March 30th, 1985


FROM THE ARCHIVES:Maeve Binchy was among a select group of journalists who lunched with Shirley Conran, author of the Superwoman series of books, to mark the publication of her second novel, Lace 2. – JOE JOYCE

The invitation said that Shirley Conran was “At Home in the Ritz” and indeed she was, she’d be at home anywhere.

She’s not going on tour to promote Lace Two, which arrived in the shops this week. She doesn’t need to, and she’s a bit tired, she says, and she has a wounded arm. It’s in a sling not because it’s very sore, but to stop her using it.

She had a long red coat, the kind of coat that fastens to the neck. It looked as if it were some kind of linen and silk mixture and that you wouldn’t need to wear anything under it, because it sort of did as a dress just as long as you didn’t forget and began to rip it off in the middle of lunch.

A few minutes later another woman, her accountant, came into the lunch wearing an identical coat in blue. Isn’t that interesting, I said to myself in the five minutes a year I allow myself to speculate about high fashion, those must be the “in” coats at the moment.

They may be and they may not, but both coats were designed and made by Jasper Conran, the dress designer son of Shirley, who has a great deal of success in his own right and is now rarely even referred to as “Superwoman’s son”.

Shirley Conran’s straight hair in its Alice band is the same as it always was, she is the same as she always was: confident, cheerful, highly organised and a source of rage to all her enemies.

Shirley wrote a book telling everyone how to be rich and successful and get things done. But she did the forgivable, she actually followed her own rules. Everyone else bought the book, but didn’t keep her commandments and now they can’t even blame her and say she was sneaky.

She says she still keeps her own rules, even though they are bordering on the insane.

One of her great secrets of success has been the notion that you must make lists, and even though a shrink might say there was something deep and compulsive about it, it’s what made Shirley succeed.

Last week, she said, she let herself in to her New York apartment and she found a dead mouse on the floor. She hates mice – alive or dead. She went into another room to gather her strength. Then she knew what she had to do, she made a List. She began the list with “Remove Dead Mouse”. Then she removed it.

Shirley said the best bit about being rich was not being afraid of brown envelopes, they were like ordinary envelopes.

It had taken her ages to get over the sudden nervous leap of the heart every time she saw one on the mat.

She has a flat in Monte Carlo, one in New York, Squatter’s Rights in her old house in Regent’s Park Terrace, and recently she bought an 11th-century castle near Cannes.