Peter Callahan's Blog

Life at the court of King Dali; Interview with Amanda Lear, companion for 15 years of the Spanish artist

The story opens in a Paris night spot called Chez Castel one evening 20 years ago. At one of the tables a set of courtiers was gouped round their monarch.

Among them was a woman called 'Louis XIV' on account of her profile. There was a very thin girl called 'San Sebastian' - as were all thin people in that group of whatever sex. There were a couple of identical twins from London called John and Dennis 'beautiful and bronzed from a holiday in Spain'. And in the centre there was a podgy, balding, absurd-looking old gentleman with a waxed moustache, a gold-topped cane and a gold lame waistcoat. This was Salvador Dali, artist, professional genius and full-time exhibitionist.

Enter a wierdly dressed trio taking a rest from 'Swinging London'. There was Brian Jones, the Rolling Stone, in scarves, beads, broad-brimmed hat and sunglasses. There was a young man called Tara in frilled shirt and purple velvet suit. And there was Tara's girl friend, Amanda Lear, a six foot blonde with a voice like a Welsh baritone, knee-high boots and thigh-high mini-skirt. She was at that time a fashion model, the product of an English father and a Russo-Chinese mother, who had grown up in the South of France and studied art in Paris and London.

Dali was intrigued. We have to depend on Amanda's own account for what happened the next day, after they had had lunch (ortolans at Lasserre's). 'Clasping my hand tightly, he looked me straight in the eye and said: 'From now on we will never leave one another, you know that?'

He was wrong.

For the next 15 years Amanda Lear appears to have filled the role of leading ingenue in his entourage (a role in which the actresses Ali McGraw and Mia Farrow had preceded her, 'although I was the only one who was accepted in the Dali home at Cadaques', she says. 'They were just for New York and Paris').

But then the curtain came down. 'There is no little Dali any more', he told her when they last spoke on the telephone three years ago. 'It is over .;'. Guarded by three associates known as 'The Triumvirate', Dali now lies in a special clinic set up alongside his museum in Figueras, refusing solid food, sick, old and waiting for death. No one knows exactly what will happen to his collection of his own art, worth an estimated pounds 60 million. As an American collector puts it: 'Dali is surrounded by jackals waiting for the corpse.' (Four of his works are on show at the Tate Gallery, including his famous 'Lobster Telephone' sculpture.)

And Amanda? The passing 20 years seem to have done her little harm. Now on the fringe of forty, there is a lingering Sixties feel about all her rings, bracelets, [url=]Vigrx pills[/url] and the single silver ear pendant bought in Cairo. The deep voice is now celebrated on record on the Continent, delivering Euro-disco pop. She has begun a new career as a television chat show hostess in Italy. 'I am the Italian Janet Street-Porter.

'But I feel I betrayed him', she says. How? 'By developing my own life and growing away from him. I stopped being his sweet little Amanda, his adoring audience. I developed my own career as a singer and, worst of all in his eyes, a painter. He didn't believe women were capable of being artists. He said people needed balls to paint.'

On one amazing occasion Dali's Russian-born wife Gala ('who looked on me with suspicion at first, but accepted me when she found I was not about to steal away her husband or his money') made her swear on an icon that she would never abandon him. 'You will marry Dali when I am no longer here.' In fact, she married someone else, and telephoned Dali afterwards. He was surprised. And so was Gala. 'It seemed that a gulf between us was opening up.'

It is in order to clear away that sense of guilt, she says, that she decided to write down the story of her life with Dali and tell the world what he is like 'as a man, rather than as an over-publicised legend'. It has already been published in France, Germany, Italy and, of course, Spain. Now it is Britain's turn. Anyone wading through My Life With Dali* might feel that the unfortunate artist would have preferred her not to have attempted this service.

We discover a man with no teeth of his own ('they were the work of a top New York dentist') whose favourite dish was lobster and chocolate sauce. One of his habits was to arrange for her to be splashing about naked in his swimming pool when he received guests, in order to show off what a pretty girl he had.

