Dosed with champagne aged 1. Snorting cocaine at 9. An orphan at 15.
Diana Dors' son reveals the perils of celebrity childhood
00:37 GMT, 6 April 2012
Siren: Diana Dors was Britain's answer to Marilyn Monroe
The fact that Jason Dors-Lake went off the rails as a teenager is hardly surprising.
When he was only 14 his glamorous mother, blonde screen sex symbol Diana Dors — often called Britain’s answer to Marilyn Monroe — died from ovarian cancer.
A voluptuous, brassy character, she had starred in a series of movies and TV shows, all of which enhanced her standing as a national treasure.
She had become the youngest registered owner of a Rolls-Royce at 21, wore mink coats by day, slept under a mink coverlet at night, and had affairs with several high-profile stars, including Rod Steiger and Bob Monkhouse.
Five months after she died — she was buried in a gold lam evening dress — her third husband, actor Alan Lake, unable to live without his wife, blew his brains out in his by then 15-year-old son’s bedroom. It was 16 years to the day since Diana and Alan had met.
Jason was left broken-hearted, abandoned and damaged. Not only had he lost his doting parents, but it closed a chapter in his life which, he recalls, was like living in a gilded cage. ‘They gave me everything I wanted’, he recalls. ‘Money was no object, because they loved me so much’.
Diana and Alan had a sumptuous lifestyle. Home was Orchard Manor, a mock-tudor mansion in Sunningdale, Berkshire. It had a mirrored indoor swimming pool, leopardskin sofas, a Rolls for the school run, and any expensive toy Jason could wish for.
But death duties, tax demands and legal wrangling meant Jason was left with hardly any money for his own survival. The house had been put on the market for 360,000, but was sold for 280,000.
The contents were valued by Sotheby’s at 100,000, but reportedly went for 4,000. The millions that Diana is believed to have salted away in a secret bank account with the access code DMARYFLUCK — after her real name, Diana Mary Fluck, — have never been traced.
After Diana’s death, Alan burned all her evening gowns, saying no other woman was beautiful enough to wear them. And her jewellery was sold to pay off other outstanding bills.
In despair, Lake called his friend, comedian Freddie Starr, telling him, ‘I can’t go on’. Then he turned the semi-automatic shotgun he kept in Jason’s bedroom wardrobe — and which he had taught his son to use — on himself.
The pain of such a devastating loss has never gone away and only now — at the age of 42 — does Jason, tall and dark with his father’s good looks and his mother’s pale blue eyes and full lips, feel able to let his emotions spill out.
‘There were many times when I’ve felt angry, rebellious and even suicidal,’ he admits. ‘It’s been very difficult to talk about, and my life has had its own ups and downs, but although I kept my feelings tightly inside, I have never forgotten that terrible time. I still hear Mum and Dad’s voices.’
Pampered: Jason with his parents. Diana and Alan had a sumptuous lifestyle
He has collaborated with writer Niema Ash, a neighbour in Broadstairs, Kent, for a book, Connecting Dors. In it he gives a unique insight, unveiling Diana’s secret and at times disturbing life, as well as examining the pitfalls — and rewards — of being the child of a famous celebrity.
Jason pays tribute to Diana as a mother (‘warm, caring, funny’) but also tells of her debauched parties which she allowed her son to witness.
She had died, aged 52, in May 1984. The seriousness of her condition had been kept from Jason until almost the very end — so her death was all the more of a shock. ‘I was numb, but I was determined not to show how upset I was,’ he recalls.
‘Dad cried, but I knew if I started crying, I would not have been able to stop. So I bottled everything up — and I did the same when Dad killed himself so soon afterwards.’
Jason tells me he tried in vain to
comfort his father. He smoked marijuana with him, but it only made
things worse. He became so preoccupied with his 43-year-old father’s
problems there was no time or space to cope with his own emotions.
wasted away,’ he tells me. ‘He lost loads of weight — he wasn’t the
same person after my mother died. He had lost his soulmate. He was just a
Jason pays tribute to Diana as a mother but also tells of her debauched parties which she allowed her son to witness
‘At my mum’s funeral my dad started crying and I thought, “I’m not going to let the photographers see me crying”. And so I held back, which was not good at all. Instead of getting upset, it gave me anger issues, which I have been dealing with. I’ve had counselling. And it was the same when my dad died.’
He followed his father’s coffin to the grave where it was buried next to his mother’s. He only weakened once, he explains, when he threw a rose into his father’s grave and said: ‘Bless you Daddy, I love you.’ But he said it low so no one could hear.
‘No way would I have shown the world how devastated I was. I had to force myself to think nothing, feel nothing,’ says Jason. ‘People ask if I am angry with my father for leaving me on my own. Yes and no. I think in one way he was very brave. People say suicide is a coward’s way out — but to actually do it takes a lot of courage. He did it because he loved my mother so very much. So I don’t blame him.
