Lysette Anthony tells me she feels ‘like a prize’ for the first time in, well, just about ever.
Shortly before Christmas, the ‘impossibly beautiful’ Marcus Gilbert with whom, she now confesses, she had a brief affair three decades ago on the set of Barbara Cartland’s A Ghost In Monte Carlo, sent her a ‘very sweet letter’.
‘Someone told him I had Parkinson’s,’ says Lysette, who revealed in May last year she had the devastating disease. ‘He said: “Let me know if you want to have a coffee. I understand if you’re too tired.” Because that’s what Marcus does. He’s very kind.
‘I was so ill I couldn’t walk that terrible Christmas. I rang him in the New Year and we started talking, and talked for an hour. When I put down the phone, I sent my friend a message. I just said: “I don’t know what’s happened, but my life’s changed. I’m in love. This is ridiculous, totally ridiculous.” It was just the way he talked to me.’
Today, Lysette and Marcus are inseparable. When the Parkinson’s gets the better of her and her muscles seize up and she’s frightened, he gently calms her down. You can’t help but be glad for her. When she told her last boyfriend she had Parkinson’s, he promptly upped and left.
Lysette Anthony says that she feels ‘like a prize’ for the first time in, well, just about ever (Photographer credit: Nicky Johnston Hair & Makeup: Sarah Exley)
‘We’d been seeing each other for six months. When I told him, he kissed me on the forehead — you never kiss a woman on the forehead. I said: “Don’t you dare. Don’t you dare just go.” He texted to try to justify himself, but . . .
‘What Marcus is offering me — something I’ve never known before — is a partnership of dreams,’ says Lysette, who will be 60 in a few weeks’ time.
‘Marcus calls this “the third act”. He says: “There’s only one life. Let’s go out with a bang.” We have fun, but I’m bloody difficult because I’m angry. I cry a lot.’
Lysette, who stood up to disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein six years ago, accusing him of rape during the late 1980s, is often in tears during this highly charged interview. She is the only British actress to have called him out publicly and has been to hell and back since.
Her reputation, she says, has been ‘shredded’.
‘Paranoid’, ‘drunk’, ‘suicidal’, ‘difficult to manage’ — you name it, she’s been accused of it all in a series of derogatory emails sent between certain members of the production team of Channel 4’s Hollyoaks where for six years she put in a brilliant, award-winning performance as the glamorous man-eater Marnie Nightingale.
In one particularly shocking email a member of the production company, in reference to her Parkinson’s, asks if anyone has seen her ‘writhing on the floor in agony’. Another reports a private phone conversation that took place during lockdown, accusing her of being ‘drunken and rambling’.
‘I’ve never been drunk on set in my life and defy anyone to say I have,’ she says.
Marcus Gilbert (pictured), with whom Lysette had a brief affair three decades ago on the set of Barbara Cartland’s A Ghost In Monte Carlo, sent her a ‘very sweet letter’
When the Parkinson’s gets the better of her and her muscles seize up and she’s frightened, Marcysgently calms Lysette down
These are the people who publicly offered their full support when Lysette’s courageous confession helped finally bring down Weinstein.
Eighteen months ago, they killed off her Hollyoaks character. Lysette hasn’t worked since.
Lysette, who is dyslexic, is hugely bright but with the sort of creative, think-in-circles brain that makes it hard for her to marshal her thoughts chronologically.
She now knows, from court documents, that she was one of 70 names on Weinstein’s ‘red flag list’, issued to investigators to dig up what they could on those he feared would testify against him.
‘No one thought he’d be arrested,’ says Lysette, who spoke out against Weinstein seven months before he was charged by New York police. ‘There was a campaign to discredit and destroy the most problematic witnesses. I stood up and spoke out again and again.
‘I’ve been pelted with eggs, threatened, my professional reputation has been trashed, my bank account has been tampered with. I was so frightened I slept with a knife. I’m still frightened, but Marcus just takes me on, even on my really rainy days.
Lysette, who is dyslexic, is hugely bright but with the sort of creative, think-in-circles brain that makes it hard for her to marshal her thoughts chronologically (Photographer credit Nicky Johnston Hair & Makeup: Sarah Exley)
Eighteen months ago, Lynette’s Hollyoaks character was killed off and she hasn’t worked since (Photographer credit Nicky Johnston Hair & Makeup: Sarah Exley)
Lysette stood up to disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein six years ago, accusing him of rape during the late 1980s (Photographer credit Nicky Johnston Hair & Makeup: Sarah Exley)
‘When I give up and cry, it’s the way he says “Don’t cry” that brings me back. He deals with it when I wake up screaming from a nightmare. He’s a place to be held, to be vulnerable and to be allowed to be human.’
