Joan Collins

I always judge a hotel by its club sandwich


As a child I was fascinated by the exotic names of certain cities: Havana, Rio de Janeiro and Los Angeles sounded so glamorous to me, and I was determined to visit them (which I eventually did). But never in my childhood musings did the country of Czechoslovakia join this roll-call of dream destinations. However, since a few friends returned from filming in the renamed Czech Republic and extolled the virtues of Prague, it started to interest me. So, I was delighted when producer Mark Rozzano offered me the role of Francesca Carlyle in his murder mystery Murder Between Friends. ‘Brad and George have made movies there,’ he said, ‘and the technical crews are extremely experienced.’ He was so right. As soon as we started shooting in a wonderful old castle in the charming town of Usobi, outside Prague, it became exceedingly clear that the mostly Czech crew were equal to any I’d worked with both in the UK and US. Not only that, but to a man (and woman) they all spoke perfect English.

Our ‘quarters’ during the shoot were in the magnificent Chateau Heralec, a beautiful hotel and spa where sadly we didn’t have the time to partake of the delights of the heated indoor swimming pool or any of the many beauty and health treatments on offer. However, I shall definitely return to sample them as the staff were kind, cheerful and polite and, again, spoke perfect English. We had an absolutely massive suite with a stunning view of exquisitely tended grounds and the food was superb. Although I’m not keen on partaking of deer and boar, the dill soup was exceptional, and my husband told me he’d never had a better club sandwich. A club sandwich is one of my main criteria by which to judge the quality of a hotel, and I had to admit this one ranked alongside Claridge’s. The chef was wonderfully eager to please and would contrive to gratify our palates, however we wanted a dish prepared. This was such a contrast to the chef at an extremely exclusive restaurant-club in London recently. When I requested that my asparagus (which was on the menu and in season) not be cooked al dente but softer, the waiter returned to inform me that: ‘The chef doesn’t want to cook asparagus that way.’ Oh really?! It seems some chefs are displaying diva-like qualities beyond anything I’ve ever been accused of.

The filming itself went swimmingly, which filming seldom does. The other actors were experienced professionals, both American and English, not a diva among them, and I was delighted that my niece India Thain had been cast to play one of the murder suspects. She did display a troublingly shifty demeanour, but perhaps that was the diet of deer and boar. The castle in which we shot most of the film was more than 400 years old and in many of the rooms stag and boar heads (none of whose bodies had made their way into our food, I hope) were prominently displayed on the walls. Luckily, there were no animal activists in our group, otherwise we would have had trouble.

My son, Alexander Newley, his wife Sheela and their adorable baby girl came to visit and, on our day off, we travelled to the centre of Prague to lunch at the famed Kampa Park restaurant on the shores of the Vltava river, overlooking the Charles (Karluv) Bridge. ‘Brad and George often ate there,’ I was informed. Well, if it was good enough for those renowned gourmets, it must be worth a trip. As I videoed the bridge and rushing river, I spotted a beaver swimming vigorously yet recklessly close to the boats that ferried passengers across. ‘Look, look! A beaver!’ I yelped. My son, ever the wit, yelled back: ‘Did you get the beaver shot?’

The last day of filming was night work, so Percy and I decided to go antiquing. Our driver took us to a countryside emporium called Antika. When we entered, it was an Aladdin’s cave: everything from candlesticks, jewellery and Victorian dolls to fine-china tea sets, paintings, Regency furniture, broken 1970s video games and even used clothing. Room after room was chock-a-block with fascinating and at times puzzling items. We bought some beautiful glassware and gifts. We told Mark and India and some of the other actors and they too had a wonderful ‘fishing day’, as I call shopping.

I was enchanted by the Czech Republic – the people, the food, the countryside. There seemed to be an aura of peace about it and the inhabitants all seemed to exude happiness. Maybe I only saw the good side, but I certainly plan to go back one day, not only to revisit Antika but the delights of Chateau Heralec and its glorious indoor swimming pool.

Dame Joan Collins’s Behind the Shoulder Pads is out now.


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