Bring back gallivanting. Few were quite as good at it as Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton

A dreary Dublin had never seen anything quite like that fiery couple

This is the year to bring back gallivanting. No one gallivants anymore. Well, no one under the age of 30 does. I know this because I recently asked a young adult if he was “off gallivanting again” and he looked at me with utter confusion before wondering if I had mislaid a few marbles. I have incontrovertible evidence of his penchant for gallivanting, so I am forced to conclude that the word has fallen out of popular usage. If we don’t start slipping it into conversation with some urgency, no one will ever gallivant again. And the world will be a sadder place for it.

Gallivanting suggests delightful, fun-filled and carefree outings that could end up anywhere. Surely that’s exactly what we need in these dog days of January? We might even play puck – another thing that no one does anymore. When we were young, we were regularly accused of playing puck, or warned against even thinking of it. Playing puck was a close cousin of acting the maggot, or perhaps the rural relative of the bowsie.

If there was ever a couple that combined gallivanting with playing puck and enthusiastically acting the maggot, it would have to be actors Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. They bought a jet in 1967 so they could fly to Nice for lunch, and they filled their yacht with art by Monet, Picasso and van Gogh.

The fiery couple rolled into Dublin 59 years ago this month with their travelling circus of pets, children and staff. He was filming The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. It was winter, it was raining all the time and a dreary Dublin had never seen anything quite like them.


This newspaper breathlessly reported on their arrival, noting that Elizabeth Taylor was wearing light-green Dick Whittington boots and a mink anorak thought to cost £2,500. To put that into context, the same edition was advertising a solicitor’s post with pay of £1,000 a year. They took over a floor in the Gresham hotel for their children and vast entourage, reputedly 17-strong, according to John le Carré. He had written the book the movie was based on and had been drafted in to rewrite some lines but also act as an unofficial minder to a wayward Richard Burton.

The entourage included tutors, hairdressers, secretaries and the person who clipped the parrot’s nails. They were also accompanied by a bush baby, a small African primate with enormous eyes. The poor creature went on the rampage in the suite, knocking over lamps and vases and ripping curtains. Eventually it sought refuge in the bathroom where it clung to the water pipe in, presumably, abject terror.

We should send thoughts and prayers to the Gresham staff who had to deal with the aftermath. According to the enormous tome that is Roger Lewis’s biography of the couple, it was no picnic to find yourself cleaning up after Elizabeth Taylor’s incontinent dog, hair-shedding cat and other members of her travelling menagerie.

At various points, it also included Matilda the monkey, an aviary of parrots, a terrier who teethed on diamonds, a crab-filled aquarium and Nibbles the chipmunk. The Dorchester was forever replacing rugs after her visits, while the state of her Beverly Hills Hotel bathroom was likened to a cyclone ripping through Bloomingdale’s cosmetics counters. But the Gresham staff may have been slightly mollified when everyone reportedly got a baby bottle of Powers and a green carnation on St Patrick’s Day.

Roger Lewis called his biography Erotic Vagrancy after the Vatican’s denunciation of the couple’s very public and passionate affair when they were filming Cleopatra in Rome and were both married to other people. The open letter to L’Osservatore della Domenica in April 1962 chose to focus most of its ire on the four times-married Taylor without naming her. Referring to her many husbands, the letter railed: “Where are we all going to end up? Right where you will finish – in an erotic vagrancy . . . without end or without a safe port”.

Being condemned by the Vatican when you are filming next door might faze some people, but Richard Burton wasn’t cowed. “F**k it, let’s go to f**king Alfredo’s and have some f**king fettuccine”, his biographer quoted him as saying. Meanwhile, Taylor wondered aloud if she could sue Pope John XXIII.

But all the papal hand-wringing in the world couldn’t stop the sparks that flew between the tempestuous pair. By the time they arrived in Dublin, they had ditched their spouses and had become husband and wife.

After all, one pope’s erotic vagrancy might be nothing more than a spot of gallivanting and playing puck in the eyes of others.