Despite the four decades that separate them, Anneke Wills and Billie Piper would have rather a lot to talk about if they ever met.
For starters, they are both former child stars who have played Doctor Who's female sidekick. They both won over fans of the sci-fi series with their blonde hair and thick dark lashes. And after closing the Tardis door for the last time, both turned their noses up at Hollywood.
But while 23-year-old Billie bowed out with a new £250,000 BBC role and a six-figure deal to write her autobiography, life wasn't quite so kind to Anneke.
Had anyone ever asked the Sixties star to pen her life story, they would have unveiled an astonishing tale of love and loss a thousand times more remarkable than that of former teen pop star Billie. While Billie recalls the details of her relatively brief life, Anneke is living like a hermit in a remote two-bedroom cottage on the edge of Dartmoor.
She survives on a tiny pension and knows an awful lot about fame and its pitfalls. 'If I could meet Billie now,' she says, 'I'd tell her to take the money and run. Life never quite turns out as you expect it.'
Anyone seeing the reclusive, bespectacled silver blonde woman pottering around her local Devonshire village would find it hard to believe that in her day, Anneke was at the zenith of 1960s celebrity London. Or that she was thrown out of Rada at 17 for 'behaving badly' with Edward Fox. Or that at just 18 she was pregnant with Anthony Newley's child and forced to abort it when he left her for Joan Collins.
Today, Anneke rarely goes out. She is at her happiest tending her vegetables. In a quiet corner of her garden, she has a bathtub set beneath a canopy of trees which is connected up to the kitchen sink by a hose. On summer mornings, she lies in the warm water, taking in the glorious view across the moors and reflecting on the astonishing events of her life.
The truth is that unlike Billie, who has apparently walked away from her youthful marriage to Chris Evans emotionally unscathed, the men in Anneke's life have always been her downfall. As she puts it: 'My heart has been broken several times. I have always been attracted to men who are extremely talented, beautiful and absolute bastards.'
From the start, Anneke's life was like something out of a film. The daughter of a Dutch-born Parisian catwalk model and a Harrow-educated artist descended from Elizabethan sea lord Sir Richard Grenville, she was born in 1941 in a private nursing home near Pinewood Studios. Her parents Anna and Alaric Willys (she later changed her name to Wills) had planned to buy a little house in the South of France but war in Europe put a stop to that.
Alaric, whose gambling left the family in severe debt, became a captain in the British Army and an absent figure. With no money, her mother took on a string of jobs - companion to a blind aristocrat, gardener, teacher - moving Anneke and her brother Robin around the country several times.
At the end of the war, Anna had saved a tidy sum. When Anneke's father returned, she gave it to him and he promptly fled to South Africa with his new lover.
'He left a ten-shilling note on my pillow,' recalls Anneke.
Her nomadic, bohemian childhood continued. In 1952, when she was 11 and living on a houseboat in Bray, Berkshire, she won her first role in a film called Child's Play and gave her £9 fee to her mother.
'I knew then I wanted to be an actor,' she says. 'All the other children in the film, including Peter Sallis (of Last Of The Summer Wine and Wallace and Gromit fame), were going on to drama school and I told my mother I wanted to go, too.'
She studied drama at the Arts Educational School in London and, with the pretty blonde elfin looks inherited from her mother, became one of the most employed child actresses of her generation. Early roles included a part as Roberta in the first TV version of The Railway Children in 1957.
Rada followed at 17, but she was already fast establishing her reputation as a wild child. She lost her virginity at 14 to 'a man who grabbed me in a corridor at a party'. She adds: 'I remember looking in the mirror afterwards to see if I looked any different. I knew what I was doing. I was searching for love. I wanted lots of love.'
One of her early boyfriends was Daphne du Maurier's son, Kits Browning. But Edward Fox, a year above her at Rada, was the first to steal her heart. Their relationship and her wilful attitude to staff resulted in her being asked to leave. They continued their relationship for about a year. She was flying home from Ireland after filming for four weeks with Michael Winner in 1958 when she picked up a newspaper and read that Edward had married actress Tracey Reed.
