A gift of love, gratitude and respect to my Precious Prince
by Tina Wyngarde-Hopkins
What do you say about a man like PETER WYNGARDE?
At the time of his passing, I’d known PETER for almost 30 years, and as the closest person to him I was, rightfully, expected to give a eulogy at his funeral on Thursday, 25th February, 2018. Whilst there are at least a million words that could be used to describe PETER, I was forced to defer – simply because I was far too distraught to speak. In my stead, I requested that ‘Love Song for a Vampire’ by Annie Lennox be played during the service, because it said everything that I was unable to. For those not familiar with the song, these are the lyrics:
Come into these arms again
And lay your body down
The rhythm of this trembling heart
Is beating like a drum
It beats for you – It bleeds for you
It knows not how it sounds
For it is the drum of drums It is the song of songs…
Once I had the rarest rose That ever deigned to bloom.
Cruel winter chilled the bud And stole my flower too soon.
Oh loneliness – oh hopelessness
To search the ends of time
For there is in all the world
No greater love than mine.
Love, oh love, oh love…
Still falls the rain… (still falls the rain)
Love, oh love, oh, love… (Still falls the night)…
Love, oh love, oh love… Be mine forever…. (be mine forever)
Love, oh love, oh love….
Let me be the only one
To keep you from the cold
Now the floor of heaven’s lain
With stars of brightest gold
They shine for you – they shine for you
They burn for all to see
Come into these arms again
And set this spirit free
Listening to these words at the service – tears streaming down my face – felt as if Ms Lennox had tapped into to my heart and mind, and had managed to set all my thoughts and feelings to music. I certainly couldn’t have said it any better.
I first became acquainted with PETER when I set up his Appreciation Society in 1990, but it was clear from the very beginning that there was more to our new-found acquaintance than just Star and Fan Club Secretary.
Before long, I was doing much more for him than merely answering fan mail. Whenever I visited London, he’d either take me out for a meal at a nice restaurant or we’d go to the theatre. We’d spend hours just talking at his flat, and whilst he would mentor me with my writing, I’d give him lessons on his computer which, sadly, he never completely got the hang of (just blame the teacher!). I can’t tell you the number of times he’d start work on a script or story, only to lose it as a result of his not saving it correctly. I’d then get a frantic call, pleading with me to help retrieve his precious work. However, trying to give someone as computer-illiterate as PETER instructions over the phone was synonymous with directing a hamster to land Concorde using smoke signals!
“Have you tried rebooting it?” I’d enquire, hopefully.
“Reboot it!” he’d reply. “I’ll boot the bloody thing out of the window in a minute!”
“I’ll take that as a ‘No’ then!”
Another thing he never fully got to grips with was my Northern (English) accent. I remember standing in his “Drawing Room”, regaling him with a long-winded tale about Rugby League while he sat and listened intently on the sofa…
“…Lomax defused u’bomb reet under us own sticks; took off darn touchline, rounded their Full-Back an’ went in under’t posts!”
When I at last finished my anecdote I stood, awaiting his reaction. After a second or two, he declared: “It’s a completely different language!”
Trying to speak to him over the ‘phone was even more tricky, as I’d either end up repeating myself about 900 times, or I’d be forced to spell everything out for him. There was one instance when I was working away several years ago, and I’d sent him a chocolate egg and card for Easter. When he called, I asked whether he’d received my parcel or not:
“What is it that you’ve sent to me?” he enquired.
Me (in broad Lancastrian): “An Easturegg”
He: “A what?”
Me (louder): “AN EAST-U-REGG”
He: “Spell it!”
Me: “A.N. E.A.S.T.E.R. E.G.G.!”
He: (Exclaiming) “Oh! An EASTER EGG!”
Me: “That’s what I said!”
The language barrier was IMMENSE!
Although communication wasn’t always as it might be, he did manage to pick up several pieces of ‘colloquial Lancastrian’, which resulted in his eating a “Butty” as opposed to a Sandwich, or referring to the great British delicacy of chips, fish and peas as a “Split’n’fish”.
