Anita Pallenberg is an actress, model, and fashion designer. Born in Italy in 1944 she was the partner of the Rolling Stones’ guitarist Brian Jones and then the partner of Keith Richards.
Anita, you have worked in the worlds of cinema, music and fashion. Would you define yourself as an eclectic person?
I would say that my life has been based on charm, living life on charm. Just in order to show my father I spoke five languages, and my father said, “With that you will be a secretary.” Now that I have got older I very much appreciate that they forced me to be at least bilingual, Italian and German.
Were you educated in Italy?
I went to school in Germany and I did not go to school in Italy. I think I learned more in museums in Italy.
What did you think you would do in life?
I wanted to be an archaeologist or an anthropologist. I never did it.
How was your life in Rome when you were young?
Mario Schifano was my first boyfriend, and in Rome I was seeing other artists, intellectuals and friends from the cinema world. We used to meet at Caffe Rosati: people like Furio Colombo, Giorgio Franchetti, Cy Twombly, Giulio Turcato.
You met Brian Jones when you were 22 years old?
Yes, I met him in Germany where I was doing a modelling job and the photographer said there is a band playing and you should come, so I went to see them in Munich. I met Brian, who was speaking German and was very erudite. He said come with me, and we became friends. There were also the others like Keith and Mick there. At the time we were smoking hash and I used to travel with hash. I asked them, “Do you want some?” and Brian said, “Yes,” but his friends didn’t. Later I went on a tour in Germany with Brian. I was working as a model in Germany because they paid on the day, that’s why I liked to work there. In France or Italy they paid several days later.
Were the Rolling Stones already famous at the time?
No. They had not written ‘Satisfaction’ yet.
How did you change from being with Brian Jones to Keith Richards?
We were friends and we were together. We were taking loads of acid, but Brian had horrors and bad trips, he did not take acid well. When we got busted in London we all decided to go to Morocco and Brian started to get very violent. We went by car, a Bentley with a driver, and Brian got sick and ended up in hospital. He had asthma. He was very sickly, fragile. So Keith and I drove on and left him there, and that was when we had a physical relationship.
That lasted 15 years?
He was the biological right man to be the father of my children. It was more respect and friendship than mad love. Keith is very generous. In those days we did not plan families. I certainly did not want to get married, but I got pregnant. And then because I had to do a film, ‘Performance’, I had to have a termination to do the film. I resented it very much, and so when I finished the film I got pregnant again. If you were not Sophia Loren with Carlo Ponti behind you it was difficult to be treated properly.
Which was your first film?
The first film I did when I was with Brian, he did the music with Jimi Page. It was a Volker Schlöndorff movie, ‘A Degree of Murder’. Then I played in ‘Barbarella’ with Jane Fonda. Roger Vadim was the director.
How was Vadim?
We were doing one take a day at around 6.30 in the evening. All day waiting. Probably I went into drugs because of that, it was so boring to wait. Vadim was funny. He thought he was a little boy and he behaved like a little boy. I spent a lot of time waiting on the set together with Jane Fonda. She had a very tragic life, and she was very professional. Keith was coming to see me, and Jane fell in love with him. After the film she came to our house in Cheyne Walk in London where I had Marlon my baby, and Keith did not let her in. She reminded him of his aunt.
What kind of person is Keith?
He is a musician. My father was a musician as well.
You saw a lot of Mick Jagger?
Me and Marianne Faithfull were always left alone, as Keith and Mick were recording and we were friends. We hung out together, taking drugs together, and we went to John Paul Getty’s house, the Rossetti House, because he was the last resort and he always had some drugs.
How was London in those days?
I always lived in Chelsea since we had a house, before that we were living in hotels. I was shocked in Chelsea by hippy girls who were walking barefoot in the Kings Road. I am Italian and in Italy shoes are a sign of wealth. Only very poor people walk without shoes.
Was Chelsea different at that time?
No, just that now there are more bars and coffee shops.
Fashion was different?
It was hippy time, but I never was a hippy. At that time I worked in ‘Dillinger is Dead’, a film by Marco Ferreri with Michel Piccoli and Annie Girardot. London was a little cliquey group of people who worked in galleries…. artists, musicians… some aristocrats. There were some parties and some events, like Ravi Shankar playing or something like that.
How was it to raise two children in such a lifestyle?
We were on the road a lot, travelling on tour, and I took my son everywhere. I did not send Marlon to school until he was 8 years old. I taught him how to read and write while Keith’s mother looked after my daughter. My daughter (Angela, also known as Dandelion) was born in Switzerland. I took her on the road, but with a girl it is different, sometimes it was an unsafe environment. The difficulty with Keith is that he sleeps all day, and ideally I had to be up with the children all day. I couldn’t have made the tours without the protection of drugs.
Did you meet many interesting people?
