Not long ago I found one of my school notebooks from 1995, when I would have been 9 years old. I’d obviously been asked to fill in responses to a sort of pop quiz questionnaire. I’d written, in my neat childish hand: “If I could be any famous real person I would be Roger Moore, because in some of my favourite movies Roger Moore plays the lead role.”
No prizes for guessing that I meant James Bond. In fact, a few lines later I go on to summarise the plot of Ian Fleming’s short story ‘A View To A Kill’, which I’m not sure I should have been reading at 9. I described the violent tale about assassins in Versailles as “the best story book I have ever read.”
I’m telling you this so you understand that when I say Roger Moore was my childhood hero, I really mean it. His was the life I wanted: full of glamorous locations, bottomless cocktails and always ready with a pun and a raised eyebrow. I’m not sure I fully understood what he meant by “Keeping the British end up, sir” at the end of The Spy Who Loved Me, or why Q’s Moonraker line: “I think he’s attempting re-entry, sir” was so funny, but I howled at them anyway. I probably thought he was talking about kissing.
I finally got to meet my hero last year, shortly before what was to be his final appearance on stage at the Royal Festival Hall in November. I bought a three-piece suit for the occasion, because there was no way I could go to meet James Bond wearing a t-shirt.
The first thing I said to him was: “Thank you.” I told him how much his films had meant to me, and how excited they had made me to go out and explore the world. “You’re welcome!” he said, with a grin. “I’ve been lucky all my life. From the time I started making movies and television I played heroes. Never had to say too much, got the girl, won all the fights, got to keep the clothes. What more can you ask for?”
He was, exactly as you’d imagine, endlessly charming company. He was self-deprecating about his own acting ability, but he taught me how to make the perfect Martini (with gin, not vodka) and how to deliver the perfect one-liner. He said his own favourite was from The Man With The Golden Gun: “When I’m, when Bond, is asking the gunsmith about Scaramanga. He’s got a rifle that I’m lining up. I’m asking him where’s something something. I’m pointing the gun right at his balls and I said: ‘Speak now, or forever hold your piece.’ Which I love. I love that line.”
Roger Moore has always been tied up with my idea of what it means to be British. How could it not be, when he was the man who skied over the cliff edge only to be saved by a Union Jack parachute? After Brexit, and with the Conservative government going back on its promise to take in refugees from Syria, I wanted to know what he thought Britain’s role in the world should be.
“I hope we continue to be important contributors to alleviating the effects of poverty,” he said. “I don’t like the newspaper campaigns that take the government to task for the amount of money it gives to other countries. Yes, some of it gets abused, but it’s important.”
When I asked him whether as a country we should take in more refugees, he replied: “I drive around England quite a lot. We have an awful lot of space, we really do. It’s because we’re a fortunate society that people want to come here. If they’re coming for non-economic reason then that’s all the more reason we should take them. If they’re coming for economic reasons, if they have something to contribute, then I don’t blame the poor bastards for getting out! They’re doing exactly what the British did 400 years ago.”
As much as we might picture Roger Moore living the good life on the Riviera, or turning up as Bond somewhere exotic wearing a safari suit, he dedicated his own life to campaigning against war and poverty for UNICEF. “I went to El Savador on my first UNICEF field trip, and learnt first-hand about what life was like in a favela,” he told me. “You see a very different world to the world that Bond saw,”
For me, Roger Moore embodied an idea of Britishness totally at odds with the insular worldview and false nostalgia of Brexit. He hated the idea that we should cut our overseas aid budgets, or build walls to keep out refugees. He spoke about a Britain that goes out into the world and makes it a better place for everyone. For that, he’ll always be my hero.