Marcus, who was widowed three years ago after a 28-year marriage to an ‘unforgettable woman’ with whom he has two ‘remarkable’ grown-up children, is a gentle, supportive soul. A few weeks ago, he finished a round of chemotherapy for throat cancer that was diagnosed within months of meeting Lysette, but you wouldn’t know it.
When we finish our interview, Marcus, who at 65 is still impossibly handsome, is sitting with his golden retriever Delilah in the hotel foyer where he has been waiting for a good two hours. His thoughts are only for Lysette. ‘She’s not too tired?’ he asks.
‘I wasn’t prepared to be involved with anyone after my wife. Homaa, which means bird of paradise in Urdu, had the ability to laugh. It was an intoxicating, tireless laugh. I couldn’t imagine loving anyone else, which is why I wasn’t prepared. There was no one remarkable enough in my eyes,’ he explains.
‘Three years after I lost my wife, I wasn’t looking for anyone, but a close friend said: “Did you hear about Lysette?” I couldn’t imagine such a free-spirited person as her having Parkinson’s.
‘I’ve never remembered much about our affair on that film but what I do remember is every single word I said to her on set in that church when my character was marrying hers. It’s a Barbara Cartland film so it’s a bit naff, but I was saying, “My darling” and staring into those huge blue eyes.
‘When I said, “I will love you and cherish you for the rest of my life,” I said it with great heart.
Lysette co-starred with Hugh Grant in The lady and The Highwayman
‘So, when I heard she had Parkinson’s, I wrote to her agent. I remembered her vibrancy, her joy of life. I wanted to help in any way I could.
‘That Christmas, I now know was terrible for her but it was terrible for me, too. I spent Christmas night alone and saw two shop assistants between Christmas evening and New Year’s Eve.
‘After a number of really engaging calls, Lysette left a message that was eight-and-a-half minutes long — short for her,’ he adds with a smile that crinkles at his eyes.
‘It moved me because it was from a lady who was emotionally open. That honesty, that truth, was pure and simple. It was undeniable.
‘She’s a pretty wonderful lady who has been somewhat battered and there’s residual damage, but I have patience. I have faith. I have a lot of belief in her.’
Lysette and Marcus first worked together on A Ghost In Monte Carlo in 1990, a year after Weinstein raped her. She shows me a photograph of her and Marcus taken on set.
‘You can see I clearly adore him,’ says Lysette, who was so besotted with her leading man she briefly called off her engagement to the Dutch artist and entrepreneur Luc Leestemaker. ‘But I was no match for Marcus. My confidence was in shreds. He was a real man who liked his life and liked women. He had worlds to conquer.
‘I look at those photographs now and can see I was so very, very young and innocent-looking. I was trying to cope with what had happened by deciding to be incredibly free with my sexuality, which never really sits easily with you when you’ve been educated by nuns as I had.’
Lysette had a long-time relationship with the brilliant composer Simon Boswell, who is also father to her 19-year-old son Jimi
Lysette met Weinstein in 1982 when she was promoting the swashbuckling science fiction fantasy Krull in New York. She was only 19 when she was introduced to him by a publicist in a swish hotel and told she had to go to dinner with him.
Jet-lagged, she told Weinstein on the way to the restaurant she needed to sleep but gave him her phone number and told him to call her in London. Over the next few years, they met when he was in town and became friends until Weinstein’s career went, as she says, ‘boom’ with the success of films such as Scandal and My Left Foot.
‘That’s when he turned into a monster,’ she says.
She was alone in her Hammersmith basement flat one morning when she saw Harvey ‘wobbling’ down the steps.
‘He knocks on the door. I open it. He pushes me in. I’m in a dressing gown. He pushes me against the coat-rack. I see everything now from a long shot,’ she says. ‘He was so heavy and fat, I was trying to get him off. I couldn’t. I just gave in.
‘I have dreams now of him kicking me and stuff like that but if you asked me what happened that day? I think I tried to stop feeling.
‘Afterwards, I remember looking at my toes in the bath. I felt nothing — absolutely nothing. I started drinking. I put on weight. I loathed myself. I started punishing myself. I can see that now.’
Some months later, Lysette was in Milan with Barbara Cartland promoting the film The Lady And The Highwayman, which she had finished shooting at the time of the assault. By then, she had rekindled her romance with Leestemaker, marrying him in the hope of finding a sanctuary of sorts.
Lysette co-starred with Ken Marshall in the swashbuckling science fiction fantasy Krull
Weinstein invited her to dinner. She thought it was his way of making amends. It wasn’t.
