Ann Sidney swings her 4×4 into the car park at the Haven Hotel in Poole and leaps out shouting: “I’m so sorry I’m late!” Crikey! We’ve been here all of three minutes and she’s missed our agreed 2pm rendezvous by maybe 45 seconds. Not only does Ann look astonishing for a woman who turned 70 several months ago but half-a-century after she walked off with the Miss World crown she is as vital and energised as ever.
Enthusing about being back in Poole – the town in which she grew up – she apologises for wearing a hoodie, t-shirt and sports trousers . “Travelling clothes!” she explains. Never mind, she looks absolutely great but she also wants to be photographed in the flash dress she’s carrying on a hanger. Old habits die hard.
It was a little over 50 years ago that, as an apprentice hairdresser from the backstreets of Upper Parkstone, Ann Sidney put Dorset on the map by winning the Miss World competition. She still takes a moment to distill those memories. Until that day she admits her experience of “overseas travel” was limited to taking her bicycle on the ferry to the Isle of Wight.
Within weeks of winning the Miss World title, the Secondary Modern girl who left school at 15 was on a plane heading for Hollywood. On arrival she was bundled, albeit graciously, into a car and driven to Bob Hope’s house. There she suddenly found herself rehearsing a show to entertain the troops in Vietnam. Whoosh! Her life had changed forever. In the next few months she would travel around the world five times.
She is reluctant to talk too much about those days. It is all going in a book. The nitty gritty, she says, includes nearly being blown-up in Vietnam and the the low-down on her affair with Bruce Forsythe. Bruce was 35 and Ann a mere 19 when he first wooed her while starring in a summer show in Bournemouth.
She is appalled by suggestions – widely spread across the internet – that she escaped from her heavily chaperoned hotel suite on the night of her Miss World triumph to spend a night of passion with him. Rubbish, she says. “It all happened a year later. No way would I have risked my Miss World crown. Any hint of a scandal in those days and they’d strip you of your title. I just hate it that they get it all so wrong.”
She claims she was snubbed by this year’s Miss World pageant because of the Forsythe connection. “Bruce is an important person and very close to the Miss World organisation. I’m afraid it looks as though they just didn’t want me there – even in my 50th anniversary year. I’m not sure what they we’re expecting me to do. Throw a stink bomb? Grab his toupee and throw it across the floor like a frisbee? I don’t think so.”
Ann is certainly not one for dishing the dirt. Quick to suppress unpleasantness on social media she recently put those getting troll-like on her behalf in their place, saying: “I don’t want this to be Brucie bashing – I loved him once but that once was a long time ago – let’s all move on shall we.” Ann has moved on many times. For years she lived in Las Vegas. There have been five husbands.
Far more innocent memories are flooding back as she sits talking outside the Haven Hotel. She stares across Poole Harbour towards the Purbecks and tells me about her memories of Poole in the 50s and 60s. Happy days playing on the beach with her brother George, feeding the ducks, skating on Poole Park lake and of course the incredible night she won Miss World.
Her mum and dad – Gladys and George – were watching at home on their 10 inch black and white TV. Not because, as was reported at the time, they didn’t want to put her under too much pressure but simply because they couldn’t really afford the trip to London. “I miss my mum and dad every day, says Ann. “At 70 years of age and officially I suppose an old crone, I look back and realise that I was incredibly lucky to have them as parents. They were both givers, and gave to me what money can never buy – love and good manners.
“That night was incredible. I was offered a year’s contract as an ambassador for the International Wool Secretariat, which involved promoting the industry across the globe. That year was a blur. I travelled the world first class and collected a wardrobe from all the top couturiers. What girl, even today, would not jump at such an opportunity?”
She has special memories of returning hoime “It was amazing. So many people turned out to see me and Lord Montague laid on a vintage Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost to drive me through the town. I had never experienced anything like it. “Everyone was so welcoming.”
What would follow was a career as an actress that included working on everything from Donald Cammell and Nic Roeg’s ground-breaking movie Performance alongside Mick Jagger, Anita Pallenberg and James Fox to Tv appearances in sit-coms like Are You Being Served with telly stars like John Inman.
There was much more too, like “Seeing Europe in grand style, meeting celebrities and dining with people I never in a million years expected to sit next to. Going to Maxine’s restaurant in Paris – and meeting Aristotle Onasis and Maria Callas. They sent over a bottle of very expensive champagne to our table… somehow I rose to the challenge. As the saying goes Nothing succeeds like success.”
Fame did have its downside though. Ann remembers going home to her parents in Parkstone desperate for a few quiet days only to discover a list of friends and relatives queuing up to meet her.
“Mum and Dad were not only proud, but very sweet people, who wanted to please – they often got me into things I didn’t really want to do on my time off. Sometimes, I just wanted to stay at home with them, kick off my shoes, and chat – just be me. Mum would look at me in my jeans and sloppy sweater and say: ‘You can’t go out looking like that!’ I would say, “Mum – what do you want me to do, wear my crown? They took it back you know, it was only hired!” And then of course she would laugh.”
Reflecting on those days, Ann admits that Poole has always felt like home. “You know what?,” she says. “I’m 70. In 10 years time I can imagine myself shuffling along Poole High Street with my zimmerframe and people nudging each other and saying; ‘See her, she used to be Miss World!’ It’s bound to happen.” And with that Ann Sidney howls with laughter adding: “I can’t believe how lucky I’ve been.”