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Being a travel writer is no holiday

11/04/2014 LEE TULLOCH
Actress Catherine Deneuve in the film Belle de Jour. © Provided by Sydney Morning Herald Actress Catherine Deneuve in the film Belle de Jour.

Travel may occasionally have its irritations and difficulties, especially when you do it as a profession, and readers of this column will know that sometimes I feel the need to point out what is annoying or second-rate about things I come across when I travel.

Travel journalism is quite unlike a holiday. Often our hours are not our own. A stay in a hotel is spent on a hotel tour and perhaps lunch or dinner with management and then copious note-taking about everything from the thickness of the pillows to the bathroom amenities. We rarely stay more than a night or two in a place and, if we are on an itinerary, good luck to us if we can eke out an hour for a bit of shopping or a museum.

But I don't think any of us would say anything other than that we feel immensely privileged to be able to earn our living this way. Sometimes it's exhausting but it's the unexpected pleasures that keep me travelling.

I had lunch with Catherine Deneuve a couple of weeks ago. There was no journalist's ennui about this. I was completely beside myself with excitement. I had seen most of the films she has made, and she has acted in more than 100, from The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) to The Beloved, a recent musical also starring her daughter, Chiara Mastroianni.

She is one of the most famous and adored women in the world and still a significant glamour puss at the age of 70.

If I had not been privileged enough to be invited on the inaugural sailing of Uniworld's sumptuous new river ship, SS Catherine, my dejeuner with la belle Deneuve would never have happened.

Deneuve had been asked by the Tollman family, which owns Uniworld, as well as powerhouse travel brands Red Carnation Hotels, Creative Holidays, Contiki and Trafalgar, to be the "godmother" of the ship, as it bears her name, and we were all in Lyon, France, for the inauguration.

Deneuve, wearing a fuchsia pink wool dress and a beige mink jacket, gave a short quayside speech to the assembled crowd, after which she cut a ribbon and the obligatory bottle of Dom Perignon was smashed against the ship's bow. She then retired to chat with her companion, 41-year-old French film director Gael Morel.

At lunch, I was seated across the table from Deneuve and Morel and next to Beatrice Tollman, matriarch of the family company, who started out in hospitality in the kitchen of the small Durban, South Africa, hotel, the Oyster Box, she and her husband Stanley met more than 60 years ago.

Dressed in head-to-toe Courreges and accompanied by her golden dachshund, Honey, the silver-haired Mrs Tollman gave Deneuve a run for her money in the glamour stakes.

Deneuve chatted about her favourite Parisian restaurants, starting out in films when she was 15, holidaying with her grandchildren in Africa and two new movies about her friend, Yves Saint Laurent. She ate everything except the oysters, including dessert. Throughout the meal she chain-smoked without asking anyone's permission. The ship's restaurant was, naturally, a smoke-free zone, but no one dared object.

I don't smoke and I don't care for fur but I thought, how fabulous. Deneuve is so famous, a true icon (in an era when that word is overused) and such a respected entertainer she can do what she likes as far as I'm concerned. She also once had a relationship with Marcello Mastroianni, which gives her stratospheric fabulousness in my opinion.

She may have had a bit of work on her famous face, but she does look like a woman of her age, albeit one with gorgeous hair and lots of make-up.

Sometimes actors are quite different than they appear on screen, but like the characters did in Woody Allen's Purple Rose of Cairo, you would swear she had just stepped down from it.

Yes, I know I'm gushing. But, really, I was expecting to go on a wonderful cruise. I was not expecting to lunch with Deneuve.

Wouldn't swap this job for quids.

Lee Tulloch was a guest of Uniworld.

Catherine Deneuve in Belle de Jour. © Provided by Sydney Morning Herald Catherine Deneuve in Belle de Jour.
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