Last week’s death of actress, Elizabeth Taylor, prompted a fascinating journalistic nostalgia piece from Magnus Linklater, the editor of the Scottish edition of The Times, in which he recalled how, as a cub reporter on the Daily Express, he rubbed shoulders with the star in Dublin – and promptly missed his first exclusive.
Linklater had been dispatched to Dublin to cover the Taylor-Burton story at a time when her volatile marriage to Richard Burton was the biggest thing in showbusiness. He was shooting the John le Carré story, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. It was the mid-1960s.
Explained Linklater: “In those days journalists had access to movie stars that would be unimaginable today. I was allowed on set, was invited up to their hotel suite, sat drinking with Taylor in an airport bar, rode with her in her enormous Rolls.
“I was invited up to their suite in the Gresham Hotel, where I was given the stiffest gin and tonic I’d ever had. Burton was furious about something she had or had not said in public – she was getting more publicity than he was. ‘Oh God, you’re such a bore’, she yelled. ‘And you’re a pain in the arse’, he shouted back.
“Burton berated me for stooping to be a ‘damned showbiz reporter, the lowest of the low’, and said that I should be a proper writer like my father Eric (he had read all his books, which impressed me). I thought, on the contrary, that at that moment I had the best job in the world.
“My last meeting with Taylor was at Dublin airport, where I missed my first ever genuine scoop. That day it had emerged that Taylor’s hotel room had been burgled and she had lost £100,000 worth of jewellery (a lot in those days), including presents from most of her previous husbands. She had told me she was flying to Paris, so I waited for her in the airport bar. I still find it hard to believe that she simply walked in, said ‘Hi’, and demanded a whisky and soda.
“For the next half hour she poured out her misery at losing the jewellery, made caustic remarks about Claire Bloom’s acting and ruminated about the state of her marriage. My notebook sagged with exclusives.
“Then – horror of horrors – an announcement came that her plane had been delayed, and ten minutes later the Dublin press pack poured through the door.
“She duly told them everything she had just told me. My exclusive had just become disastrously inclusive. But the memory of my shared moments of intimacy with the most famous woman in the world … well, they can’t take that away from me.”