Katherine MacAlister talks to former 007 Roger Moore, who will be at the New Theatre next month
“Sorry, I’ve got a frog in my throat,” Sir Roger Moore coughs, sounding as unmistakable now as ever.
His voice takes me straight back to those endless afternoons spent watching his stints as 007 again and again, and I wonder idly if his eyebrow still curls in the same ironic manner, if those blue eyes still dance in merriment, and whether he still refuses to take life too seriously.
He is in Monaco when we speak, where he lives for half the year, the other six months being spent at his new home in Crans Montana after 15 years in Gstaad, which seems fitting for a former Bond and one of Hollywood’s most prestigious old school stars.
The 86-year-old is as distinguished and suave now as he was back in his heyday, when roles in The Saint, The Persuaders, Wild Geese and, of course, his seven appearances as James Bond — making him still the longest-serving secret agent to date — rolled in one after the other.
Effusive, charming and gracious as always, he is, though, almost impossible to interview, ducking and diving questions with skills 007 would be proud of.
“When you’ve been around as long as I have, on a lucid day you remember all sorts of things, and if you don’t you can always make them up,” he chuckles.
Currently in the UK with a tour to promote, Roger Moore is, however, preparing to spill the beans in ‘an evening with’ style show, when he will be interviewed by Gareth Owen, who worked on Roger’s latest book: Last Man Standing: Tales from Tinseltown.
So why the dual approach? “Gareth knows me better than I know myself, so with my approaching amnesia he can jump in and remind me what I’m supposed to be saying,” Roger laughs, “and people ask questions.”
Do people always ask about Bond? “Yes mainly,” he replies, “but I’m still waiting for someone to ask if my teeth are my own.”
He can be as blase as he wants but I’ve seen the Roger Moore effect first-hand — the last time he visited Oxford, Blackwell’s had people queueing right around the block, turning out in their thousands to see the living legend in the flesh.
“Come on there were only three people there,” he smiles. “It’s always a very pleasant surprise, although I think people only turn up to see whether I’m still alive or not...”
Surely with his level of fame and fortune, though, touring the country and entertaining us all with his anecdotes is above and beyond the call of duty?
“My wife [Kristina ‘Kiki’ Tholstrup) gets fed up of me sitting around at home and she enjoys travelling around,” he says pleasantly.
“Being Swedish she hasn’t seen a lot of these places and neither have I so we quite enjoy that. Not the packing and unpacking, but we enjoy the scenery and stopping for a nice lunch.”
There must be more to it than a stop gap between shopping?
“Why do I do it? I’m an ego maniac and I love applause,” he says refusing to bite.
“I suppose it’s going right back to my first memories when I stepped out on stage, said my first words and knew that’s what I wanted to do. I’m just a natural show-off.”
It’s not the same now though, his Hollywood days far removed from today’s social media infested waters, but not even that gets a rise.
“If you can’t enjoy yourself when working, when can you?” he shrugs, “because you get paid quite well and no one is forcing you to be an actor, it’s still something people want to do because it’s fun.”
It’s only when you mention his beloved UNICEF however, that I finally get a straight answer from Roger Moore. Having been introduced to the charity by none other than Audrey Hepburn, he has been working tirelessly on its behalf ever since.
“Sadly I can’t do as much travelling for them now as I used to, because I can’t do long flights, so they have other good people doing that now, and instead I talk about UNICEF and the plight of the children when and where I can.”
He adds: “We need to have compassion or passion, like Audrey Hepburn did, and once you’ve been in the field and seen the appalling conditions and witness how people live, without food or water, and in wars, you cannot help but feel involved, so I’ve done everything now and I can make bricks and build an outside toilet and plumb pipes, and I’m an authority on getting water.
“In fact, I found myself giving a passionate speech about breastfeeding the other day and thought it a bit rich coming from an old Bond, but it’s so important and someone’s got to talk about it. It’s a serious issue and not a joke, so I’m still a spokesperson because I want to be and love working with UNICEF.”
At least it means Roger Moore can dip in and out of the UK, having left for tax reasons.
“It’s not that I wasn’t allowed to stay. It was my choice and for a very good reason. But my daughter and stepdaughter both live in London so we have a good excuse to pop back.
“Kristina likes to visit Harvey Nichols and Harrods so we are backwards and forwards a lot, and see my English friends, but not enough to be domiciled.
“But there are things that I miss, like bottles of milk being delivered, although you can buy baked beans everywhere now and watch English TV, the BBC on good days...”.
So does he reminisce about his early days growing up in Lambeth? “I have time to reflect yes, although I’m happy when I can remember what I had for breakfast, and yet I can recall words of songs and plays I learned as a child.”
At least he still has his own hair, although whether they are his own teeth now remains to be seen.
“I know and no grey hairs,” he smiles. “We were discussing it this weekend and everyone was saying ‘oh come on you must dye your hair’, but I don’t. My father didn’t either, and I’m disappointed because I was looking forward to looking distinguished with some silver at the temples like Stewart Granger, yet it seems it wasn’t to be. I think it’s in the genes. But as far as my career goes, it was all luck and still is.”
An Evening with Sir Roger Moore is on Wednesday, September 17 at 7.30pm at the New Theatre in Oxford. Tickets are £28.90. To book, visit atgtickets.com/oxford or call 0844 871 3020.