Sexy Sixties’ ice queen Charlotte Rampling thaws… but only a little

WHO I AM

by Charlotte Rampling (Icon 12.99)

Some of the most beautiful creatures who ever lived blossomed in the Sixties – Julie Christie, Susannah York, Jane Asher, Marianne Faithfull, Jacqueline Bisset and Charlotte Rampling.

Strutting about in thigh-high white boots and leaping out of open-top cars, these girls were photographic models for David Bailey, Lord Snowdon and Terry ONeill.

Everything was different, writes Charlotte – Charly – Rampling in this haunting and disturbing memoir. Skirts, music, objects, language, freedom . . .

Rampling (pictured in 1967 in Naples, Italy) was the Sixties ice-queen, peerless at playing cool bitches

And was there ever a more onomatopoetic name than Rampling? The word is evocative of romps in the hay, but Rampling was the Sixties ice-queen, peerless at playing cool bitches. She is complicated in Woody Allens Stardust Memories, disturbing in The Night Porter.

Now of more mature years, her blue eyes undimmed, she is good at being imperious – as the angry wife in the award-winning 45 Years or the lawyer in Broadchurch.

Who I Am explains precisely how she grew to be as she is, with a personality that is deliberately detached, her touch of frost consciously kept up.

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Share 12 shares Lapsing into the third person, Rampling says of herself: I feel a little afraid of your intelligence, of your challenging gaze.

She is aware that if people come closer, it doesnt take long before they get the message and they back away.

Born in 1946, everything can be traced back to her army childhood. She moved seven times in her first 13 years. Her father, Colonel Godfrey Rampling of the Royal Artillery, was posted everywhere from Malta to Wales, Gibraltar to Norfolk.

Who I Am by Charlotte Rampling (Icon 12.99)

Army life was regimented down to the last detail. This meant not showing emotion when the family was uprooted yet again.

Rampling was in a permanent state of disengagement: I knew I was going to leave and that I wouldnt come back.

The family, well off after owning factories that made ecclesiastical clothes and military uniforms for 200 years, were not a jolly lot at the best of times. The Colonel had won a gold medal for the 400m relay at the Berlin Olympics in 1936, but he could never curb a rage to win. We are to believe hed never got over the trauma of losing his parents in World War I, after which he was brought up by his grandmother, a severe woman, who consigned him to boarding school aged seven.

Silence always wins, Rampling says of her own refusal to open up. One of her chief dislikes is being stared at, desired, though how does she expect the world to respond to a movie star?

Throughout the Sixties, Barbara Windsor was in those Carry Ons and youd not find her being pained and pretentious – in Paris or anywhere else. Ramplings mother, Isabel, was livelier. She wrote voluminous diaries in purple ink, enjoyed parties and wore expensive frocks and perfume.

As a youngster, Rampling and her sister, Sarah, another beauty, were flung together for company. Sarah was always troubled. She used to get up at night and sleepwalk along the corridors, haunted by dreams.

On Sarahs first trip abroad, a spirited girl throwing off the shackles of convention, she met a handsome Argentinian cattle-rancher. Without saying anything to anyone, a week after meeting him, she married him.

Within a year, Sarah had died, apparently in childbirth. Years later, Rampling discovered she had committed suicide – another subject the Colonel never mentioned as: It would kill your mother if she knew.

There was no funeral. By the time the Ramplings were informed, Sarah had been buried – because of the heat.

That was in 1967. It sheds a chilly light on Ramplings participation in the Swinging Sixties, helping to explain her reserve and aloofness, her unwillingness to join in with all the silly fun.

This elegant book describes itself as not a biography, or a song, or a betrayal, barely a novel – lets say a ballad.

As it was originally composed in French and later translated by William Hobson, can we infer that the poetic style came across as less banal in the original language? Nonetheless, though Who I Am is a tiny production, it is intricate, and I needed a lot of patience to piece together any coherent narrative.

I waded through the chronological topsy-turviness in search of hard facts – for example that the Colonel owned one of Britains first bubble cars and that his gold medal was not gold. Hitler had tricked the athletes, palmed them off with fakes.

The project was prompted by the rediscovery of the family archive.

Ramplings mothers papers, the hoarded letters, photos, certificates and documents plus those purple-ink diaries, were stuffed into plastic bags by the Colonel and chucked in a skip.

Years later, a man appeared at Ramplings door – hed found everything and offered to sell it back. A life snatched from the dump.

The Colonel, who died in 2009 aged 100, was unrepentant. In a violent voice, he shouts: I THREW THEM AWAY!

Rampling says her fathers sole confession was: If I had to start over, Id be an actor – the magic profession for those who want to escape from themselves.

That was why she chose performing also: to go on stage, to be looked at and applauded gave her an unsettling, thrilling feeling. More unsettling than thrilling, perhaps. It must be hard being Charlotte Rampling, she concludes about herself.

It is impossible to disagree.

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