From television celebrity to tequila entrepreneur, we talk to one of the nicest people in show business, Cleo Rocos about everything from partying with Princess Diana to the power of positive drinking.
Cleo Rocos will never blend into a crowd. Whether it’s her fiery red hair, wild style or infectious laugh, she definitely knows how to work a room. Her speech is peppered with words like “fab” and there is little doubt she knows how to have a good time. She clearly loves socialising and has spent years rubbing shoulders with some of the biggest and brightest stars in both Britain and the United States, usually armed with one of her famous margaritas.
Rocos’ break into show business sounds like the stuff of Hollywood legends: a chance meeting with BBC director, Alan Bell while still in drama school led to her being cast in a small role on a BBC comedy series. “I was late for a ballet class and I was running, clutching my ballet shoes, and I didn’t see him”, Rocos remembers that Bell spotted her and took a shine to the then fourteen-year-old, who looked more like a woman of twenty.
Bell invited her to the BBC for lunch where she was introduced to the head of the BBC’s live entertainment, Jim Moir who asked her to audition for the part of a jingle girl on a new programme, The Kenny Everett Show.
Upon meeting Everett, she says it was love at first sight. “Kenny and I got on so well that they asked me if I would like to do the series and be Kenny’s co-star”, she explains, “and it was fab. We just laughed from edge to edge.” You can hear the affection she had for Everett in her voice when she talks about him.
They called each other “fellow Martians” because they felt different from others yet fit perfectly together. But Everett was gay and passed away from AIDS related complications in 1995.
“I tell people that I fell in love with a man, I didn’t fall in love with a gay man. It didn’t matter to me in the way people would think it would because we got along on every single other level.”
The couple were engaged and planned to marry but Everett called it off. “I think he felt that he didn’t want to go through something that he might feel a failure in, even though it wasn’t going to be that way with me. But I loved him and he’s the only man I’ve ever loved.”
The Kenny Everett Show ran for eight years and was hugely popular in the UK. During the eighties, the pair took the London nightlife and social scene by storm. She has partied with everyone from Elizabeth Taylor to Joan Collins.
She describes Collins as “divine” and says Elizabeth Taylor was just as glamorous as you’d want her to be. Taylor famously suffered from back pains as a result of a horse riding accident while filming National Velvet as a child, so she would often hold court in her Los Angeles home and host dinner parties at her house that were attended by Rocos and a slew of closeted male celebrities including British actor Edward Duke who first introduced Cleo to the Hollywood legend.
“You imagine meeting [Taylor] would be terrifying but it’s the complete opposite. She was probably the most generous, loveliest person. She had the most cackly, Wizard of Oz witch laugh but she was so much fun.”
Back in London, Rocos and Kenny Everett would often have lunch with Princess Diana, where they would trade showbiz gossip for palace gossip. Rocos says, “Diana always wanted to know who [on television] was really gay.” The princess loved The Kenny Everett Show and Rocos’ recounts a hilarious story about sneaking the Princess into the Royal Vauxhall Tavern along with Everett and Freddie Mercury.
The day started at the Bombay Brasserie where Princess Diana suggested they order peach bellinis. She had no security with her and Rocos says, “there was never any security with her as Diana was very good at sneaking out of Kensington Palace.”
Following their wet lunch, the party moved to Everett’s penthouse in Lexham Gardens where the champagne fuelled fun continued. The Princess kicked off her shoes and they started dancing around Kenny’s flat to the Gypsy Kings using
feather dusters that looked like “dehydrated Vegas feathers”.
Everett rang his neighbour, Freddie Mercury who came over so they could watch an episode of the Golden Girls. “We turned the sound down and all started doing the different characters voices.”
The group then planned to move onto the bar and Diana was keen to join them however, they first had to help to disguise her identity. The group hatched a plan to put Princess Diana in boy drag, dressing her in a military jacket, tucking her hair up in a hat and giving her a pair of aviator sunglasses to wear.
“Diana said she’d stay just as long as it takes to order a glass of wine and go,” but when they arrived the place was packed. They went in nudging each other like school kids. Luckily, nobody recognised Diana and most people thought she was just a “beautiful male model.”
She stayed in disguise all night and they took her home in a taxi back to Kensington Palace. The press never caught wind that Diana had been at a gay bar and Rocos now calls this her “peach bellini day”.
She maintains that the day would have never happened had it not been for the peach bellinis and she is a strong believer that drinking can be used to bring people together. In fact, she has recently published a book called The Power of Positive Drinking.
She is passionate about drinking the right kind of cocktails and in 2012 she launched her own brand of tequila, Aqua Riva made from 100% agave. Drinking 100% agave tequila “is the only way to party”, explains Rocos, “because you do feel so much more wonderful the next morning than if you’re drinking wine or spirits.”
Tequila, long associated with hideous hangovers, body shots and all-inclusive holidays in Puerta Vallarta has mostly been approached with fear by British drinkers, however Rocos is adamant that drinking the right kind of Tequila means no hangover, just a good time.So how did she go from television star to Tequila campaigner and entrepreneur?
Following a period of feeling disenchanted with the type of television work she was being offered such as Celebrity Big Brother, which she says had “the most horrible, unflattering overhead lighting”, she was looking for something she could do that would capture the theatrics of her pre-reality television days.
She began hosting Tequila Society dinner parties as an excuse to get interesting people together to “enjoy tequila cocktails all made with fresh ingredients so nobody felt ropy the next morning.” She loves the drama of a good party and believes that socialising and drinking go hand in hand.
Soon afterwards she became President of the Tequila Society and went to Mexico to learn as much about her favourite drink as possible. It was then that she discovered what was missing on the market: “a really wonderful, divine tequila that was spectacular in flavour and quality but well priced. So I spent ten months in Mexico personally creating the profile and the flavours with a master blender to create Aqua Riva.”
It is clear that Rocos is very knowledgeable about tequila and it’s refreshing to talk to a celebrity about a product that they have actually helped create. In a world where celebs will attach their name to just about anything for a pay cheque, Rocos is a breath of fresh air.
Rocos is so committed to her tequila that she spends most of her time these days giving demonstrations, teaching people how to make good, clean cocktails.
“I’m passionate about my product and there is nothing better than being on the shop floor, with people showing them how it all works,” she says. Her enthusiasm is contagious and it’s evident why she is the perfect ambassador for tequila.
In Cleo’s world, it’s all about drinking and drinking well. “You don’t have to feel terrible the next day. Drinking is a great thing if you do it well.”
Truer words have never been spoken. Cheers, Cleo!
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