I met author Gill Paul by accident. A beautiful woman with a cheerful smile and a warm personality, she was introduced to my by Karel Bata, a friend of Iain Clark (video producer and one of my best friends).
You see.. Karel worked on the production crew for the pilot episode of the Emmanuel Ray Show, which I co produced with Iain. We became friends and he invited me to his birthday party at The Heights Bar in St George’s Hotel, Mayfair. And that is where I met Gill. Our conversation was brief but interesting. We got on like a house on fire and she told me about her latest book The Affair.
I absolutely loved the idea behind it and the fact that it was based on true events and centered on the glamourous world of show business. Gill is an author of historical fiction, one of my favourite genres of literature. So I couldn’t wait to read her book and was overjoyed when she sent it to me by post, with a beautiful hand written note on a vintage post card. Classy!
So here’s what happens…
It’s 1961. London based historian Diana Bailey is thrilled to have been asked to work as a historical advisor on the Cleopatra film set. Diana specialises in Egyptology and took up the legendary Egyptian queen Cleopatra as her specialist subject so she is happy to have been offered a contract, doing a job she would thoroughly enjoy as it focuses on a personality she is passionate about.
But she is also anxious to leave her Professor husband, Trevor (her former tutor) behind. Trevor doesn’t seem very encouraging. He is considerably older than she is and feels like she is slipping away from him. Well, their marriage isn’t as exciting as it was when they shacked up together, you see. Something a lot of married couples can resonate with!
Anyway, Diana adapts a free spirit and sets off to Rome where she meets Helen, a young make-up artist on the film set. They become friends. Helen is full of life, gives Diana a make over and turns her from dowdy plain-jane historian into chic 60s glam kitten!
Diana gets carried away in the adrenaline soaked atmosphere of the film sets, the glamourous costumes, the exquisite make up and hustle and bustle, not to mention meeting Elizabeth Taylor face to face, both in character as Cleopatra, as well as behind the scenes, in her dressing gown with no make up on!
While trying to make sense of Hollywood versus historic accuracy, Diana struggles to overlook certain errors and finally understands that creative license and the commercial element of selling as many tickets as possible meant Hollywood glamour and sex appeal came first while historical facts took a backseat!
She gets carried away in a whirlwind romance too, with Ernesto, a charming Italian member of the film crew, while feeling guilty of leaving her husband behind in London and cheating on him.
Meanwhile, tensions on the set are running high with the film in financial crisis and the paparazzi whipping up a media storm over the very public affair unfolding between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Their love-hate relationship which borders on destruction, occasional alcohol-induced violence, mad passion and sex – all start to affect the film not to mention themselves and their spouses.
We also bump into various interesting characters such as Scott, the American journalist who is under pressure from his editor to churn out sensational stories about the film and the affair between Taylor and Burton. He secretly hopes to become a “serious journalist,” and isn’t afraid to go snooping around in dangerous territory.
Our protagonist soon realises that the REAL drama happens off set. Then there’s a suicide. Or was it murder? Suddenly, the author grabs us from the romance, drama and glamour and drags us into Italy’s seedy underworld littered with drug dealers, vulnerable women, opportunistic men and the Mafia.
The story takes a brilliant turn at this point, and several unexpected things happen. The twists and turns in the plot are brilliantly orchestrated and this story about love and betrayal, passion and celebrity, against the backdrop of one of the most iconic films ever made, unfolds in a very entertaining fashion.
The opening sequence of the movie, sorry.. story (!) is set in a romantic atmosphere in Ischia. Gill Paul uses the beauty of nature, the sea and the early morning sunrise as elements to create the setting for one of the best stories I have ever read. Throughout the story, nature is ever present, as witness to one of the most talked about affairs in movie history (Burton and Taylor) which runs in parallel to another affair (Diana and Ernesto).
I won’t reveal anymore, so I suggest you get this book immediately and read it from cover to cover. It is perfect reading material for Spring/Summer. Why not buy this book, and go on a summer holiday to Italy? You can walk in the footsteps of the novel’s character’s (both famous and not), and even embark on your own affair! A holiday fling never hurt anyone (as long as it is just that, especially if you are partnered and leave your other half behind!).
The author’s use of language is perfect and the book can also make a good gift for someone who is looking to perfect their English, or just about anyone to be honest. The story is very entertaining and I felt like I was watching a film.
Did you know that Gill Paul has done extensive research into the time, setting and filming of Cleopatra, as well as learning the important happenings (there are references to the Italian Communist Party) in society at the time?
She has also tracked down and talked to actors who were part of the film, lawyers, and even some of her most loyal readers. Everything she writes about, from film production technique to costume design, landmarks in Italy to the language, way of life and funny happenings are all spot on!
One feels that Gill has actually been there and witnessed everything, as if she got into a time machine and hurtled herself back to the 1960s. The accuracy of the swinging 60s from fashion to lifestyle, is a perfect treat to fans of the timeless flower-power era!
And finally, this is as close as you would get to seeing LIVE snapshots of the legendary affair between Elizabeth Taylor (the world’s most famous actress at her time!) and Richard Burton (one of the finest classically trained English actors of the period), in the backdrop of Cleopatra, a very enjoyable and over-the-top movie which is certainly better than the critics said at the time, as Gill herself says.
For more information on Gill’s other books (I can’t wait to read them either!), please visit her website.
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