23 JANUARY 2001


Amanda Lear - longtime muse of Salvador Dali - became a widow a month ago after a fire at her French home.


ONE of the things that always attracted the late Salvador Dali to his muse Amanda Lear was that she never perspired. It was, he used to tell her, proof that she was not like other women, who were "simply made to produce embryos".


"Yeah, he was always sniffing around me, telling me I didn't smell," confirms Lear, in the guttural baritone that has, for years, fuelled rumours about her sex. "I said to him, 'Thank God I don't smell! I wash!' But it always fascinated him. He himself had terrible breath, because of all the garlic he used to eat."


We are sitting in the flatteringly lit lobby of a smart little hotel in the 16th arrondissement of Paris, where Lear, the model turned disco diva turned TV chat show hostess, has temporarily set up home after being widowed last December.


Dali was quite right. Lear, who has the Dynasty look off pat, is not at all the type to sweat, and has such a perfect matte finish to her complexion that one almost feels she is not real. Rangily built, with surprisingly small wrists for her height - "Oh, you should see my ankles," she says, lifting up a trouser leg. "They're my biggest complex" - and not one discernible wrinkle, she is, somehow, impossible to put an age to. Which is probably just as well, since nobody, including her late husband, has ever known for sure.


The room is suffused with her scent, an overpowering yet strangely compelling blend which she discovered in the Seventies while hanging out in New York with her great pal Andy Warhol. "Andy was very funny," she reminisces. "Everybody said he was so bitchy - he bitched Bianca, he bitched Jerry in his book, but he never bitched me . . ."


Sipping an espresso, she flips through a stash of European gossip magazines she has brought down from her hotel room. All of them carry pictures of her and her late husband Alain-Philippe Malagnac d'Argens, who was killed - along with all their animals and a cat breeder called Didier who happened to be staying the night - in a fire that swept through their farmhouse in Provence a month ago. Lear, quite naturally, is devastated and says she is about to visit Jacques Chirac's medium, to see if her beloved's spirit can be contacted.


Her indignation at the way some journalists have treated the accident, however, overrides her grief this afternoon. At the time of the tragedy, she was taping her television show in Milan and did not hear the news until the following morning. The detectives who brought her in for questioning were perfectly satisfied with her answers - that the damaged Salvador Dali paintings she owned were not even insured, and that d'Argens had never sent off his life insurance policy, because he had been unable to persuade his wife to fill out her age on the form. Nevertheless, there are, apparently, some "silly" people who insist on entertaining the idea of foul play.

"See?" says Lear, pointing a talon at one grainy shot of herself in a raincoat and sunglasses. "La Piste Criminelle. That means they think it was a crime. The police were saying to me, well, this fire is really suspicious, perhaps somebody set the fire on purpose and I said, explain to me why. Why would I want to kill my husband? Just because Amanda Lear is not a 'normal' person, they want to make it into an Agatha Christie mystery."


Poor Lear. Ever since she first hit London back in the Sixties, the "abnormal" rumours have swirled. Take the one, for example, that she was born with the name Alain Tapp; or the one that she worked as a male stripper under the name Peki D'Oslo in a Parisian club called Le Carrousel. Then there's the even more outrageous rumour that she visited the famous sex change surgeon Dr Bourou in Casablanca. Indeed, according to April Ashley, the well-known Sixties transsexual who claims to have worked with Lear at Le Carrousel, it was Dali who paid for the operation.


"Oh, I knew Ashley just like everybody else in Chelsea knew April Ashley," says Lear, in the manner of one who has been through all of this many times before. "She was very sweet, but she was a different person when she drank. It was like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. I was going to sue, but I thought, what is the point? People don't want normality, they want people from Mars.

"When I married Alain-Philippe and did those naked pictures in Playboy and they could see I was a woman like everybody else, my fans were all so disappointed."


So, she was not born Alain Tapp? "No."


And she never went by the stage name Peki D'Oslo?


"I have said many times that Peki D'Oslo is not me," says Lear, unflinchingly. "Check your dates, they don't match."


