An Oscar for American Beauty, but now he’s The Invisible Man

by Andrew Pierce

KevScan2TheTimesHe promised so much and yet he has delivered so little. When I revealed two years ago that Kevin Spacey was going to bring some Hollywood glitter to the Cinderella of London theatres the effect was electrifying. This genuine high-voltage star, with his Oscar for American Beauty, would become the darling of the party circuit. Oh, the stories he would generate! Oh, the photographs! Oh, the gossip!

But oh, the disappointment! Spacey just never shows up. He even missed the Bill Clinton video-link appearance at the Old Vic, one of the few high points of this dull general election campaign.

Spacey told us two years ago that other big names were destined to follow him to his new Waterloo base. There was excitable talk of Willem Dafoe, John Malkovich, even Catherine Zeta-Jones, who is a friend. But all he has given us is the magnificent but not terribly glamorous theatre knight Ian McKellen . . . in panto.

McKellen, a founding member of the Stonewall gay rights organisation, has privately urged 45-year-old Spacey to confront the persistent rumours about his sexuality: is he straight or is he gay? Spacey has exercised his legitimate right to say nothing.

His silence was deafening when he discovered the perils of a South London park after dark. Walking his dog near his Kennington flat at 4am, Spacey was duped by a young man into handing over his telephone. He went to a police station and reported that he had been mugged; but after being treated in hospital he withdrew the complaint.

But has Spacey’s aversion to publicity turned into a form of paranoia? When I innocently inquired into the wellbeing of the dog, at the first preview of his programme at the Old Vic, the shutters came clanging down. It was hardly an intrusive question. What possible confidences could he have entrusted to his Jack Russell pooch, Mini, from Battersea Dogs’ Home?

What is most surprising about Spacey is not the people who know him, but rather the people who don’t. An obvious candidate for his circle would be the impeccably well-connected Labour peer Waheed Alli, the multimillionaire gay founder of Planet 24 and The Big Breakfast TV show. Not so: “I saw him once at the Labour Party conference with Bill Clinton but I have never met him,” Lord Alli says.

Spacey avoids restaurants such as The Ivy, home of the media aristocracy, although he dined there once with Neil Tennant, the Pet Shop Boy, and his friend Janet Street-Porter — one of the few British journalists Spacey trusts. He has also been known to go to the Groucho Club in Soho, another favourite thespian playpen. The club is awash with heavy-drinking hacks, but Spacey feels safe there. Few words uttered at the club ever make it into print.

Spacey has a tight-knit circle of friends who observe his wish for privacy. They include Sir Elton John, who chairs the Old Vic Trust, and his partner David Furnish. His closest friend is Sally Greene, the ultimate Labour luvvie and expert networker, who owns the Old Vic. He is a trophy guest at Greene’s regular soirées at her home in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, along with the luvvies’ luvvy, Lord Attenborough.

Even his favoured mode of transport is understated. Spacey commutes from his penthouse flat at one of South London’s most fashionable addresses, on a motor scooter. It has dual benefits. Not only is it good to dodge traffic jams but the crash helmet means that few people notice him.

Like his clothes, it is a metaphor for Spacey’s London life. He wears a baseball cap not as a fashion statement, but as a disguise.

May 4, 2005