‘Between The Lady And The Highwayman and A Ghost In Monte Carlo — irony of ironies, two Barbara Cartland films — my friend Harvey Weinstein turned into my predator,’ says Lysette.
‘I went from being this very beautiful, sweet thing to getting fatter. I just used food. Shove it down.’
Their paths would regularly cross on the film festival circuit.
‘You can see pictures of me in Cannes with my little round face,’ she says. ‘He wouldn’t leave me alone. It was a horror. I remember him waddling after me and pushing me into my room and raping me. What was anyone going to say if some aspiring actress accused him of that?
‘I was frightened of what he’d do to me. I was so filled with self-disgust. I was also with my husband and didn’t want him to leave me because I was soiled.
‘I’d be summonsed [by Weinstein] and it went on for years,’ she says. ‘Important people [in the film industry] would call me at midnight and say: “Harvey wants to meet you.” It was made very clear what would happen if I didn’t. They took us into those hotel rooms and they knew exactly what they were doing.
‘I don’t call that sex. It was rape. But did I lie there? Yes. Did he take his clothes off? Yes. Did I have to look at that disgusting body? It’s not about beauty — you can find beauty all over the place. It’s about consent, about wanting to be there. I did not want to be there. This wasn’t about sex. This was about domination. Of course, people said: “Where was your dignity?” I had no dignity. That was taken a long time before.’
She ricocheted from one disastrous relationship to the next. There was a second marriage — to writer and director David Price — a long-time relationship with the brilliant composer Simon Boswell, father to her 19-year-old son Jimi, and many, many affairs.
‘I kept hurling myself sexually at people — take me, take me. I wanted to fall in love like a bloody Barbara Cartland heroine. I wanted someone to whisk me off, make my life better. It was just preposterous.
Lynette said she would be summoned by disgraced film producer Harvey Weinstein for years
‘Now I understand it was also my revenge and how I got him [Weinstein] off my back.
‘Monsters like him don’t want women who are sexually confident. They want messes like I was who don’t want to be there, who are almost spitting with anger but will comply. They can taste the disdain and that’s their kick.’
For a time following her confession, Lysette was applauded. But as the months passed and Weinstein prepared to defend the allegations of rape and sexual assault from more than 80 women, the smear campaign against her gathered momentum.
Lysette is, as Marcus says, an honest woman. ‘To a fault,’ he adds. To find herself caught up in a tissue of half-truths and lies was soul-destroying.
Weinstein had been found guilty of rape and sexual assaults by courts in New York and Los Angeles and faced 39 years in prison when Marcus wrote that ‘sweet letter’ at the end of last year, but Lysette was in pieces.
‘It wasn’t about giving up, it was more about being battered by cruelty,’ she says. ‘The professional reputation I’d spent 40-odd years building was in shreds. I was coming to terms with a very serious illness, approaching 60 and was starting to look at an empty nest as Jimi was getting older.
‘It was Christmas. Jimi was with his dad and I was in so much pain I couldn’t walk. I could only crawl. I couldn’t see a way out and felt there was nothing for me. Then, out of the blue, Marcus got in touch.’
After their lengthy phone conversation, Lysette and Marcus met at a restaurant in London. ‘He’s even later than me. I love that,’ she says.
‘He walks in and he’s wearing a corduroy suit — crumpled, gorgeous. We sit and talk. Six hours later we’re still talking.’ Her face lights up as it does in the photographs on set all those years ago.
‘He told me he’d been so happily married for 28 years. He told me about his children — his daughter is a junior doctor, his son has been working in prisons.
‘I was so, so sorry for him about his wife. Over the years I’d thought: “What’s happened to Marcus?” Then I heard he’d married a doctor and was so very happy. I thought: “Well done you.”
‘He’s had to deal with things, too. He loved his wife so very much so there was guilt. But he’s had a 28-year marriage with two remarkable children, which is the biggest mark of success.’
‘When he was diagnosed with cancer in March things got very real. To watch someone suffer like that . . . All I did the first day he was in hospital was cry, but Marcus is ridiculously brave. He wants to get well and we want to live.
‘I might be damaged, but he has faith in me. He tells me I’m beautiful and, for the first time in my life, I’m going to be that person.
‘I was always on the move, swimming upstream, on the run, trying to get away from Harvey. Now I want to slow down — enjoy.
‘What I will say, without sounding too pathetic, is that I think Barbara Cartland would be proud. Once you get past all that hair and that pink — which would be bang on trend now — what she was actually trying to say was: “Aim for the high note in love.”
‘I understand her now. I understand joy.’