Douglas Thmopson - Author and International Journalist


Whether it's Dennis Hopper admitting he ran naked through Mexico or Nicolas Cage explaining his belief that champagne and red wine can reduce your cholesterol, Douglas Thompson has heard it all.

After publishing his first celebrity biography, Madonna, in 1991, the journalist and biographer from Little Sampford has written about everyone from John Travolta and Leonardo Di Caprio to Clint Eastwood. But he says that interviewing movie stars isn't what it used to be.

"The PRs have now taken over," he says. "Cruise was part of the start of it. I did an interview with him in an office at Fox, studios in 1985 after he did that bloody awful film Legend. The PR lady was a total control freak, and he was the same strange, closed-off character he is now. These days you get 10 minutes in a hotel room with movie stars and need 20 signatures just to get an eight by 10 picture of Tom Cruise."

Douglas remembers the days when Hollywood icon Lloyd Bridges, father of Jeff and Beau, took his tape recorder and walked up and down the beaches of Malibu revealing his thoughts. Or the time he went to a lunch with Rock Hudson, and it went on all day.

"Luckily a few stars are still normal, like Nicolas Cage. Writing his biography was good fun. He absolutely thinks he's Elvis. He tried to convince me that champagne and red wine were good for my cholesterol, which was a big health thing in California at the time. I think by the end he had pretty much convinced himself it could also help you walk across water. But he was great fun. I remember he was in love with Patricia Arquette at the time and kept sending her cards or Ferraris or something!"

Born in Scotland, Douglas worked as a journalist in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Manchester and then London before moving to LA as the Daily Mails West Coast correspondent.
"My past followed me to California," he says. "In Manchester on night shifts all I seemed to do was go to night clubs because George Best was there. I moved to London and, sure enough, George started chasing Miss World around the capital. I went to America and George joined the Los Angeles Aztecs. I remember one time I had finally arranged an interview with Bob Dylan, who didn't do any press, and the phone rang. George Best was getting married in Las Vegas, and I was on the next plane. Suddenly, no one cared about Bob Dylan."

Although Douglas Thompson has gained the trust of some of the world's biggest celebrities, he doesn't believe he has any particular talent for it. "Someone once told me I'm brilliant with mad people. So maybe that's it. For movie stars, reality goes out the window when they hand their sunglasses to someone to hold for the first time. You have to counter that by being down to earth. I've worked .with photographers who won't get their cameras out because they don't want to upset the star, and you're not going to get very far that way. I remember my wife Lesley, who was Hollywood editor of the TV Times, did a piece on Joan Collins. Joan was sitting with rollers in her hair and a fag on, and the photographer said 'when you're ready, we'll go'. My wife nudged him and said 'No, take the picture now!'"
Aiming to tell a great story, Douglas relies on fact rather than sensation to sell his books.
"I'm not out to screw them. Today's culture is far more abrasive. But in my biographies I try to tell the truth. Of course, if there are skeletons to rattle then I rattle them, but I don't think people want to read nothing but gossip in books. That's part of today's 24-hour news. And, usually, people only buy books about names they like. Otherwise why doesn't someone do one on David Frost?"

Thompson spent a decade working for the Mail On Sunday's You Magazine. Sent all over the world to interview stars, he says that getting them away from home is half the battle.
"Going to Sarawak in Borneo and spending two weeks interviewing Nick JS folte while he was shooting Farewell to the King-was the weirdest experience, but it meant I had loads to write about.

"When they are away on location, away from home, they're morerelaxed. Like a holiday romance. At home they are on guard. We were in the rain forest, and bugs kept falling on our heads. At the end of the day, all the exotic local tribeswomen would take off their wonderful costumes and be wearing things like 'I love Coca-Cola T-shirts, which rather spoiled the effect."

But he says some stars cope with fame and fortune better than others. While researching a feature on DH Lawrence, Douglas came across a man who claimed to have looked after Dennis Hopper at the height of his drink and drugs binge.
"He said Hopper was mad, doing 800 tonnes of cocaine and 10 litres of Bacardi a day He had him tied up like a dog so he wouldn't do any damage because he was always totally paranoid with all the drugs and the drink."

Later, when Douglas tracked down Hopper, the '"Oh there's far more than that,' he said to me. 'I was filming hi Mexico and tried to get out of a plane while it was in the air, and I ran naked through the cacti. It was at that point that I thought I should try and get some help.'"

According to Douglas, the late star of the silver screen, Stewart Granger, was also something of a hedonist.

"He never had people to stay and when I went into his spare room, I realised why. It was completely full with crates of vodka. There was no room for guests."

Splitting his time between his idyllic country home on the border of Cambridgeshire and Los Angeles, Thompson is lucky enough to have made his fortune doing what he loves. • Sitting in the office of his converted barn, once used as the set for Lovejoy, he is surrounded by pictures of himself with Tom Jones, Olivia Newton John, Tom Cruise, Clint Eastwood, John Travolta and Samuel L Jackson... the list goes on.

And it's not just the famous that he's come into contact with - there's the infamous, top. As we look at a picture of him sitting on Reggie Kray's hospital bed, he mentions casually that he was the last journalist to interview the notorious gangland killer before he died in 2000.

Another picture shows him clinking glasses with Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs, and Christine Keeler, the showgirl from the Profumo scandal, spent many hours collaborating with Douglas.

Despite his experience, Douglas sometimes finds the stars are less than willing to talk.
"I went to see Sean Connery while he was filming on a movie called Meteor. Everything had been arranged, but when he opened the door, he shouted: I'm suing Cubby Broccoli, you'll have to f*** off. I asked him how much for? He said: 'When I sue, I sue. 220 million dollars .' Well, I wandered off and 'phoned the story in."
Even though Douglas' career in show business began more than 30 years ago, he says the Golden Age magic of Hollywood was on the decline long before he arrived.

"Stewart Granger told me that at the height of his stardom in the 1950s he fought his way to the-front of the crowds to see Errol Flynn posing with a black panther and a statuesque white woman on one arm and an equally exotically proportioned black women holding a leopard on the other. Now that's real show business," he said.
"For me, it beats an eight by 10 of Tom Cruise any day"

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