Drinks with Liz Taylor and under-performing Burton
Now it can be told: why Richard Burton was on fizzy water while Liz and I sipped champagne
It was a dark wet night in London in February 1975 when I shared a bottle of champagne with Elizabeth Taylor. She had just returned to London from the extravaganza in Africa of her second marriage to Richard Burton.
I found the world's most celebrated couple sitting at a circular table near the rear of Scott's, Mayfair's most exclusive seafood restaurant.
Miss Taylor looked up at me with big lazy eyes. You don't really see their astonishing violet hue until you look right into them. The monster diamond he had given her was on her ring finger.
Burton pursed his lips and gestured for me to sit down. My heart pounded. I had expected him to tell me to fuck off. I was a day-rate reporter working the night shift for the Daily Mail, and was new to this paparazzo thing.
Scott's had a sheet of plywood nailed up where the plate glass window looking onto Mount Street should have been. It had been hit by an IRA bomb just a couple of nights before, and the night editor wanted the story of how Burton-Taylor had come to defy the cowardly terrorists, to play their part for England.
We had been tipped off with a phone call from the maitre d', who was on the Mail gossip column's payroll. He had ushered me in. The celebrity culture was different then.
"We had no idea," growled Burton, "that the place had been bombed. You'll have to think of another story."
He called the waiter for a glass. Taylor poured the champagne, and then refilled her glass. She pointed to the flute before Burton.
"That's Perrier water," she said. She spoke so quietly that I had to lean forward to catch the words. Every time I did that, I found myself face to face with breasts almost as fabled as her eyes. "Melons", Burton would call them.
"He's on the wagon because he can't get it up," she went on. "I've told him he's got to get it up if he's going to be married to me."
Burton scowled, raised his glass, and took a disgusted sip.
I had my story, front page, late edition, although we were still too polite in those days to print all the details. Neither the sobriety nor the marriage lasted long. ·
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