Born Lucky: my mum Jackie Collins and her wild child alter ego (The Guardian)
(Original story posted in The Guardian)
I used to forget that my mother was famous, but I’d soon remember when we were out and a whispered hush would descend as we walked through a restaurant or a shop. Once a new friend, visiting my first flat, picked up a framed photograph on the table and said: “Why do you have a picture of yourself with Jackie Collins?”
Mostly, my mother was exactly that: my mother. And Jackie Collins became a persona that she slipped into when the jeans came off and the diamonds went on. She weaved her way seamlessly between the domestic and the glamorous, bringing something unique to each. I realised from a young age that if mum was two people in our day-to-day lives, in her writing life she morphed into many. She loved to read excerpts of her works in progress out loud. I’d perch on my chair in her writing study, waiting to hear which character would arrive next.
I believe that each and every person who appeared on her pages reflected some aspect of herself. But no character captured her heart more than her beloved and immortal Lucky Santangelo. Mum used to say: “Lucky is who every woman wants to be.” What I do know is that Lucky is exactly who my mother wanted to be – and in many ways was. Her inception and subsequent gripping escapades through nine different novels ignited her passion far beyond any amount of fame.
Lucky had no doubt been gestating in my mother’s vivid imagination for years, sculpted from her own adventures and observant eye. She first appears in Chances, the epic 1981 novel about a New York street kid called Gino who becomes the leader of a powerful crime family with big stakes in Vegas. Lucky is Gino’s daughter: when she’s born, he calls her “the most exquisite creature he had ever set eyes on”. Lucky is soon following in his footsteps.
While mum was fitting in writing between the school run and cooking dinner, Lucky was escaping out of windows. Falling in love. Finding herself. Battling with her father. Making friends. Making enemies. Dealing with loss. Flirting. Negotiating. Taking revenge. Making amends. Having kids. Listening to soul music. Driving fast down Pacific Coast Highway.
In Lady Boss, a favourite with fans, Lucky takes on Hollywood and buys Panther Studios, while her marriage to the irresistible actor, Lennie Golden, is put to the test. “From the very beginning,” she wrote, “they were destined to be a lethal combination. Two stubborn, crazy, smart people … Together they generated blazing heat.”
Jackie Collins adored Lucky and her passion translates on to the page. I don’t know anyone who has read the books who doesn’t adore Lucky too. Not only is she stunning, she’s also whip smart, unafraid, stubborn, bold, intuitive and fiercely loyal. Hmmm, sounds familiar. She runs businesses, takes no prisoners, exudes confidence and – as my mother liked to say – kicks some serious ass.
Lucky was always destined to be ageless. If James Bond was never going to grow old and infirm, then Lucky Santangelo certainly wasn’t going to either. There was nothing that irked mum more than the double standard. She mirrored the seductive vitality and spark of her alter ego: a “wild child” to the end, she defied all expectations by, two weeks before her death, boarding a plane back to London, where both she and Lucky began their adventures. She had to go back, one last time, if only so we could all move forward without her.
I’ve learned through experience that relationships do not truly end when someone dies, but instead transform. I still feel so connected to my mother. I talk to her every day and can hear her voice and feel her hugs as if she is right here with me. For all the grateful readers who mourned her loss, and the many who have yet to explore her work, Lucky is our conduit.
My mum received thousands of messages over the decades from her dedicated fans declaring their devotion to Lucky. She has given women – and men – courage to be strong, to find their voices, to own their sexuality, to make bold decisions. Lucky has proven an inspiration to people when their worlds were dark or unsteady, and holding on tight to the pages of a Jackie Collins novel felt like a lifeline. So much for trashy beach reads.
Lucky was also a lifeline to my mother herself. She kept her focused and enthralled during the years of her life when she was turning her attention towards living with cancer, rather than dying from it. Every day I hear how dearly missed she is. The way I see it, as long as Lucky Santangelo is striding panther-like through the pages of a Jackie Collins novel, Jackie Collins will be striding panther-like beside her.
• The Santangelos by Jackie Collins is published in paperback in the UK by Simon & Schuster on 10 March, at £7.99. More details: jackiecollins.com