Sir Roger Moore has just become a grandfather for the fifth time. He’s cock-a-hoop, but weary. Maximilian, his second grandson, was born at 5.30 this morning, keeping him ‘on tenterhooks’ for most of the night. ‘Zara, Max’s mother, had been having contractions, but I’d had to come to Geneva for a Unicef auction at Christie’s,’ he says.
‘There’s no way I couldn’t come. Christian [Roger’s son] said, “What’s more important Dad, your new grandson or flying off to a dinner?” I said, “The birth may not happen today, but the auction is now and I have to go.” In a way he was testing me. He likes to provoke, but I was on tenterhooks.’ Roger says this with a warm, deepthroated laugh that sounds like the gentle revving of James Bond’s trademark Aston Martin.
Today, he’s 84 and knighted for his work as a Goodwill Ambassador to Unicef, which he says is just as well, as he’d have had to wait ‘500 years’ to be honoured for his acting. Roger is passionate about Unicef – so much so that his fourth wife Kristina worries he’s working himself into an early grave for the children’s charity. Eight years ago he had a pacemaker fitted after collapsing on stage in New York, and a decade earlier he discovered he had prostate cancer.
Roger rarely gives interviews and, when he does, he bats away questions about his private life with his legendary wit. The cancer, for example, is normally dismissed as ‘a pain in the a***’. Today, though, he’s more forthcoming. ‘The prostate thing turned around my life,’ he admits. ‘I thought, “I’m going to do what I want now, not what others want all the time.”’ What did he want? ‘Kristina.’ His voice trembles with emotion when he says his wife’s name.
‘When I met her she was a neighbour and, though I felt a strong attraction to her, I thought, “That won’t go anywhere.” But when I had the prostate problem I thought, “This is the direction my life has to go.”’ Roger was married at the time to his third wife Luisa, the mother of his three children Deborah, 48, Geoffrey, 44, and Christian, 38. When he told her he was leaving, the fall-out was of nuclear proportions, provoking a torrent of vitriol from Luisa who, after receiving a reported ?10 million divorce settlement, insisted she’d been betrayed by her friend Kristina and discarded by her husband.
Roger has stayed silent on the matter, not wanting to engage in a ‘war of words’ with the mother of his children. ‘I wasn’t a particularly good husband but I’m an OK father and an OK grandfather,’ he says. ‘It’s a growing family. Kristina also has a daughter and a son and two grandsons. I have no aggravation at the moment. Growing up is when you become very happy with the person you’re with.’
Roger and socialite Kristina married in a small secret ceremony in Copenhagen in 2002. ‘We didn’t tell anyone when we were getting married – no family, no one. Either you make a song and dance of it or you do it very quietly. We went to a little church and had three choristers. In Denmark you do a little wedding waltz after the ceremony, so we did that, then the priest made us two martinis and I had lots of oysters back at the hotel. It was a wonderful day.’
Weren’t his children disappointed? ‘No, they were fine. Well, just one of them was a little peeved. But they all knew the deep affection Kristina and I had for one another. They thanked her for making me so content. Then I took Kristina to California to meet some very close friends like Frank Sinatra and Gregory Peck. There was a very touching moment when Greg met her for the first time. He put his arms around her and said, “Thank you for making my friend so happy.” That was lovely. But if the children had been in their teens or younger I couldn’t have done it.’
Roger is a besotted father. When his oldest child Deborah was born he says he couldn’t stop smiling. ‘I remember when she was three weeks old, I was driving and stopped at a traffic light. A car pulled alongside me and I was sitting there with a huge grin on my face. I thought, “God, they must think I’m slightly cuckoo.”’ We meet to talk about A Christmas Princess, a festive family movie in which Roger plays a Duke who befriends a brother and sister who have lost their parents. ‘It’s a feel good film,’ he says. ‘I don’t have to jump around or shoot anybody, and there are no explosions.’
It’s all a long way from Roger’s humble beginnings as an only child born in south London to doting parents George, a policeman, and Lillian. He ended up acting by chance when he was spotted working as an extra in the film Caesar And Cleopatra in 1945. He went to RADA where he met his first wife, Doorn Van Steyn, whom he married in 1946. But the marriage was a disaster, largely due to a lack of money. It ended when he met the woman who was to become his second wife, the temperamental singer Dorothy Squires, who was 12 years his senior.
They travelled together to New York where Roger’s fortunes as an actor changed. ‘In London I was one of a whole shoal of fish who looked a bit alike and spoke the same. In America I was a slightly different fish in the pond. I was spotted and signed by MGM. But I had no confidence at all. I was always nervous of looking a fool.’In Denmark you do a little wedding waltz after the ceremony, so we did that, then the priest made us two martinis and I had lots of oysters back at the hotel...
Dorothy was a gay icon in those days but Roger was, he says now, ‘100 per cent heterosexual’ and left her after meeting Luisa, then a beautiful 28-year-old Italian actress on the set of the low-budget French-Italian film The Rape Of The Sabine Women. He’s said since that had he had children with Dorothy (she suffered a series of miscarriages) he might have made a different decision. Indeed, he now deeply regrets the shabby way he treated his second wife. ‘Life is full of regret,’ he says. ‘Have you got 15 hours? I don’t have many regrets I’d talk about, but yes, I regret that.’
So much so, in fact, that when Dorothy underwent surgery for bladder cancer in 1996, Roger picked up the bill. And at her funeral two years later a bouquet of purple tulips and lilies of the valley arrived with a card with the words, ‘I’ve said it with flowers.’ Now he says, ‘I don’t believe there’s a man with long white hair and a long white beard sitting on a big throne up in the clouds, but I do believe there’s an intelligence. I think there’s some form of reincarnation, where souls come back and might lead a tortured life because they never acquired enough knowledge before they left. I think the purpose of life is to acquire knowledge and use it. Not to use it is a sin.
‘I’m proudest now of being able to do something useful.’ By which he means his work with Unicef. ‘I worked with an actor many years ago who told me one morning he’d slept badly. I said, “Why? Guilty conscience?” He said, “No, it’s not the things I did, it’s the things I didn’t do. I could have helped my mother more.” They’re the regrets one has – like not working with Unicef earlier in life.
‘The truth is, I was very different to Bond,’ he says. ‘I would find it very difficult to kill, or to be as flippant with women as Bond. But I had so many good years with him. Mostly, you had a job to do and you had to get on with it. Your priorities, when making films in places like Egypt, was not the poverty around you, but that you had to look immaculate. You couldn’t be sweating, so you had to change your shirt every five minutes because of the heat.’ And with that, he’s off to his auction to raise another small fortune for charity.