Goldfinger composer’s former lover: Why Anthony Newley belongs in the limelight

Anthony Newley and Sue Selfe

Anthony Newley and Sue Selfe - Credit: Sue Selfe

Sue Selfe is behind a campaign to put a blue plaque where Anthony Newley grew up in Stamford Hill, to mark 20 years since his death. She tells Emma Bartholomew about their love affair and life-long friendship.

Anthony Newley and his wife, actress Joan Collins, at London's Heathrow Airport.

Anthony Newley and his wife, actress Joan Collins, at London's Heathrow Airport. - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

“I was young. I’ll leave it at that. It was a different time, perhaps.”

Sue Selfe doesn’t want to reveal her age when she approached Anthony Newley for his autograph 55 years ago.

A lifelong fan since she’d seen him in a Broadway musical aged nine, she was thrilled to spot him sitting in a café. She ended up going back to his house later that night and they embarked on a love affair.

“I don’t know your thoughts on what’s meant to be and what’s not meant to be,” said Sue, “But I’d always liked and admired him and had this crush. So to see him sitting there - my heart beats when I think about it. It’s like someone actually meets their prince. That’s how I felt.

Anthony Newley and Anna Quayle during a rehearsal of the musical 'Stop the World I want to get off'.

Anthony Newley and Anna Quayle during a rehearsal of the musical 'Stop the World I want to get off'. 15/4/99: The actor, playwright, author, composer, lyricist and singer has died after a long battle with cancer. * The 67-year-old former husband of Joan Collins died at his home in Jensen Beach, Florida, his close friend Herbert Kretzmer said. - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

“It was just odd. He was at a bad time in his life and I was at a bad time in mine. I was young but we just needed each other, I think.”

Unhappy and lonely, Sue had been sent by her parents to the UK from America to care for her gran.

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Anthony, 39 at the time, had just split up from Dynasty actress Joan Collins, and was apparently missing his children.

Reading her e-book, Dear Tony, you can sense what a blow it was to her when after three months of living together Newley dropped the bombshell he was going back to America, and was dating another woman.

“I wasn’t ever angry,” said Sue. “You don’t know me, but I live my life like that. He was very down in the dumps and people were always criticising him for one thing or another, that he did this, or that show wasn’t good enough.

“I know he was known as a bit of a ladies’ man but I thought: ‘There are enough people having a go at him and if I became one of those I’ll lose him.’ The short time we had together was so important to me, and I’d rather take that than lose him because I said something. I melted into the background and he’d talk to me.

“No woman wants to hear about someone who they love having another conquest but I listened and acknowledged and just was glad he was still in my life, I suppose.”

Sue and Tony remained friends until his death from cancer aged 67 in 1999. Now, a married grandmother, Sue admits her husband has dubbed her a “Newley missionary”. She runs a Facebook group for fans and annual concerts and is putting up a plaque in his honour. She is also organising a special 20-year charity concert with Murray Wilson headlining.

“I still care for him greatly today, and this is why I do what I do,” she said. “I don’t think you can have Tony in your life and forget about it.

“Some of the last words he said to me were: ‘Just you wait. I’ll be gone in a short time and I’ll be forgotten.’ We have started to put him in the limelight again. He should be remembered. He’s done such wonderful things.”

A singer, director and actor, Newley’s music is his biggest legacy. He composed songs like the James Bond theme tune Goldfinger, Feeling Good – picked up by the likes of Nina Simone and Michael Bublé – and Pure Imagination, the big hit from the film Willy Wonka.

“These are amazing, incredible songs. They were groundbreaking,” said Sue, who claims Newley wrote I Promised You a Love Song and Love Songs Don’t Come Easy Anymore for her.

“It’s amazing, isn’t it?” she said. “He couldn’t write or read music. The symphony orchestra was in his head. I sat there waiting for him to compose things sometimes. He would always sing to me.”

The plaque will be erected on April 14 in Oswald Street, Stamford Hill. The house where Newley grew up with his single mother Gracie has been pulled down, so it will be put on Heanor Court instead.

“I think he was a bit of a street urchin,” said Sue. “That’s something else that’s so fascinating – that this boy that grew up on the streets of Hackney with very little education went on to do what he did.”

A child actor, Newley played the first Artful Dodger in Oliver Twist in the West End. His last role there was in another Dickens tale as Scrooge, before he returned to America and died in Florida. Sue trained as a counsellor when Newley died and now works at an undertaker’s.

“I could only have done something like this after having him in my life,” she said. “You have to be really strong to do it. It’s a gift to be able to help people at their most raw and vulnerable.

“I have a great life, a great husband and children and grandchildren, but for that time I lived a different life.

“He died too young, and he had so much more he could have accomplished. What a legacy. Really.”