‘But then another part of me thinks: “Well you could have stuck around for me.” Sometimes, when I’ve had literally nothing, I think: “Well thanks, Dad, for leaving me here on my own to deal with all this.” I found myself asking: “Why did you leave me Didn’t you love me enough Why in my room” But I still don’t blame him.’
Life at Orchard Manor was louche. Diana and Alan threw extravagant parties for their friends — among them top models, actors, showbusiness personalities and even East End gangsters like the Krays.
Many would be smoking pot, snorting cocaine off glass-topped tables, or frolicking naked in the pool. There were also hidden cameras and two-way mirrors, so guests could spy on unsuspecting couples in the bedrooms.
Jason’s parents made no attempt to shield their son from this. He was given his first soft drug by an actor at seven and cocaine by the time he reached nine. ‘My grandmother found the composer Lionel Bart coming out the loo one night with white powder all down his jacket,’ he says. ‘She said, “Oh Lionel, you’ve got talcum powder all over you”. She didn’t realise it was cocaine.’
Diana would send Jason to bed only if guests started fighting, which often happened. Alan and Oliver Reed would regularly end up drunkenly challenging each other to a duel on the lawn with ornate swords until they fell to the ground, laughing hysterically.
‘I just thought it was all fairly normal,’ recalls Jason. ‘I thought everyone behaved like that at parties.’
His sex education started at ten, watching his father acting in soft porn movies. ‘I didn’t realise it was unusual — I knew no other way of life,’ he says.
Jason had his first taste of alcohol at 12 months old. ‘When Alan was looking after me he used to take me in my pram to the pub and put champagne or alcohol in my bottle to keep me quiet,’ he tells me. ‘Mum went ballistic when she found out. Next time, he tried to palm me off with sparkling water, but apparently I kicked up a massive fuss, because it wasn’t what I was used to!’
When Lake refused to pay for the water, a fight broke out between him, the pub manager, and Lake’s friend, singer Leapy Lee. Lake was jailed for 18 months and Lee got three years.
With such a free lifestyle, it was inevitable that, after their deaths, Jason would have problems with discipline. ‘I became the archetypal spoilt brat,’ he admits. ‘I could do anything, wear anything, buy anything. I was then to learn my early life wasn’t normal and that the real world is a very harsh and difficult place. That makes me feel very humble now.’
He was sent to live in Los Angeles with his newly appointed guardian, his 22-year-old half-brother Gary Dawson (the son of Diana’s ex-husband, comedian Dickie Dawson).
Knowing know other way of life: Jason's sex education started at ten, watching his father acting in soft porn movies
Each received 50,000 from the estate, and Gary was given Jason’s share to look after as it was considered he was too young. But the money soon disappeared — Jason claims they were wildly extravagant — and they fell out over his refusal to obey Gary’s house rules.
He was by now wilful and confused, existing on drugs, alcohol, sweets and fast food without real adult supervision or guidance. When Jason reached his l8th birthday, Gary threw him out. His birthday present to him was a one-way plane ticket to London and just $300 (190) from the estate.
Freddie Starr discovered he had returned to England virtually penniless, so he gave him 1,000 to start a new life. ‘But don’t spend it all in one place’, he joked.
Jason began to carve a career for himself as an actor, also dabbling in composing and recording music.
He had always been attractive to women, and on a hedonistic trip to Ibiza in the Nineties met Kate Moss and Jade Jagger. He says he ‘had fun’ on the beach with them one night and woke up in bed with Kate.
Kate, who had just broken up with Johnny Depp, told Jason how deeply hurt she was. There was empathy as Jason told Kate about what had happened to his parents, and how much he missed them.
He tells me: ‘Those two girls were lots of fun and I had a good time. But I did also feel a bit used, as I think many other boys did. After a couple of weeks you were just discarded. I didn’t really mind — that’s the way things were.’
Nine years ago, he faced his own life-threatening crisis. Convinced his then girlfriend, former Australian child star Sally Boyden, was losing interest, and consumed with the feelings of abandonment that haunted him since the death of his parents, he jumped off the balcony of the third-floor apartment they shared, and fell head-first on to the pavement.
He broke his neck, arm, hip and foot and fractured his skull, and even cracked the concrete paving stone. It was a miracle that he survived, but he says it was a final warning.
‘I decided to calm my life down and move out of London with all its temptations,’ he says. Now, he has an apartment in Broadstairs, and is resuming his career — he is re-working one of his mother’s songs, to be released soon.
‘It took a long time to repair my body after that fall, and I decided never to chance my luck again,’ says Jason. ‘I no longer condone drugs, because taking them doesn’t solve anything.
‘I’ve been very reckless. Taken ridiculous, stupid risks. But now I’ve turned myself round and I really appreciate life. I’ve realised it is a gift. I no longer live on the edge.
‘Instead, I face up to any problems, rather than go the easy route. I have sorted myself out with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous and my girlfriend, Marcella. But I am a survivor and I mean to go on surviving.
‘And you know what I am no longer afraid to cry if I want to.’
Connecting Dors, The Legacy Of Diana Dors by Niema Ash, is published by Purple Inc Press. Signed copies are available from niemaash.com.