The loss of a few years of gnarled old age does not oppress me

Noël Coward smoking in his Swiss chalet, 1972.
Photo by Allan Warren.

Noël Coward was ten years old when he first took to the stage professionally; less than a decade later, he’d written the first of more than fifty plays. A man of many talents, he also directed for stage, starred in films, and wrote and performed songs, somehow managing to conquer it all stylishly, seemingly unflustered. Late-1959, on the advice of his financial advisor, Coward moved to Switzerland to live in what he describes elsewhere in his diaries as “a fairly hideous chalet in the mountains above Montreux.” It was there, nine years later, with his health beginning to fail and his 70th birthday on the horizon, that he wrote this diary entry. Much to his delight, despite the “excessive” smoking, Coward lived for another five years. He was knighted in 1970.

The Diary Entry

Wednesday 3 January

Les Avants

Well, Christmas is over and, what is more, very successfully over. Binkie and John and Gladys arrived as planned on the twenty-third, and we all had a lovely time with lots of present-giving and receiving and seasonable merriment. They went back to London yesterday, so Graham, Coley and I are left until next Monday when we too go to London for a week. Then heigh-ho for New York, California and Tahiti. A pleasant prospect.

The weather has been entirely satisfactory—a lot of snow and sleds and jingle-bells. I feel a little curious about being only two years off seventy! My health is all right and my heart is pure, which I put down to excessive smoking. However, a reckoning will probably come. It usually does. I read in one of my journals of a few years ago a triumphant account of giving up smoking for ever; after a few weeks I decided I could bear it no longer so back I went to the darling weed and have felt splendid ever since. It may, of course, shorten my life by a year or two, but I haven’t got all that longer to go anyhow and I couldn’t care less. It’s been a nice and profitable buggy ride and I’ve enjoyed most of it very much. The loss of a few years of gnarled old age does not oppress me. I hope the South Sea Bubble won’t burst. I am longing to show Coley and Graham all those lovely places.

Peter Bridge’ is about to do a revival of Hay Fever with Celia. She is charming in it so it ought to have a reasonable success. Good old Hay Fever certainly has been a loyal friend. Written and conceived in exactly three days at that little cottage in Dockenfield in 1922! What a profitable weekend that was.

Further Reading

The Noël Coward Diaries—featuring entries from 1941 until 1968—were first published in 1982, edited by his partner, Graham Payn, and his manager, Lesley Cole. Numerous editions have since appeared, the most recent in 2022 with a new introduction by Stephen Fry. Separately, you can read a frustratingly small number of entries from Coward’s earlier New York Diary in The Letters of Noel Coward.

Diary entry excerpted from The Noël Coward Diaries by Noël Coward. Copyright © 1982 Graham Payn. Reproduced with permission of the Licensor through PLSclear.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *