Bo Derek is beautiful – even though it is 7am for heaven’s sake (and she is chatting to me from the end of her bed in an airport hotel before she flies out to an animal welfare conference). Crazily we have to talk through a combination of Skype and Facetime (my phone propped up against a tea mug while I type) – you can see that she is still, at 58, very beautiful indeed.
Dressed in black, Bo stretches out her long limbs as she talks. She grew up on the beach – a strong and healthy southern Californian girl, with a gratitude to her parents for her looks (her father’s nose, her mother’s eyes). She had, she freely admits, at first looked forward only to marrying and having kids, but then doors started to open “because I was pretty.” Initially when film work was offered Bo thought it would pay for her surfing but things moved on very quickly.
When she was 16 she met her husband John Derek, 30 years her senior. THIRTY YEARS. Not long after they started dating, the two of them moved to Germany. This was serious – John divorced his wife. But also, more seriously, if they had stayed, he could have been charged with statutory rape. It was the start of a very new life. They hung out in Europe, lived as Bohemians. There was the “Hollywood makeover” – he changed her name (from Cathleen to Bo), and she changed her hair colourfrom brown to blonde. Things never looked back for her.
Bo is someone who has always had the courage to live a very individual life.
Her parents had brought her up with a great sense of adventure and fun, encouraging her to be free. But when she started dating John “they thought things had gone too far.” I wonder to myself what my own reaction would be if a 16 year old Domino told me she was disappearing off with a man my own age.
“Luckily”, Bo explains, in her gentle and calm voice, “he was a good person – I could possibly have been taken advantage of. But I wasn’t. I was lucky because our marriage lasted 25 years and it wasn’t the ‘gimmick’ that my parents had feared. It lasted until he died.”
But was it tough, moving at such a young age to another country? “I am a very content person in general,” Bo smiles, and you kind of feel how infectious that Californian quiet confidence is. “And I met so many interesting people. Maybe I took some wrong turns but I don’t really register them; I tend to look forward not backwards.”
So what would she tell her 14-year-old self? She is quick to answer this one: “Learn languages – they really enrich your life. I feel handicapped because I didn’t.”
So what does she think makes her life so extraordinary? All those films? “Well…”, she considers her answer carefully, “I did have so much fun making them!” she says “But now,” she continues, and you realise that this is something very important to her, “I think it’s because I can use my name to make a difference in animal welfare. I love horses and I am a racing commissioner, I am on the board and I can make a difference from the inside. Also, it’s fantastic to be in a position to help the people who really care – I am going to Mustique to a conference on bird trafficking and I know I will meet so many interesting and expert people. And I hope that my involvement will help.”
I have no doubt it will.