In return, he taught me how to set out a script, make bullets(!) and create something more sophisticated for lunch that a boiled egg and toast. PETER was an absolutely fabulous cook, who was successful in demonstrating that there were other things to eat than oven chips and baked beans. That said, to make me feel “more at home”, he’d often cook what he described as “healthy burgers”, which I must confess, were delicious. His breakfasts were legendary!
⇑ PETER kept this on his mantel piece, as he believed we’d been together in a previous life, and that we’d be “as one” again in the future.
Of course, not everything was rosy in the garden for us – at least not all of the time. We would sometimes have the most explosive arguments, which would usually end with me saying I’d had enough and storming off in a huff. One such “misunderstanding” (his term for a good ol’ fashioned barny) took place on the eve of our going to Portmeirion in September, 2017. I can’t remember what it was that instigated it, but I do recall that Thomas (Bowington) – PETER’s agent – ended up acting as a go-between. So there was I bawling: “…well, tell HIM I’m not going then!” And PETER saying in return: “If SHE doesn’t go, then I’M not going either!” It ended with Thomas commenting to PETER that we sounded not unlike an old married couple: “But, that’s what we are!” came the reply.
We ended up with a code which we’d use when one of our quarrels started to get out of hand: one or other of us was meant to say, simply, ‘Solomon Issacs’, and the instigator of said squabble was meant to immediately fall silent. In reality, neither of us took a blind scrap of notice of poor ‘Solomon’, resulting in the dispute escalated from thereon in.
The thing about PETER, tho’, was – regardless of the severity of our disagreements, he never ONCE held a grudge. Where I’d simmer for days afterwards, with him, it was forgotten in an instant. One time whilst we were staying in a hotel somewhere in Wales, there’d been a bit of a set-to. I’d gone out for a walk to calm down and when I got back, he was asleep. Whilst I was still muttering under my breath the following morning and readying myself for Round 2, he completely disarmed me when he woke by declaring: “Darling, you didn’t kiss me goodnight last night!”
During the time he was in hospital, we did discuss getting married but, sadly, his condition worsened before we were able to do anything about it. It was a matter that we’d touched upon before. I recall a conversation the two of us had one evening when he said, quite out of the blue: “You know, if I was ever to marry again, it would be to you”. Just by mentioning this I know I’m risking a backlash from those people who BELIEVE they know PETER and I better than we know ourselves. In March 2015, a fan took it upon himself to write to PETER because he didn’t believe that we were as close as had been indicated. Quite what our relationship had to do with this person is anyone’s guess, but in spite of me warning that it wouldn’t end well for him if he went ahead with his plan to contact PETER, he mailed his vitriolic note anyway. On receipt of it, PETER went absolutely ballistic at such an intrusion, and responded with what he described as a “stinking letter” – warning this individual to stay away and to leave me alone. That was another thing about PETER. Whilst he didn’t shrink away from letting those closest to him know when he wasn’t best pleased with us, he would defend us to the hilt if anyone outside ‘The Family’ attempted to injure us in any way. Loyalty was very important to him, but it worked both ways.
Work to PETER was THE most important thing in his life, and he gave 100% to everything he did, whether he was appearing in a huge blockbuster movie like ‘Flash Gordon’, or being interviewed by a student journalist. Whatever he was invited to do, he’d literally work for weeks on everything he intended say. Each and every word was studied; read and reread. He was the consummate professional.
When cast in any production, including those on radio, he’d sit for hours sketching how his character would look and what he might wear – right down to the very last stitch. And woes betide anyone who interrupted this work! Of course it was OK for him to barge in with a phone call or text when one of us was toiling away, but God help you if did it to him!
That said, you always knew where you stood with PETER: if he didn’t like you there was no dressing it up, you’d know about it. But by the same token, if he did like you, you knew you had a friend for life. He was loving and warm, and would always be ready with an affectionate or kind word of support should you need it.
One thing he used to do that often drove me mad was to call at 1.30 0r 2 O’clock in the morning when I was away just to tell me that the film he happened to be watching that night wasn’t up to standard, or to complain about the tennis. Alternatively, he’d text at some unearthly hour, wake me up, and then text again five minutes later (just as I was nodding off again) to apologise for waking me up!
