It doesn’t take much bidding. A shocking-blue pool perches up on the rocks above the yawning Pacific, and on either side of the main house the estate extends over three
acres. There’s a rose garden, a rustic mill house with a 14-feet-high water wheel and a cottage nicknamed “Grandma’s house” filled with handmade quilts.
The interior of her rambling home is a testament to the “intense relationship”
the star has developed with furniture and collectables over the years. Pieces by Gustav Stickley, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Charles and Henry Greene are decorated with myriad trinkets.
And down in the basement are her famous “shops”;
a mall of her own creation which includes “The Sweet Shop”, “Antique Clothes Shop” and “Bee’s Doll Shop”.
“I must have got my detailed, obsessive streak from my father, who was an English teacher, because
my mother wasn’t like me at all,” she says. “She wasn’t home a lot so I was raised a bit like an animal. There would be plastic covers on all the furniture and newspapers on the floor. That was something I wanted to rebel against. I
wanted to be entirely different.”
When, like Streisand, you were brought up in a single-parent Jewish family in Brooklyn (her father Emmanuel died of a cerebral haemorrhage when she was 15 months old and her mother remarried when she was seven),
with “a hot-water bottle in a knitted cap” instead of a doll, possessions are more than just possessions. They’re a daily reminder of everything she’s achieved since her days as a teenage nightclub singer in Greenwich Village.
was a sense of unusual musical awareness as early as 13, she recalls, when her mother, “who had a very pretty voice”, took her along to a studio to record a song and Streisand took exception to the pianist’s extended solo, telling him in
no uncertain terms to cut it down.
But it was acting, not singing, that was her grand passion back then. “I’d started going to acting classes at 14, played Medea at 15 and really wanted to be a classical actress,” she explains.
“Because I was known as 'the kid on the block with a good voice’ I entered a talent competition, which I thought might at least help pay for my meals until I could do Shakespeare or Ibsen.”
Streisand won that night and remembers
the performer Tiger Haynes’s girlfriend saying: “Little girl, I see dollar signs all over you.” She was right. Streisand promptly secured a singing job that paid $108 a week.
Then came an encounter that changed her life. “It
was my first night at the Bon Soir nightclub and there I was, this 18-year-old girl wearing these antique clothes I’d found in thrift shops, when this couple came to see me back stage.”
They were Alan and Marilyn Bergman, two of the most
distinguished songwriters and lyricists in the Great American Songbook – a pair who went on to form a 50-year collaboration with Streisand that would produce classics such as The Windmills of Your Mind, Solitary Moon, The Same Hello, the Same Goodbye,
That Face, and the song the new album – a compilation of the Bergmans’ songs – is named after: What Matters Most.
“I’ll never forget the first words Marilyn ever said to me,” says Streisand, with the suspended gaze
of one of her film heroines. “Do you know how wonderful you are?”
Years later, at the premiere of The Prince of Tides in London, Princess Diana was to ask her exactly the same question. “The protocol was that she should get up first
at the end of the film and the rest of us would follow, but she pushed me up first, which I thought said a lot about her.” And did she – by then – “know how wonderful she was”? “I never know that,” she grimaces. “I
mean what does it mean? All these years on I still don’t know what it means.”
Much has been written about Streisand’s shyness, both on and offstage. She avoided live performances for many years due to stage fright, although when she
did return to the concert hall in 2006-7 the tour was one of the highest-grossing of any in the world that year. (“My voice may be a bit lower,” she says, “but I think it’s warmer, too.”) The shyness is less about self-doubt,
one suspects, than a loathing of the hubris surrounding her work.
“I don’t like talking about myself and I don’t like talking about the work,” she bursts out, laughing at the baldness of her own statement. “I just don’t.
I mean fine, do the work, but how do you talk about a moment of inspiration?”
Disproving her point, she goes on to describe one such moment eloquently. “I was at the microphone singing This Is One of Those Moments when suddenly my voice
started doing something that we didn’t rehearse – another melody. But how can you describe that to people? And what is talent? It’s beyond thought and the conscious mind.”
Some might say that a great part of Streisand’s
talent both on stage and on screen is precisely that internal, sealed-off quality. Every lyric is not just sung but lived out across her face and in her gestures, as is every role.
“Performing, for me, has always been a very inner process,”
she agrees. “It’s not for the audience – even though ultimately it is. I discovered as a young actress that the more 'inside’ I was, the more far-reaching I could be. Then when the camera comes to you, it can almost see behind your
eyes to your heart and soul.”
