Marco Pierre White, and no one has made a real go of it. The new proprietors, Sam and Eddie Hart, who are also responsible for the excellent Spanish restaurant Fino, appear to be on the right track, concentrating on à la mode British grill-room cooking, with the accent on simplicity. So there are oysters, shrimps on toast, whitebait, four cuts of steak, a roast chicken for two, veal sweetbreads, grilled mackerel with potato salad, summer pudding, raspberry trifle… No fuss, no exotica (unless you include a starter of calf’s brains) and prices no more or less what you would expect up West. All served in an oak-panelled room with large tables and leather chairs. What with the stained glass, you could think you were in the Ivy, which, I guess, is the look they were going for.
I also suspect that, apart from effective tax planning, if there’s one thing Sir Roger knows about, it’s stuffed courgette flowers. He pronounced the Quo Vadis ones (£7.20) the best he has ever had. They looked rather alarming to me, prompting my guest to ask rhetorically, “What colour would you like your vibrator?” But, stuffed with mild goats’ cheese, fried in the lightest tempura batter and served with a tomato compote, they were, indeed, sensational. I had the somewhat more prosaic baby Dover sole (£11.50), which was, in truth, more like an infant, but was firm, fresh and perfectly cooked. By now, Sir Roger had ordered his third beer. “I hope the loo is not far,” he said, in classic, conspiratorial manner, and then tucked into his main course of slow-cooked shoulder of pork (£22.90), which, as he said, looked more like the whole darned pig, but I’m pleased to report Sir Roger did it justice. I had a fillet steak (£23). I know, it’s a bit boring. What can you say about a steak? Well, this was as smooth as my guest and was as beefy as Ian Botham. The individual silver mustard pots we were each given were a nice touch.
As he consumed the last morsel of his porcine treat, Sir Roger asked me: “Were you called Simon after Simon Templar [the Saint]?” I had to assure him that, despite my youthful looks, I pre-dated by a few years the suave hero with which he made his reputation in the Sixties. His portrayal of Templar made him a shoo-in to replace Sean Connery as James Bond in 1973. He went on to play Bond more times (seven) than anyone else, giving it his own sardonic take. “I played James Bond in a certain way because I found the character unbelievable. He was a spy, and yet he ordered the same drink everywhere he went.”
There’s something endearingly boyish – and naughty – about Sir Roger. He’s in his ninth decade, but he’s not giving in to age. “You can either grow old gracefully or begrudgingly,” he said. “I chose both. You know, God is very clever,” he added, “because every time you get a wrinkle, you lose a little of your eyesight. So, when you walk in the bathroom and look at the mirror, you look pretty good. It’s only when you put on your glasses that you say to yourself: ‘Blimey, I didn’t know you were here.'” And so it went on. Aperçu followed anecdote until it was deep into the afternoon. I could still be there listening if only I’d been given the chance. That’s the thing about Sir Roger. He’s not just Moore. He’s fabulously moreish.
By Simon Kelner – Photos by David Cutter. Originally published in the November 2008 issue of British GQ.