At the age of just 23 when many young people are still pondering career choices Tania Mallet had a decision to make that would shape the rest of her life. She had just had a co-starring role with Sean Connery in the third James Bond movie, racing 007 along Alpine roads and trying to shoot Goldfinger in revenge for killing her sister by smothering her with gold paint.
But Mallet, who was the granddaughter of a colonel in the Imperial Russian Army and was blessed with classic high cheek bones and an icy Russian beauty, had already established herself as one of London’s top models and had appeared on the covers of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar magazines.
So she had to decide whether to return to modelling or take the chance on film stardom. In the end Mallet decided that the film business was just not for her – too many restrictions and not enough money.
“The six months I worked or was retained to work on Goldfinger were a real sacrifice,” she said. “The money was dreadful. Originally I was offered £50 per week which I managed to push up to £150.”
She was getting over £3,000 a week in today’s money! So Mallet’s idea of dreadful was perhaps a rather subjective one. However Mallet had been earning £1,000 a week in 1964 as a model, when Goldfinger was made, the equivalent of £20,000 a week today.
Unlike her fist cousin Helen Mirren, Mallet turned her back on acting and successfully resumed her modelling career, before settling down to family life in the South of England.
However she did enjoy the continued celebrity status that her one significant film role gave her among James Bond fans. She attended fan conventions and took part in the 50th anniversary celebrations in 2012, appearing alongside fellow “Bond girls” Britt Ekland and Eunice Gayson.
Mallet was born in Blackpool in 1941. Her maternal grandfather Pyotr Mironov had been a colonel in the Imperial Russian Army. He was serving as a diplomat and negotiating an arms deal in London when the Russian Revolution broke out. He stayed on and ended up driving a taxi.
Mallet’s mother worked a chorus girl and her father was a car salesman. They divorced when she was young and her mother married a property magnate, who wound up in prison for fraud. At 16 Mallet enrolled in the Lucie Clayton Charm Academy, where her contemporaries included Jean Shrimpton.
She made her screen debut at 19 in a film called Girls Girls Girls. A half-hour cinema documentary written and directed by the young Michael Winner, it followed three young women who arrive in London and share a flat. “Girls, girls, girls are my favourite subject,” enthuses the narrator. “There are lots of them about – have you noticed?”
The film restages Mallet’s arrival at the Lucie Clayton Charm Academy, where it is decided she has the requisite looks and build, but is completely remodelled after being shown off to other girls as “an example of how not to look… shoes shabby… skirt three times too big… hair kept up with a rubber band, and so very untidy”. The film had a happy ending with all three girls flashing engagement rings.
Within a few years of taking up modelling Mallot was featuring in spreads in the top fashion magazines, one of which found its way to James Bond producer Cubby Broccoli. “I believe it was a picture taken by Henry Clarke and shows me lying on some rocks in a bikini,” Mallet recalled in an interview with the MI6 fan site in 2003.
She was inivited to audition for the role of Tatiana Romanova, the love interest and female lead in the second Bond movie From Russia With Love. Given Mallrt’s Russian heritage, it might have been considered the perfect launch-pad for her film career.
But she lost out in a double-whammy of irony, after it was seemingly decided that her English accent would not work. Firstly the role was given to Daniela Bianchi, who was Italian. And secondly Bianchi ended up being dubbed anyway.
However she got her chance when they cast the next film Goldfinger. Mallet had to learn to drive for the film, in which she was required to steer a Ford Mustang convertible round hairpin mountain bends at 70 miles an hour and overtake Bond’s Aston Martin, although her view was restricted by a camera mounted on the bonnet.
Her character Tilly Masterson tracks Goldfinger down in the Swiss Alps, she meets Bond and attempts to shoot Goldfinger with a telescopic rifle, before falling victim to his henchman Oddjob’s famous metal-rimmed bowler hat before she even has the chance to hop into bed with 007.
Mallet said: “Filming had been an interesting experience but I was always more comfortable in a small studio with just the photographer and his assistant. Besides which, the restrictions placed on me for the duration of the filming grated, were dreadful and I could not anticipate living my life like that. For instance being forbidden to ride in case I had an accident, not being allowed to go abroad…”
And then of course there was the “dreadful” money on which film stars have to subsist. Mallet said it was not difficult to go back to modelling, though she did appear on the panel show Call My Bluff in 1967 and had a small role in an episode of The New Avengers in 1976.
She married a management consultant in 1976. She became stepmother to his children from a previous marriage, they had family homes in Sussex and Kent and she bred dogs. Her husband died three years ago. She once said: “If you’re only going to make one movie in life, then why not Goldfinger.”