Mr Gainsborough-Roberts’ full length black coat was emblazoned with a sequinned image of the legendary blonde. The eccentric sixty-something-year-old also wore a faded blue tie and waistcoat from which the screen siren pouted seductively.
He digressed endlessly as he sipped his 11am glass of white wine. “Well I used to collect posters from the cinema from about the age of seven,” his upper class accent and tongue rolling blended his answers into a posh inaudible mumble. But the real collection started with a £15,000 dress. Now, eighteen years later, he has the world’s largest genuine collection of Marilyn Monroe memorabilia.
Costumes, folded hap haphazardly in acid free tissue paper, had been stuffed into drawers in uninhabited rooms at his Jersey home. Outfits, jewellery, shoes and photographs from the too short life of the glitzy fifties show stopper mingled with Elvis’ ring and Audrey’s make-up set. A life size wax work model made by Madame Tussauds stands in his kitchen.
In the next room, the iconic red sequinned dress from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes had been tried on by the Monroe lookalike who wiggled across the carpet leaving a trail of jewels behind her for the PR girls to pick up. Now, thanks to the six feet tall white haired collector, it was on display – carefully fitted around a specially made mannequin. The cocktail dress Monroe wore in Some Like It Hot and the Niagara “wiggle dress” were gems in the fanatic’s unrivalled collection. Backstage photographs taken by Eve Arnold during the filming of The Misfits were also laid out behind the glass.
It seemed strange that these items should be taken out of storage only to be displayed from behind a transparent wall – as if Monroe herself was untouchable. Gainsborough-Roberts drained his glass of wine and pulled his theatrical coat around him. We stood up and walked towards the exit, where the next journalist waited to hear his tale. “The show must go on”, he smiled and shook my hand. As he turned, Monroe sparkled in the morning sun.