‘We were two giggling girls’: the day I had coffee with Sophia Loren

The Guardian-3 years before

This particular day, I had sloped off for a coffee with our staff photographer, Maurice Cousins, before a job. We headed to our favourite cafe, the Old Beams – an old cottage with tiny rooms and heavy beams. We aimed for our usual snug at the back, but the door was shut and two men in shiny suits were standing outside.

“No go in,” said one, in accented English. The other noticed the Rolleiflex camera around Maurice’s neck. “You take pictures?” he asked. “Yes, we’re from the press,” I said, and showed him my accreditation. One of the men went into the back room, a...d we heard a rapid exchange in Italian. “OK, you come,” he said when he got back. “But only five minutes before we film.”

I was dumbfounded; there was Sophia Loren, on her own, drinking coffee. She had been filming in Aylesbury’s Market Square for The Key, directed by Carol Reed, and was having a break. I didn’t know any of this, so I bluffed: I sat down and we started to talk, she in her halting English. I told her how much I liked her films and asked what she thought of England. I didn’t ask any of the right questions about the film – in fact, it pains me to admit that this once-in-a-lifetime scoop quickly turned into two girls giggling as we talked about nail varnish.

Sophia Loren The Key I expect I gushed a lot, as you can see from my expression. She was even more beautiful than in her films. We were the same age, around 25. She had already drawn a crowd – you can see people outside the window. Maurice quickly took our picture, and then she was called back to filming.

I wrote it up for my column, but it was used instead as a front page story, with me blanked out of the picture.

I was on the paper for seven years; I left when I got married in 1962 – that’s what you did. My most vivid memory is Robert Maxwell giving me a lift in his chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce. He was standing as an MP and holding a meeting in a village hall, which I was covering; he asked if I wanted a lift to the next meeting. When we arrived, the Rolls was parked out of sight, and he grabbed a cloth cap from the back seat to give the impression he was a man of the people.

Robert Maxwell I also once met President Eisenhower, who was visiting Harold Macmillan at Chequers. It was a Sunday and they went to church; I was waiting with the press when Maurice, who was with me, leapt into a garden and grabbed a rose for me to give to Eisenhower. We got a great picture. Rediscovering this recently brought a lot of memories back.

President Eisenhower Harold Macmillan Sophia Loren That's me in the picture Photography features Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share via Email Share on LinkedIn Share on Pinterest Share on WhatsApp Share on Messenger

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