⇑ PETER’s nickname for me was ‘Little Bear’
Although he could never memorise how to turn his computer on, he did manage remembered every hospital, dentist or doctor’s appointment I had, and would always wish me luck on the night before. Whenever I was out of town somewhere, I was required to call him to let him know I’d arrived safely, and if I didn’t ring for some reason, he’d go into a blind panic – calling all our mutual friends to see if they’d heard from me.
Whilst he was always in full control when on stage or screen, he wasn’t quite so well-ordered in his day-to-day life. In fact, I’d often say to him that he was like a baby bird, given the amount of tending he needed. One day I answered my phone to hear a truly pitiful voice at the other end, saying: “Darling, I’ve lost my keys!” From 200 miles away, I had to call for a locksmith, contact Transport for London Lost Property Office to see if the driver of the taxi he’d taken had found them, and arrange somewhere for him to stay until new locks were fitted.
As a teetotaller, PETER absolutely loved tea, but was also partial to a can of ice-cold Diet Coke. And although he’d eaten at some of the best restaurants in the world at one time or another, he was never happier than when he had a big tub of chocolate ice-cream or a bar of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk. As a result, the one thing I’ll never forget is that all his kisses tasted of chocolate!
Of course he was a pain at times – what with the Blackberry phone that he could never get to work, his dodgy microwave and his bloody computer, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. He was like a little boy at those times and I think he enjoyed being mothered from time to time. He kept a boyish charm right until the end – with a roguish smile and a definite twinkle in his eye. He could wrap anyone around his little finger, which made it all but impossible to stay angry with him for long.
Other than acting, PETER also had an unrivalled talent for getting other people to do things for him – which even included those not directly connected to him. During a hospital appointment once, he succeeded in getting a group of teenagers in the waiting room to show him how to deleted old text messages from his phone, and even got a friend of mine who he’d never met before to do some repairs in his kitchen! He probably didn’t even think he was doing it, but everyone who met him was captivated by him.
For almost three decades, on Valentine’s Day, he’d always send me a hand-drawn card and I’d do the same for him. I’d start mine right after Christmas and would put hours of work into it. His mantelpiece and table tops were full of all the birthday, Christmas, Easter and Valentine’s cards I’d sent him over the years; he kept every one. I remember Thomas telling me on the day he was moved from one hospital ward to another just before Christmas (I’d gone back to PETER’s to get a couple of hours sleep), the first thing he took out of his bag was an Xmas card I’d made him, which he stood up on the table in front of him.
For Christmas 2016, he bought me two donkeys which live on a farm not far from me so I can visit. He told me that he’d paid for their upkeep for 12 months. I only learned after he passed that he’d actually paid for their indefinite keep. To be honest, I think he was as fond of them as I was, as he kept a photo’ of them both on a shelf in his ‘Drawing Room’.
Whilst he was a very generous man – especially to those closest to him, he was no fool with money. On a holiday he and I took in Turkey a few years ago, he spotted that I’d brought a mask, snorkel and flippers with me and decided that he’d like to buy a set of his own from a local quayside shop. I swear, he must’ve bartered with the poor girl behind the counter for over an hour-and-a-half. Whilst I would have just handed over the relevant cash, PETER insisted that the thing to do in Turkey was haggle! I have to say, however, that he did exceptionally well, as he not only came away with the aforementioned swimming accoutrements, but also a pair of flip-flops, a T-shirt and a beach towel!
His new found skills came in especially useful when he decided that we needed a car to get about while we were there. He bartered with the two blokes at the garage to such an extent that I do believe they ended up paying him to take one of their Jeeps! (Although I think they ended up with the last laugh, as we had to bump-start it every morning). As previously mentioned, he was an absolutely fantastic cook, so he was in his element with all the fresh fruit and vegetables they have out there. I think I only made dinner once in all the time we were there, and yet I managed to eat like royalty.
