FROM the huge, lace-curtained windows of the Savoy Hotel you can glimpse the twinkling evening lights of the River Thames, hear the faint roar of London’s traffic, the honking of taxis. On the large double bed is a guide book about where to get a good cuppa tea.
Just the scene to make a Cockney sparrow chirp nostalgically…
But not exactly the setting you’d expect for the very French Mademoiselle Francoise Hardy, who is sprawled deliciously on the bed, not looking in the least homesick for her native Paris.
I am becoming accustomed to the much-publicised Gallic unpredictability of course. About a year ago I went to Paris to review the “Beat Scene” — couldn’t find one guitar and was hard put to unearth an accordionist in a beret.
Then there was that swinging weekend on the French Riviera with Tom Jones which ended with me rolling about with food poisoning after sampling some highly potent steak tartare in a romantic beach restaurant at Juan Les Pins.
Now here’s Francoise, darling of the Paris Left Bank, calmly ensconcing her self for a stay in London and relishing the thought of a supper of Cockney steak and kidney pud and a good cuppa.
A taste she acquired in Paris? Seems that English nosh is the “in-thing” there at the moment.
C’est la vie, I suppose.
We’re together in her suite. Francoise is ending a three-week wowing of London’s late-night people with her cabaret act at the hotel. She is also to appear on The London Palladium Show on Sunday.
She is wearing tight-fitting flared trews, a chunky-knit white sweater, high heeled boots. Her blonde hair is loose, yet framing itself perfectly around her long, sad face.
Five feet 7¾ inches tall, but an incredibly sparse 7st. 101b., she looks exactly like a model girl. “Model?” says Francoise, in a soft, husky Gallic voice that would encourage any red-blooded Englishman to dig the Channel Tunnel single-handed. “How can I be? I have not enough clothes.”
It’s true. Although she’s on nodding terms with top couturiers like Courreges, St. Laurent and Ricci, Francoise has a wardrobe of only 10 dresses. Unostentatious dresses, too.
In London she shops at Biba’s but on this trip it’s window shopping. “Oh, I spend so much money on my latest suit from Ricci. I dare not spend more,” she says, looking very ashamed.
“Enough to buy a row of dresses in Carnaby Street,” she says, throwing her long, artistic hands out in a beautifully timed gesture.
The suit is with Francoise in London. That’s it in the picture. She changed into it specially for the photograph and wears it only on special occasions.
Unlike any other woman, she’s terrified it might create a diversion outside. Such a strange trait for a pop star… this overpowering modesty, and finely tuned sense of humility.
Francoise admits, with a nonchalant shrug, that she:
- can’t dance;
- can’t play the guitar;
- and couldn’t possibly be a singer but for the invention of the microphone.
“Without a microphone I have no voice at all,” she adds.
Although she speaks English, Francoise employs a translator for her songs and admits she has great difficulty in mastering English vowel sounds and British dialects.
“Scotsmen, oh,” she declared, looking hopeless. “And you. You have funny accent. Are you from Scotland?” (I’m from Hampshire).
She has a studio flat in Paris, a house in Corsica, reads Agatha Christie, loves the Rolling Stones, and doesn’t drive in London because she loses her temper finding somewhere to park.
Hmm, this girl knows her London all right. I have the same problem but don’t lose my temper any more about parking. 1 simply don’t drive in London any more.
“You English,” says Francoise. “You are so polite and well organised. That is what I like about London.” She is “always in love, happily or unhappily, and it shows, I think, in my songs.” Francoise wants to know about the Palladium. It’s her first time there on Sunday. I report that it is large, impressive, and has an atmosphere all its own.
“It sounds very frightening,” she says. “But I have my own musicians with me. They will give me confidence.”
Dinner time is here. Francoise must change into a skirt, because the Savoy management still frown upon trousers (on girls!) in the restaurant. And Mlle. Hardy would rather go without her eagerly awaited steak and kidney pie than create a scene.