After many years of applying for an interview with James Bond, in late 2013 – in time to tie in with the publication of William Boyd’s Bond novel ‘Solo’ and officially just to give a unique review by its hero himself – the Ministry of Defence finally granted us a brief visit at the secret location the agent inhabits for some years now. Accompanied by a number of plainclothes representatives from the Ministry’s branch of public relations, our rapporteur met James Bond in the discreet retirement installation for Her Majesty’s distinguished civil servants in the countryside.
Discuss this interview here
At my inquiry after the whereabouts of Mr Bond a friendly nurse points to the garden. ‘Mr Bond is in our bus shelter in the park.’ Indeed, there is a glass shelter with one orange bench and a bus stop sign beside one of the gravel paths. My spirits sink immediately. Such shelters are used in retirement homes as a kind of anchor or brace, to keep disoriented patients from running away. They want to leave the strange foreign surroundings, see the bus stop and decide to just wait for the bus instead of walking the whole way home. It works remarkably well with most cases of senility and Alzheimer’s. Here I feel this has got to be some cruel prank by Whitehall, granting access to the world’s most famous secret agent only once he’s been reduced to a mumbling shadow of his former self. Nonetheless I head for the shelter, expecting the worst.
Bond must have read my thoughts in my face. ‘Don’t worry, I haven’t become an avid advocate of public transport. It’s just because they don’t let us smoke inside,’ he says with a grim smile as he raises to meet me. ‘Too unhealthy. As if that would make any difference for our lot.’ He blows a dragon stream of smoke from his nostrils and measures me with his grey-blue eyes.
‘So – you are one of my “fans”? One of these “internet people” who write about me,’ Bond says with a wary glance and gives me a firm – if brief and somewhat bony – handshake. ‘Do take a seat.’
I pause and look at the second figure at the far end of the bench, a small woman in a twin-set, a huge handbag on her knees, an air of mild abstraction around her. Apparently she’s searching for some obscure treasure, muttering to herself.
‘Oh, do not mind her at all, she’s busy with her bag.’ And in a lower voice he adds ‘Just pretend she’s waiting for her bus, OK?’
So I sit to Bond’s left, the rummaging lady with her belongings at the other end, mumbling during most of the interview just below the level where it would disturb our talk.
‘Now, young man, let’s get this over with. What do you want to know?’ It’s obvious James Bond these days doesn’t enjoy this kind of PR duty too much, if at all.
‘Mr Bond, since when do you live here?’
Bond frowns. ‘Young man, I was given to understand this interview was concerning itself with this new novel, ‘Solo’, and with nothing else. In fact that was one of the reasons I agreed to it in the first place.
‘But since you ask,’ he continues before I can apologise for my faux-pas, ‘ I’ve been living here for some years now; the blasted age, you see? I was living in Southern France, on Jamaica and on Guernsey before that. Good times – but there inevitably comes a point when you have to trade independence for the amenities a place like this provides.
‘Still, a damn nuisance I’m not even allowed to smoke in my own room,’ he adds with a frown. ‘Not as if I demand a King’s ransom, just a bit of privacy and personal freedom.’
With this he shakes a fresh cigarette from an expensive looking carton and lights it on the stub he has just smoked down to the filter. Strewn around the bench are dozens of old cigarette butts, indicating this ersatz bus shelter is his favourite place around here.
James Bond looks very much like himself: tall, relatively lean for his age – a wide chest hints to his former swimming days but also to high living – and his eyes still don’t show that rheumy look one usually associates with people of Bond’s age. If he has acquired a gut his tall built still helps keeping it in check. Bond’s hair has gone completely white and is much thinner, his face now heavily lined by the years and the adventures – so much so you can’t point to the famous thin scar any more – but otherwise this is undeniably James Bond.
Through the smoke he looks at me, prodding me with a gesture to go on with the interview.