My Date with Reggie Kray
‘Fancy a day out of the office?’ asked my editor.
Which is how, as a young journalist in London in the 1990s, I found myself en route to Parkhurst to interview Reggie Kray.
Parkhurst was a maximum security institution, and journalists were not allowed to wander in and out chatting to inmates. Understandable, really.
Especially since the detainee in question had once controlled the London underworld, when he and his brother Ronnie were synonymous with a perverted form of celebrity known as gangster chic.
An arrangement was made for me to visit the Isle of Wight prison with a former girlfriend of Kray’s – a preserved dolly bird, who met me at the train station.
My escort spent the journey fantasising about setting up home with him after he was freed. But he had no release date from his life sentence for murder, even after almost three decades. That’s why he was interested in talking to the press: he was lobbying to get out.
At Parkhurst – a grim 19th century building which could never be mistaken for anything but a place of detention – we were searched, then led to a room full of visitors. A door in the far wall opened, and a group of prisoners and warders appeared.
Among the first to arrive was a wiry little jockey of a man; instantly familiar, but considerably older looking than the iconic 1960s portrait of him with his twin.
Reggie Kray bolted straight towards me, quivering with purposeful energy. He may have been short, but he was strong. I was grabbed by the upper arms, lifted off the ground and a thumping great smacker planted on my lips. Time slowed right down. I dangled there, being kissed by him, for what seemed rather a long time. I could taste the nicotine on his breath. Thoughts floated through my mind. First came: ‘A notorious gangland killer has his mouth glued to mine.’ Followed by: ‘How can I make this stop?’
Still, I learned one useful lesson – if you want an interviewer rendered incapable of tricky questions, just snog him or her right off. Turns the brain to mush.
Which probably explains why I don’t remember much about our conversation, apart from having some Cockney rhyming slang explained to me. He also mentioned his twin Ronnie, incarcerated in Broadmoor, for the criminally insane – but not in terms of brotherly love. With the benefit of hindsight, not to mention several decades lodging at Her Majesty’s pleasure, he regarded Ronnie as a bad influence.
My clearest memory is of being glowered at by a handsome young bodybuilder inmate, with collar-length silky blonde hair. He watched us moodily throughout. Later, I learned he was Kray’s cellmate, and they were particularly close.
Reggie Kray sent me several letters afterwards, inviting me back to Parkhurst. You never saw such spidery handwriting, with a very free attitude to the use of capitals and to running words along straight lines. I never replied. These missives didn’t come to my office, you see – he sent them to my home address.
A few weeks later, I was assigned to interview a handwriting analyst, and brought along one of the letters without identifying its author. The moment he touched the page, the expert dropped it as though his finger tips were scorched. ‘Have nothing to do with this dangerous person,’ he urged. I didn’t need telling twice.
But some people aren’t easy to shake off. Soon after, my Parkhurst travelling companion arrived at my flat – did everyone in the East End have my address? She had a message from Reggie: he wanted her to bring me back to see him. Tentatively, expecting resistance, I said I wasn’t particularly keen. Relief flooded her face. She agreed it would be best if I stayed away, and volunteered to sort it out with Reggie.
‘What will you tell him?’ I asked.
‘Don’t worry, dahlin’, I’ll fink of something.’
Whatever she came up with proved effective. I never heard from Reggie Kray again.
I did hear, however, that he was released from prison a few years later in the year 2000, on compassionate grounds – he had cancer, and it was at an advanced stage. Just over a month after being freed, he died.
The other day I came across one of his letters, and realised I had his autograph at the bottom of the page, squiggly but legible. But that wasn’t all. It came complete with three towering big Xs. Even on the page, they carried a wallop.
Love from Reggie Kray, kiss, kiss, kiss.