All the furore over the Cannes Film Festival this week about red-carpet heel-wearing reminded me that I was lucky enough to attend once.
A party I went to, in 2007 courtesy of New Line Cinema, was at the Villa Rothschild and all the ladies received a note saying we should avoid wearing heels because the party would take place in the gardens. (The VIPs were in the Villa itself, so they were probably made to wear heels…). I went for a low kitten-heeled sandal which seemed to do the trick.
Anyway, what was important about that night wasn’t the height of the heel I was wearing. It was my watershed moment. My game-changer. My world turned on its axis that night and it wasn’t the same ever again.
I’d turned forty a couple of months before and was in the midst of a boom-time for me, career-wise. I was married, but spending most of my time at work or in the pub afterwards, celebrating the achievements of the team I was working with. Increasingly, I’d started to feel that my husband didn’t want to celebrate any of my success so I’d started to stay out night after night, to get it out of my system before I went home. Looking back, I was cruising for a divorce right then (it would take three years to happen).
I knew then that I’d only ever get one invitation to Cannes so I went for it. I’d bought a beautiful mediterranean-blue maxi dress and took time to get ready. I have two pictures of that night – both taken pre-smartphone so they’re just of me standing awkwardly in my hotel room. I look back and see someone preparing to take on the world, with a serious face. I’d dieted too much so you can see my bones, I’d applied too much fake tan so I didn’t really look like me. But I was where I needed to be to get out there and shake things up.
I attended the party with my then boss, and we ended up with a group of guys who we’d been working with on a related film project. She left early, which then left me to party on with the boys, feeling like Julia Roberts in Ocean’s Eleven.
And boy, was I ready to party.
The DJ that night was Mark Ronson, who was then very new to the scene. He swaggered to the open-air stage and nonchalantly played ‘Valerie’ with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. I danced energetically and happily with a guy we shall call ‘Nick’ for most of the night. He was from my part of the country and we got on well. It felt so good to be with a guy I could be openly celebratory with, there in the balmy Cannes night, in the gardens of a beautiful villa.
At about 2am the whole group headed back to our hotel in Juan Les Pins and there was an aborted attempt to go skinny-dipping in the pool. (Good job, because I can’t actually swim.) The others drifted back to their rooms and I drifted back to Nick’s, to continue the evening. I was still high on the experience and couldn’t face going to bed.
You’re going to think, ‘oh she slept with him’ at this point. Reader, I didn’t. We went out on his balcony and looked at the night sky and talked. I’ve always loved that song, ‘Strangers in the Night’ and now I know why. Nick lived in America so there was no real chance of meeting again. It was a one-off encounter.
I now know what Nick did for me. Nick told me everything I’d needed to hear from my husband, who didn’t enjoy complimenting me ‘in case my head got too big’. Nick told me I appeared to him as someone who was between girlhood and womanhood (despite being forty) – I think he picked up on the fact that I was on the verge of emerging from my life chrysalis. He told me I was beautiful and sexy, that he didn’t usually go for older women (only a four-year difference, mate) but there I was in front of him. I didn’t know what to say. No one had ever said those words so clearly and directly to me.
It was around 4.30am when I decided to return to my room. We hugged each other at his door and agreed that it had been one of the best nights we’d ever spent. It still is, to me, one of the best nights of my life, if not THE best. As I went to pull away, Nick moved his hand from the small of my back and began to draw his fingers softly up my shoulder blade. It was the tenderest, most erotic touch I’d ever felt. A brief kiss followed and I left.
Nothing more than that kiss happened, but it was as seismic as full sex as far as my life was concerned. More so. I returned to the UK and he to the US, but there was a crackling line of electricity between us that lasted for months, even years, after. I felt as though I’d been jolted awake after years of sexual slumber. When I returned from Cannes, my husband joked that he thought I was having an affair. I wasn’t, but he could see that something in me had shifted.
So thank you, Cannes, and thank you, Nick. You are both very important to my story. And as hackneyed as it may sound, my life really did begin at forty.