⇑ PETER on our holiday in Turkey
For my birthday, which dropped right in the middle of one holiday, he had a local goldsmith make me a necklace in the shape of a tiger. I still have it, of course, although I’m scared to wear it in case I lose it. He also added to his collection of wrist watches (one of which I had to wear on the way home to avoid customs), plus he bought a couple of replica pistols that needed some explaining when we were boarding the plane….
One thing that never came to fruition was our dream of purchasing a villa in the Peloponnese (Greece). It was his dream to have somewhere warm and sunny to live, which would’ve been good for his health and a nice, quiet location for him to concentrate on his writing. Only recently he talked about possibly getting a place in France. Not only did he speak the language, but it would be close enough to get back home should he be offered any work.
Another thing he’d do, which would have everyone laughing (apart from me!) was to say: “Darling…. (that was me), I think WE should do this or that…”. What he really meant was I should do ‘this or that’! So, of course, bang went any plans I had for the day. Nevertheless, I did get my own back on those who’d sniggered at my misfortune. No matter how meticulous PETER was when working, he could be more than a little vague when asking someone to run an errand for him. For instance, he once asked Thomas to acquire a Basildon Bond writing pad and envelopes for him. What he didn’t say was that the pages of the pad had to be blank – i.e. ABSOLUTELY NO LINES. To write on lined paper was a mortal sin in Mr W’s book since only children, apparently, required such an aid. So, of course, when poor Thomas arrived with the wrong paper, all hell let lose. And guess who was sniggering in the corner at Mr Bowington’s misfortune?!
The reason for the pad and envelopes was that he loved writing – whether it was a story, screenplay, or letter to his many ‘pen-pals’. He maintained a correspondence with several people over in the USA (“Because I can keep them at arm’s length”). He’d portray a different character with these individuals when exchanging letters; not to be cruel or sarcastic, but because he was different in almost every situation. Whilst one minute he could be the stylish dandy in a handmade suit and reeking of expensive aftershave, the next he’d be charging about in military camouflage and Doc Martens, shooting at targets across a farmer’s field. The fact was, he was every bit as comfortable sinking pints in the local pub with his shooting mates as he was rubbing shoulders with members of the Royal family.
In fact, PETER could be incredibly ‘blokish’ at times – especially when talking about cars and shooting. It didn’t make him any less of a gentleman, though. Whenever we walked out anywhere together, he’d always ensure that he was on the outside, between me and the traffic; would hold a door open until I’d passed through it, and pull out my chair at a dinner table. He was very old fashioned in those respects. Indeed, he was the first (and last!) man to ever buy me flowers.
The same went for numerous other things: You dare not mention that you watched ‘Coronation Street’ (“Have you no standards!”), or that you were the fan of a particular actor (who will remain nameless!) because, apparently “He’s just a bank clerk, darling!” There was nothing down for you if you so much as looked at the barrel of one of his shotguns (“Darling, what have I told you about touching the metal. Always pick the gun up by the Stock!”) And God help you, if you were to mention that you’d eaten at either MacDonald’s or Pizza Hut!!!
I was alone with PETER for the final 12 hours of his life, although he waited until Thomas arrived around 10 minutes before his passing to say goodbye. Although I didn’t leave the hospital at all from 7th January (I slept in his room, next to his bed), that final day I just sat and held his hand – telling him how much he meant to ALL of us.
PETER PAUL WYNGARDE ♥ was the most infuriating, driven, impatient, compelling, talented, enigmatic, beautiful, loving and wonderful man I’ve ever had the fortuity to know. He has left a void that nothing and no one could ever fill, and for me his leaving has often been too much to bear. My heart aches from missing him, and all that keeps me going is the hope that I’ll see him again.
I adored him and, I believe, he felt the same way about me. He was the love of my life, my best friend and my Soulmate. I lived for him but would’ve died for him in a heartbeat.
I’ll be sad forever without him.
I’d just like to take this opportunity to publicly thank the (mainly) Junior Staff at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital for caring for PETER, and for affording him the kindness and dignity he deserved during the last few weeks of his life.
Also, to Karen and members of the Palliative Care Team for guiding Thomas and I through what was the most dreadful and heart-breaking time of our lives.
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