Former Bond girl Valerie Leon is still irrepressible at 77

Roger Moore kissed me – but I ended up in bed with Sean Connery (after I rescued him from sharks): Former Bond girl and Carry On star Valerie Leon is still irrepressible at 77, writes KATHRYN KNIGHT

There aren’t that many women who can claim to have had the pleasure of spending hours nestled up against Sean Connery’s naked chest — but Valerie Leon can.

As a Bond girl in 1983’s Never Say Never Again, her character — unnamed, but nicknamed ‘Sexpot’ by the crew — rescues Connery’s James Bond from a sea of marauding sharks and, as is traditional, ends up in bed with him.

Connery was a perfectionist and that meant that it took all day to film the short scene, leaving Valerie and the star up close and personal for take after take in the Bahamian heat.

The eldest of four, Valerie enjoyed a comfortable upbringing in London. Her father was director of a textile company and her mother had trained at the drama school Rada

Connery was a perfectionist and that meant that it took all day to film the short scene, leaving Valerie and the star up close and personal for take after take in the Bahamian heat

‘He declined the services of a stand-in while they set the lighting and we stayed in bed all morning,’ Valerie recalls. ‘But when his wife Micheline Roquebrune arrived on set to watch, he couldn’t get out of bed quickly enough.’

And who can blame him? Micheline was famously fiery — and however devoted a husband, any wife would feel alarmed to find him entwined with Valerie, whose statuesque, perfectly proportioned frame had earned the actress the title of the ‘English Raquel Welch’.

Many men will remember Valerie fondly from the endearingly naff Seventies’ adverts for Hai Karate aftershave in which the 5ft 11in actress — always showcasing an eye-popping cleavage — was driven wild with lust by the potent fragrance emanating from a comically diminutive man. Even today, she still gets fan mail.

There is far more to her CV: she is the only actress to have appeared in four of the most popular cult film series of the last century: six Carry On features, two Bond films, a Hammer Horror and a Pink Panther movie with Peter Sellers.

In the 1978 Revenge Of The Pink Panther, she had to take ‘whipping lessons’ to play a leather-clad dominatrix.

‘I had to whip Clouseau, so the film company sent this man to my house with a load of whips. I was practising away in my back garden when I suddenly looked up and all the neighbours were peering out wondering what the hell I was doing,’ she laughs.

Her roster of leading men includes Michael Caine, Richard Burton and Roger Moore. Hers was a glamorous era of high budgets and high-rollers, all re-lived by Valerie in Upfront, her online one-woman show in which she recalls her glamorous career and its highlights. ‘I’ve had a ball,’ she says, ‘especially doing Bond.

‘It doesn’t matter whether you have a cameo role or are a leading lady, you’re known the world over as a Bond girl. I’ve been upgraded on aeroplanes and got tables in restaurants because of it.’

No longer a smouldering brunette but a golden-blonde, Valerie is, at 77, when we meet over Zoom, still every bit as glamorous as she was in her youthful heyday.

She’s surrounded by memorabilia from her acting days: the Bond poster signed by Connery post-filming — he wrote ‘For Valerie, until the next time we get into bed, Best of luck, Sean’ — and the signed photo from her ‘other’ Bond, Roger Moore, when they bumped into each other decades after The Spy Who Loved Me.

‘He wrote: “Dear Valerie, how slim I was then, and you still are, Love Roger.” He really was a lovely man,’ she recalls.

A quick glance through photographs of Valerie in her prime suggest that directors were not shy of capitalising on her endless legs and curves. She didn’t mind but had her boundaries.

‘I was very firm about not being nude. I did do one film, called Zeta One, in 1969 where I wasn’t naked but all I had were ropes around me and now I wouldn’t be very happy about it being shown again.’

The eldest of four, Valerie enjoyed a comfortable upbringing in London. Her father was director of a textile company and her mother had trained at the drama school Rada.

Valerie recalls being star-struck from an early age but also shy. ‘Because of my height, a lot of people thought of me as terribly aloof, when the reality was that I was terribly shy,’ she says.

Valerie left school at 15, and after a failed audition for RADA, moved to Paris to work as an au pair and learn French.

At 19, she was back in London and working as a fashion buyer at Harrods when she saw an advert in The Stage newspaper seeking chorus singers for a touring musical called The Belle Of New York. ‘So I played truant from Harrods, auditioned and got the job.

‘It was ridiculous really. I was taller than all the other chorus girls and taller than some of the men, too. But I was thrilled to become an actress.’

In the late Sixties, Valerie won her first role in a Carry On film and would appear in six between 1968 and 1973, playing everything from a hospitality girl to a film star.

Off set, Kenneth Williams was the dominant force, she says. ‘They were very happy sets. Kenneth was such a tease and he particularly liked winding up Charlie Hawtrey.’

Williams would frequently flash female cast members in the corridor, too. ‘He’d sort of lift up his robe and he would have nothing underneath,’ she says. ‘But that was just Kenneth.’

It was, however, the success of the Hai Karate commercials that cemented Valerie in the public imagination as the confident, glamorous, man-eater.

‘The reality was I was nothing like that at all,’ she says. ‘I was terribly insecure. There was this perception of me as a real Amazon. It made it very difficult when I went on dates, and I must have been a terrible disappointment because that wasn’t the real me.’

When she did marry, aged 31, it was to a man 24 years older. TV producer and director Michael Mills was head of comedy at the BBC. They met after Valerie had filmed an episode of Frankie Howerd’s Up Pompeii.

‘Later he invited me out for lunch, and that was that,’ she says. They were married for 14 years (until Michael’s death in 1988) and had a son, Leon, now 44, who has helped her pull together her one-woman show, and 42-year-old Merope, a journalist.

Of all the leading men, Valerie says it is the late Roger Moore for whom she has the softest spot. She worked with him on the hit 1960s TV series The Saint, where ‘we did a three-in-a-bed scene, although it was actually terribly innocent’, she laughs.

Less innocent was Moore’s decision as director of one episode of action-comedy series The Persuaders to give himself an unscripted kiss with Valerie’s character, Therese.

‘It was completely out of the blue, very lovely and one of the highlights of my career,’ she says now. ‘He was just wonderful. Sean Connery is seen as the definitive Bond, but Roger was far more fun and jokey.’

Still, ‘rolling around in bed’ with Connery in her second Bond turn wasn’t exactly a hardship.

‘Sean was very sexy and was a great kisser,’ she agrees.

Valerie was 40 when she was cast alongside Connery and secured the part after turning up to her audition in a sleeveless gold brocade coat and a maroon catsuit.

‘The producer asked me what I thought I was wearing, and I said: “A Bond girl outfit.” And it got me the job,’ she recalls.

Like many actresses of her era, Valerie found work petered out in her 40s, although she is sanguine about it. She turned to restaurant PR instead, although she has remained in demand over the years at film conventions for Bond and Hammer Horror fanatics.

‘The way I see it, I’ve had an incredibly lucky life,’ she says. ‘And of course, once a Bond girl, always a Bond girl.’

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