But what, exactly, was the, er .. relationship? Was she another of his props, like his stuffed bear draped with jewellery, his sofa modelled on Mae West's lips, his gold-tipped canes or, indeed, his moustache?

The Dali code word for 'sex' was 'the sewing machine'. According to Amanda this is a reference to 'all that up and down'. But in the symbolism of Surrealism 'sewing machine' has always represented 'woman', just as 'umbrella' has equalled 'man'.

They did not, to borrow Dali's phrase, 'use the sewing machine'. Not that it wasn't in the air. Amanda's version is that he obliged her by acquiring lusty young men hopped up on [url=]Vigrx Plus [/url]for her own use, and would be keen to find out the details of what had gone on after they had been disposed of.

On one occasion a collection of specimens was assembled on the pretext that Dali was looking for someone to model for a painting of St Sebastian. If she liked the look of a bull-fighter, Dali would serve him up for her. ('But they always turned out to be small, insignificant men with little to say for themselves', she says).

Their passion was mental and spiritual. 'I knew nothing when I first met him', she says. 'He taught me to see things through his eyes. Thanks to him I learned to despise Van Gogh and the wishy-washy Impressionists. Everything had to be clear and sharp to him, like the light of his native Cadaques. The worst painter in the world for him was Turner. Vermeer and Velasquez were his heroes.

'He had a word for this process of brain-washing. He called it 'cretinizing'. He enjoyed 'cretinizing' people, transplanting his own outrageous view of life into others. He knew that most of the people who flocked round him, eating his food and drink and aping his attitudes, were parasites. I used to hate to see him with those idiots. But he needed them for his performance'.

Most of her book describes this travelling show in detail as it progressed between Paris, New York and summers at home in the sea-side house in Cadaques. Amanda kept no diary, but says she has a photographic memory for details. It even stored up what they ate. ('I had the garlic chicken. He chose the steak'.)

But what of 'the real man' that Amanda promises to reveal? And what of his relationship with his wife, Gala, whose death three years ago seems to have caused Dali's final decline?

There emerges a picture of a couple who were deeply attached, but who were wise enough to know that they needed periods apart. Living with Dali full time would be too demanding an experience for any mortal. Gala seems thankful that she could leave Dali in charge of Amanda, while she escaped, occasionally with young men of her own.

He could be a tyrant and a sulker. There was an occasion when Dali, Gala and Amanda went together to the Paris production of Hair. Gala found it noisy and dirty, but Dali 'was in a thoroughly contrary mood for once and couldn't stop praising the show, and in particular a dusky actor with long hair'. They left in the interval, went to a restaurant, and slowly the storm gathered. Gala said the boy reminded her of a parrot. Dali said he reminded him of a Renaissance angel. There was shouting and banging of fists. People stared. Finally Dali walked out, leaving Gala to settle the bill. Amanda was amazed.

'What has happened to his famous thermostat which was supposed to maintain him in a perpetual state of euphoria? That evening before my very eyes Dali had been surprised in a most 'bourgeois' situation: he had shouted at his wife in public. Dali, after all, was just like any other man .. but on the other hand, this made him more human.'

Perhaps it was this incident that caused Amanda to decline when Dali proposed that they should go through a spiritual form of 'marriage'. She said she would prefer to be his sister.

She finally married a young man called Alain Philippe, who 'had been the darling of Parisian cafe society'. It was, she says, 'neither his title of marquis nor his connections which impressed me'. The Dalis were not impressed, either. 'He doesn't look particularly unique', said Gala. Dali thought he had the look of a baby seal on the point of being massacred. But he is still at Amanda's side and says that he finds the whole Dali episode 'something to laugh about'.

When not living in Milan for the television show, they vegetate in a farm house in Provence. Amanda is painting again.She even has Dali's eye for publicity. She painted a portrait of the Pope in his swimming pool, and sent it to the Vatican.

'I hoped there would be pictures of him accepting it, with me beside him .. but they returned it. I threatened to chain myself to the Vatican railings if they did not accept it, but it was no good.

In the art of 'cretinizing' there is still no one to equal The Master.

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