Once, as I searched through the dusty old contacts book of a British evening newspaper I came across the home telephone number of Brigitte Bardot.
St Tropez 271.
Every so often, perhaps when I’d had a couple of beers too many, I’d dial it. Never got any answer, just an insistent and foreign-sounding bleat down the line. But somehow that bleat made me feel exotically close to her.
But that was in 1975 when I had a hunger for journalistic fame. If I’d so much as heard the living legend’s voice on her answerphone I’d have written an exclusive interview.
Chance would have been a fine thing.
I never got so much as an ‘ello’.
So, when I arrived in St Trop under a sky bleached by the sun, I had this nagging feeling that I still had some unfinished business with her.
Now don’t get me wrong I was well aware that old BB wasn’t going to be any beaut any more – everybody’s seen the pictures, skin like a road map and teeth on stalks … but even though she’s nearly seventy, I just wanted to see her, talk to her. After all she was the star of And God Created Woman.
Well things don’t always work out the way you’ve got them planned and as I dipped a sandled toe into the heat shimmer of the promenade I knew why she still lives here.
Her anonymity is assured. There is no way she is going to stand out in the crowd.
San Tropez is a haven for prunes in g-strings.
The beach has been turned into a parking lot for speedboats the size of Cadillac’s and the still -rich-but- no-longer-young-and-beautiful pose like crispy chickens on the decks, or creak along the beach on ridiculously thin legs.
Amazingly, the beach, although it has fallen victim to overcrowding for decades, is actually still unspoiled. It’s immaculate white sand goes on forever.
It’s the people who haven’t survived. Yes, I’m sure 30 years ago they all might have looked wonderful swaggering down Ramatuelle or Pampelonne. from bistro to café, café to restaurant, in the hedonistic pursuit of spending money. And I’m sure it was chic to dress down for everything from lunch to a’mour.
But Just a Thong at the Twilight of their existence looks vulgar.
Anyway, with my crest fallen about as far as their arches, I decided to begin my hunt for Ms Bardot.
Le Star beach bar seemed as good a place to start as any.
I got myself a blonde beer and leaned against the bar post at the corner of the street in case that certain little lady came by.
Oh me oh my, what a place to be if your other choice is a rest home. There were ghostly images of old men in hipsters and white slip-ons down by the sea’s edge at Pampelonne.
Varicosed glamour girls wobbled past with threadbare French poodles and wigs. No wonder Joan Collins bought a house here.
An Aston Martin purred by and then there was a convoy of Rolls Royces.
You know, when this kitchest of all kitches began in the 1950s St Tropez was just a tiny fishing village. There wasn’t much to it really, a row five-storey houses washed up against the quayside, a market still in Place des Lices. and, appropriately enough, a cinema.
Nothing special, a sheet over an indoor washing line and an old rachety flicker machine apparently. But the switch was thrown and glamour spun its heady light. Wannabes arrived and sadly most of them stayed on to become has-beens.
If only they’d listened to Brigitte when she said in 1986: “The myth of Bardot is finished, but Brigitte is me.”
The quay is still there and the houses now look as if they’ve seen better days. But the canopies that jut out onto the pavement are bright with acrylic legends as bright as neons like Les caves du Roy or Aldo’s Piano Bar.
But away from these haunts of the once famous but still rich, a little inland, is the charm. Painters still set up their easels as Paul Signac once did, and there is the flower and food market on the Place des Lices.
Then there is the Musée de L’Annonciade with its masterpieces by Matisse, Dufy, Rouault, Bonnard and Derain. Or the Maison des Papillons (Butterfly Museum) and the Naval Museum in an old dungeon.
And as I wandered these streets of white stone I wondered why nobody had ever thought of opening a museum of beauty … for there would probably be my only chance of finding old Brigitte.