Byline: Christine Smith
MICHAEL Winner steps out of his black 1968 chauffeur- driven Bentley in jeans, blue shirt and navy blazer. A thick gold chain hangs around his neck.
It's 12.50pm. "Ah, it's looking good for you, Christine," roars the 66-year-old multi-millionaire in a tone that implies he intends to call the shots today.
"You are 10 minutes early," he continues. He is pleased with my punctuality - and clearly expects me to be bowled over that my time keeping has met with his approval.
I smile sweetly and let this grandiose man lead the way as we settle down for lunch in London's plush Assaggi restaurant.
On matters gastronomic Mr Winner is, of course, a critic with a reputation for taking no prisoners. If he doesn't like a place, he says so in no uncertain terms.
But Assaggi is one of his favourite London establishments and I am looking forward to observing the lesser spotted Winner in his natural environment.
"I've already had a whisky with my coffee this morning," he tells me as I wonder whether I should have knocked back a couple of stiff ones too!
And so begins an extraordinary two hours with Mr Winner, the film director and restaurant critic. A man more famous these days for his pot belly, girlfriends 30 years his junior and a reputation for having a loud mouth.
He is not a man to mince his words. And I am not a woman who shies away from the big question. So I ask if Michael if he agrees with the oft made suggestion that he is - well - damned rude.
"People don't know me," he says. "I hate rudeness actually ... I am er, er..."
He falls silent and ponders how he would describe himself. Eventually he tells me: "Er, I'd put it that I am fairly cheerful."
"I do get hundreds of invitations," he says. "...but I am a bit of a hermit. I seldom leave the house..."
The "house" is a 46-bedroomed mansion in London's upmarket Kensington. Originally a block of flats, he bought out the other residents in the early 1980s before property prices skyrocketed and turned it into one of the most sought-after homes in London.
BUT the lavish house, complete with cinema and swimming pool, will not be going on the market when he dies. He plans to leave it to a tearfully grateful nation.
"I want my house to be a museum," he says. "I have no family."
Despite the healthiest of sex lives, Michael has never fathered any children. He insists he doesn't mind. Nor does he mind that he has never married. He says he "can't be bothered to go to a psychiatrist to find out why", adding: "I am not alone."
Further probing, however, reveals he did once contemplate settling down. He was turned down.
"She wasn't keen, shall we say," says Michael. Who was she? Silence. I ask again. Silence.
It is the first time today he has not wanted to answer a question. And believe me, this man likes to talk, particularly when he is name dropping about the Hollywood stars he has worked with as a film director - Marlon Brando, Burt Lancaster, Oliver Reed.
His own success is another favourite subject.
He has made more than 30 movies, including that all-time classic Death Wish. He gives the impression he genuinely views himself as one of the greatest film directors of all time. "The remarkable thing about me," he says. "Is I am still here after 42 years. I have had a substantial career..."
"Ok, there have been a few flops... but where will Victoria Beckham be in 42 years?"
Michael is equally forthright on the women in his life. Jenny Seagrove, Simone Hyam, Vanessa Perry, he has dated dozens over the past five decades. And they are not just your ordinary run-of-the-mill girls. The women Mr Winner steps out with are slim, young and attractive.
With his white hair, red cheeks, podgy physique and …