Colin Webster Watson

New Zealand 1926-2007

Working fulltime in his father's drycleaning business during the 1940s, he longed for something different – excitement, glamour and yes, fame.

His milieu was theatre. He performed regularly with the Palmerston North Operatic Society and the Manawatu Repertory company.

A stint as a 20-year-old with the J Force, the Commonwealth occupation force in Japan, had brought him the chance to organise concerts for the troops.

But it wasn't enough. In 1954, with his 28th birthday approaching, it was now-or-never time. Colin said goodbye to his parents, Ernest and Zillah, his two sisters and two brothers, and left New Zealand on a ship bound for London.

From then on, his life would be lived at full-throttle. On January 13, 1965, a Manawatu Standard reporter interviewed Colin, who had arrived back in Palmerston North to spend three months with his now-widowed mother and other family members. He described himself as a "completely happy" voluntary exile, living and working in Rome.

When he'd arrived in London, he said, "I struck oil immediately and got a job in a West End theatre" (the Windmill). Then he found work as a choreographer and formed his own dance company. Wanting a change, he became a TV sports reporter in Cardiff.

In 1960, his father's death in New Zealand sent Colin into a tailspin of grief and an escape to the Continent. His odyssey seemed filled with the kindness of strangers, from Austria to Ciamino, learning to build houses on the job; hitch-hiking into Italy and recalling "once over the Brenner Pass I knew Italy was the country for me;" running out of money in Rome but, just in time, finding a job teaching English; and, he said, through one of the teachers at the language school, meeting Bice (Beatrice), "one of Rome's leading sculptresses" and becoming her pupil.

Gaining recognition as a sculptor in bronze, he hyphenated his surname, adding his second given name to become Colin Webster-Watson.

As the years passed, Colin's bronze creations and his skilful self-promotion brought buyers flocking to his exhibitions, including celebrities of the era: movie stars Debbie Reynolds, Carroll Baker and Gloria Swanson; author Harold Robbins (whose letter of endorsement Colin had framed); and Sarah Churchill, sometime actress and daughter of Winston Churchill, with whom he was said to have had a long romantic relationship.

But in his 50s, it was a New York socialite, Jane Ewing, whom he married and led a sociable, flamboyant life with, in the historic, well-heeled village of Wainscott on Long Island.

Colin returned to New Zealand in 2004, welcomed by family and old friends. Settling in Wellington's Eastbourne with his beloved Pekinese dog Andrew, he lived out his last few years travelling and entertaining guests with his legendary cooking and anecdotes. He'd also written hundreds of poems over the years; these would be condensed into a posthumous book, Natural Zoo, by his niece Anne Manchester and writer Mary McCallum.

Colin Webster-Watson died on September 25, 2007, aged 81, and was buried in Kelvin Grove cemetery, with his parents. At the end of his funeral service, according to Nell Watson's memoir, a recording of Edith Piaf's Non, je ne regrette rien was played – "an appropriate choice, as having no regrets had been (Colin's) mantra his entire life."

 

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