I don’t think so. People are people. I was not a fan. I was not excited to meet John Lennon. It is not my personality. Of course I met John Lennon, and for me he was like an art student. I had a lot of respect for Jimmy Page, that’s about it. Sometimes we would go out to a club called ‘Ad Lib’, but I also used to go out by myself to see the Pink Floyd or Jimi Hendrix. I was not allowed to do it because all the rock stars are male chauvinists in their own camps. If you were in the Beatles’ camp, or the Who, you could not be in the Rolling Stones’.
Why did you break up with Keith?
Because of the growing of the children. My son also used to say to his father, “Dad, you are never there.”
What happened when you finished with Keith?
I was happy that I could score my own drugs. That’s the reality. I lived in Long Island and Westchester for about nine years. I was there alone with Marlon and Keith’s father, who lived with us in America as well. I had some boyfriends, but nothing serious. Then I came back to England to clean up from drugs and went to rehab. I was a very bad alcoholic and it took me twenty years to come out of it.
How did you manage to stop?
I went to rehab. I did a baccalaureate in textiles at Central St Martins. I studied.
You became a designer?
I was more interested in fabrics. Then I worked with Vivienne Westwood. I did a lot of things, all sorts of things to save my life.
Do you still think of drugs?
It is like the love of my life. It is a love affair I had to give up. I was on my own, my family did not want to see me. I was disgusting, aggressive, a very hard drinker. I was morose, not a happy drunk. I wanted to live. I took care of myself. I went to AA meetings and all that. People were dying, there was AIDS. It was a dark period.
You managed to stop all by yourself?
How can you stop if not by yourself. That’s the most important thing.
And you did it?
It is fourteen years now with no drugs, no alcohol. I should be able to say that I am thirty years clean. Then I had a relapse with magic mushrooms and I started the cycle again for another ten years. It is a big battle. Now it is finished, unless I get very sick and they prescribe me morphine, which they won’t! Today I can sit at a table in front of people who take cocaine or drink, without problems. I just get bored. People who drink get very boring. They repeat themselves and say the same thing over and over.
Where do you live when you are not in London?
Since four years I spend the winter in Jamaica. Rome is too cold in the winter and so I look after Keith’s house and garden in Jamaica where the climate is perfect, and I paint. I also went to Cuba and South America.
What about your children?
I see them, but they don’t come to Jamaica.
Do you feel Italian and still speak Italian?
Yes. Romana di Roma, Romanaccia. When I was young I was a so-called ‘Pariolina’ and then when I lived in New York in the 70s I realised that there are many Italian dialects in New York that they don’t speak in Italy any more. So I started to cultivate my Roman accent. Also I had a very great friend, the singer Gabriella Ferri, who was singing Roman songs. My children are English. My son speaks a little Spanish, but like all English people they don’t speak other languages.
How would you describe yourself?
A vagabond. An adventurer. I am not a person with one specific talent. I wish I was.
Was it difficult to find your identity?
I don’t want to get stuck in the 60s like platform shoes. Fashion is probably my closest thing, but I don’t like it. It is the thing I spend the most time on.
Who do you like in fashion?
Vivienne Westwood. Then I became a fashion style queen myself. They all want to take pictures of me and write articles about me and my style.
What is your style?
Boots, belts, cashmere, hats, sunglasses, furs as well. I am not politically correct. This is ruining the world. I like lamé fabrics, I worked in India for six months. I like jewelry, all jewelry. I used to wear a lot. Now I get more sensitive I can barely wear anything. I am not afraid of change at all. I think change is the best thing one can do, quite honestly. I do a lot of gardening. I love that. I have an allotment garden in London and grow Italian things. I do it with a German friend who grows German things like potatoes. I have a garden in Italy. I look after Marlon’s garden and Keith’s Jamaican garden. This year we had two crops of bananas for the first time. I paint and design. I do botanical paintings, an ancient art. I like everything that has been there for a long time. I love the Chelsea Physic Garden in London where I go for lunch from time to time. I stopped going out at night since the smoking ban.
How much do you smoke?
About twenty a day, but I am not a cancer person. I do yoga, and also bicycle.
Do you live by yourself?
I have lived alone for twenty years. If I want to see someone I call them, but I don’t like to be called. I have a couple of good friends from the Sixties. I don’t go out, now there are only paparazzi. I don’t like it, I am tired of it.
Are you still friends with Marianne Faithfull?
We are very close. Now she lives in Paris, but we have seen each other a lot recently. She is incredibly strong, talented.
I do not regret. I liked it better before, when political correctness did not exist and things were less tedious according to me.
Are you afraid to get older?
I am ready to die. I have done so much here. My Mum died at 94. I don’t want to lose my independence. Now I am over 70 and to be honest I did not think I would live over 40.
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