I have read that the intelligent and highly entertaining Lear was born in Saigon, but today she tells me she was born in Hong Kong, the daughter of a British naval officer and a French oriental woman - "which is why I have these cheek bones" - who brought her up somewhere in the South of France. As for when, who knows? She suggests I write down her age as somewhere in "the early fifties". By my calculations, she is nearer 60, but whatever the case, she did at some point move to Paris, where she studied at the Ecole des Beaux-arts and then began a career in modelling that brought her to London.


Her first flatmate, she says, was Anita Pallenberg, the exotic girlfriend of Rolling Stone Brian Jones, and it was through her that Lear - who couldn't have epitomised the "Chelsea Girl" look better, with her boyish limbs and Faye Dunaway jawline - made her seamless segue into the Swinging Sixties scene.


Her androgynous appeal continued well into the Seventies, when she was summoned by Bryan Ferry to appear as a cover girl for Roxy Music's 1975 album, For Your Pleasure.When David Bowie first saw this famous image of Lear in a "sprayed-on" Antony Price suit and stilettos, he fell madly in love with her, and for a year they went out together.


Bowie encouraged her to pursue a career as a singer, helping produce her album I Am A Photograph, but as Lear rather caustically recalls: "It wasn't me he fell in love with, it was the picture of me . . . And he was very weird, I must say - it was the first time I went out with a man who wore more make-up than I did."


But none of the "weird" friends Lear consistently managed to attract were in the same league as Salvador Dali, whom she met in 1965 while clubbing with Brian Jones and her then boyfriend, the Guinness heir Tara Browne, in a Parisian nightspot named Le Castel. Dali, apparently, fell for the 6ft blonde almost the moment he set eyes on her and told her they would be bound together for the rest of their lives. For 15 years, Lear was his muse and, sometimes, his lover, the pair of them "using the sewing machine", as Dali referred to the sexual act, while his wife, Gala, was out at the theatre with one of her young consorts.


And it was Dali, insists Lear, who so convincingly managed to "cretinise" everybody into thinking his precious muse was actually born a man. "Everything Dali said, I just listened to. He was the genius, who was I? When it came to launching my career, he told me I was a lousy singer and if I wanted to sell records, I'd have to find something other than the music to attract people to buy them. So we built the Amanda Lear persona into something very intriguing and very ambiguous and it worked."


The real Lear, she insists, is the woman who married Alain-Philippe, an impoverished record producer and nightclub owner. The two met in 1979 and Lear claims she fell in love instantly, which was surprising considering he was shorter than her, had had a hair transplant and "wasn't very clever".


"Actually," says Lear, briskly correcting herself, "he was quite a bright boy until he fell into this coma - a brain haemorrhage - and after that his brain didn't work the same. He was very depressed, too. He told me: 'I'm saving sleeping pills - Mandrax in those days - then I'm going to take a plane to New York and I'm going to kill myself, because I have nothing to live for.' I thought wow! Here I come, Florence Nightingale." About a week later, the couple were married in Las Vegas with Twiggy and Sacha Distel as witnesses. Dali, meanwhile, who did not approve of the union, sent the couple a funeral wreath. But Lear was adamant that this was her true love and that she and Alain-Philippe would remain together in perpetuity


Without him, she is not sure what she will do. She hates Paris, cannot go back to her flat off the King's Road in London because it smells of Alain-Philippe's cologne and although she has kept in contact with some old friends - Marianne Faithfull visited the house in Provence last summer - she is loathe to make it a habit."They depress me because they look so old. I can't stand it."


She does have work: she is about to start shooting a film produced by Pedro Almodovar in which she plays a European version of Joanna Lumley's character in Absolutely Fabulous; then there is an exhibition of the paintings she completed while living with Dali, which is currently in a little gallery in Paris, and will soon transfer to Belgium and then New York. But before she throws herself into anything, she must get the go-ahead from Alain-Philippe. first.


The following morning, I decide to give her a call. Not only to thank her for being such riveting company, but to find out what Monsieur Chirac's medium had to say.

Apparently it went well. "This woman said my husband is saying that it is because of him I could never achieve the career I should have had, the career that I deserved," growls Lear. "He says that now he is going to help, that I am going to have a fantastic career.

"I said to her 'My career is over' but she says 'No!' It's going to start now and my husband is going to hold my hand and push me like I won't believe.

"She says that by disappearing, he has given me the most unbelievable present."