She shakes her head, resuming that characteristically gutsy delivery. “Anyway it always gave me the creeps when I saw performers who desperately wanted the audience to like them. That’s not what I’m
about. Take actors: they’re often at their most charismatic when they’re doing very simple exercises. When they vomit out emotions it’s such a turn-off.”
As a young performer of increasing renown in the Sixties,
Streisand discovered that pretending to be someone she wasn’t wouldn’t work for her. “When they tried me out as a host on TV I found that I just couldn’t be that gregarious person. I was stranger than that.”
A year after
marrying her first husband, actor Elliott Gould, in 1963 – with whom she had a son, Jason – she found overnight success in Funny Girl. The Broadway musical was to change everything.
Feted by the critics, she was featured on the cover of
Time, and awarded an Oscar for the role, which she shared with Katharine Hepburn. Then came Hello, Dolly! directed by Gene Kelly, Vincente Minnelli’s On a Clear Day You Can See Forever and, in 1973, The Way We Were.
The film was the One Day of
its time: a simple love story with a wistful ending, in which Robert Redford’s good-looking rich boy Hubbell falls for Streisand’s Katie, a political activist from a poor Jewish family. But it captured the mood of the early Seventies, and the on-screen
chemistry she and Redford shared was unique.
When I ask which of her co-stars she found the most seductive, she says: “Redford. We never quite knew what the other one was going to do so we were watching each other carefully, interested in each
other, and I think the audience felt that.”
Sadly, he wouldn’t agree to a sequel. “The script was written and it was fantastic,” she laments, describing the affair Katie and Hubbell – both now married – embark upon
years later. “But this time instead of intellect winning out, passion wins.”
Despite describing herself as “a romantic”, Streisand’s own love life never had the bulimic quality of other Hollywood legends. When her eight-year
marriage to Gould fell apart, she didn’t remarry until 1998, two years after meeting Brolin. She and the Amityville Horror star live a private life, avoiding launches and premieres (“Why would I want to pose in front of an ad? I don’t like
to be photographed, period”).
Theirs is a marriage celebrated in Hollywood for its longevity, something she attributes, among other things, to “being able to accept the flaws in yourself, because only then can you accept the flaws in your
“They say that when a person goes to heaven, God doesn’t ask 'how well were you loved?’ but 'how well did you love?’ ” she says suddenly. “So your obligation is not just to take love but to be
as loving a person as you can be: that’s what the song What Matters Most is about. It’s hard, but I do try to do that in life.”
Like every mother, the most unconditional form of love she’s experienced is that for her 44-year-old
actor and film-maker son, Jason.
When I ask which single career highlight she would relive if she could, there’s only one that stands out – and it’s for entirely unprofessional reasons. “It was the opening night of Funny Girl
in London and I was upset because I felt like there was a strange atmosphere,” she smiles.
“Princess Margaret was there and I felt that people were watching her watching me and that upset me. I came offstage and my friend [casting director
and producer] Cis Corman whispered, 'You’re pregnant.’
“I’d been so involved in the show that I’d forgotten I’d given her a urine sample for a test. So there I was, standing there shaking people’s hands on opening
night, with Rex Harrison congratulating me, and I felt like all the praise and congratulations were because I was pregnant. The exuberance I felt that night with this wonderful secret… I’ll never forget that.”
Our interview has overrun
and I’m still wondering when the allegedly frosty diva who “bans hotel staff from looking her straight in the eye” and “demands hand towels of the exact peach colour as her complexion” is going to make an appearance and this warm,
funny woman is going to disappear.
“I’d like to set the record straight on so many silly things,” she says when I ask whether that reputation bothers her. “To the point that I started this 'truth alert’ feature on my website.”
Every time a biography is published, she says, it perpetuates the myth. “And each writer copies the last writer’s lie. They make me into this diva that I’m not, and it annoys me only because I’ve always believed in the power of the
truth: that the truth is much more interesting than these myths.
“Still,” she laughs, “maybe the truth isn’t interesting enough for people, which is why they make up these stories. Because I’m kind of normal – ordinary
in many ways.”
It’s in part due to that belief that she has never written a memoir. “It’s boring to me,” she says. “I did start writing a few chapters years ago and I probably will write one over the next few years
but I’ve lived my life and ultimately, there’s so much that interests me more.”