'My heart was broken,' she says. It was not for the last time. She met Anthony Newley during the filming of his cult TV series The Strange World Of Gurney Slade - she was playing one of his fantasy women.
'He took me by the hand and said: "Come on, Wills darling. You're coming home with me."'
Soon she was living in his London flat, along with Newley's mother, Grace, and his manager. 'It was pretty daring at the time,' admits Anneke. 'But I adored him. He was the most beautiful, talented, funny, sweet man. I couldn't resist him.'
During their year-and-a-half-long relationship, she helped him work on his musical Stop The World - I Want To Get Off.
'They were the happiest times,' she says, 'sitting by the piano writing songs together and I had my own little room as a studio where I could paint - mainly pictures of him and me.'
She knew he was unfaithful, but says: 'He made sure it wasn't under my nose and our little life was kept apart from all that.'
When Anneke discovered at 18 that she was pregnant, Newley took her by the hand and said: 'Darling, don't worry. I'll look after you. You'll have to clean out your studio and turn it into a nursery.'
'I was in heaven,' says Anneke. 'I started throwing myself into the earth mother role.'
Not long after that, Newley left to work in the U.S. and met Joan Collins. The first Anneke knew about it was when she found a telephone message scribbled on a pad in his manager's office. It said: 'Get Wills aborted.'
She recalls being taken by Newley's manager to see the two psychiatrists necessary to agree to an abortion.
'No expense was spared,' she says bitterly. 'I was in shock, absolutely heart-broken. I didn't know why he had changed his mind.'
When she finally booked into a clinic in Hampstead for a Caesarean abortion at four-and-a-half months pregnant, she remembers taking a doll with her.
'It was ghastly,' she says. 'I was sobbing my eyes out.'
She moved in with her brother Robin at a flat in Paddington, but when Newley returned to London, she went round to their former home to confront him.
'There were pictures of Joan everywhere,' she says. 'It was obvious then what had happened.'
But despite abandoning her in the most cold-hearted way imaginable, Newley continued to see Anneke. 'He turned up at the flat in the middle of the night throwing stones up at the window,' she says. 'He never stopped loving me. Joan didn't know anything about it.
'There was one amusing incident when we were both having our hair cut at Vidal Sassoon - I realised with horror that Joan was sitting the other side of the mirror. Vidal was loving the drama of it. He said: "So how is Tony, Anneke?"'
Anneke felt no guilt about Joan, instead revelling in the opportunity to get her own back on the woman who had lured away her love. Within months she was pregnant again and determined this time that no one would take her baby.
'I wrote to Tony in New York and told him. I said: "It's my baby and I am not going to claim anything or mention your name. This is my baby and my life."'
By this time, while filming one of the Edgar Wallace mystery series, she had met Michael Gough, the actor who would later play Alfred the butler in four Batman films.
She was pregnant and in need of somewhere to stay and he offered her a room in his house.
'Mick absolutely loved babies,' she says. 'He wanted lots and lots. He let me have a little room and we fell in love. It didn't matter to him that I was pregnant.'
After Gough divorced his second wife, they married at Fulham register office on Valentine's Day 1965. Her daughter Polly, later adopted by Gough, had already been born and Anneke, then 21, was already pregnant again with their son, Jasper.
A year later, she was offered her role as Polly in Doctor Who, earning £90 a week - equivalent now to about £1,000 a week. It seemed to her that life couldn't have been more perfect.
'I loved Doctor Who,' she says. 'I took lessons on how to do the perfect scream without damaging my voice. I was the first sexy companion. My eyelashes were longer than my skirts.
'William Hartnell (the first Doctor) was pretty intimidating to work with, but when he was succeeded by Patrick Troughton it was so much fun.'
Even so, she confidently turned down a second series for fear of being typecast and went on to play the assistant to Anthony Quayle's criminologist in the hit series The Strange Report.
Little did she know that her professional acting career was rapidly drawing to a close.
'They were planning to film the second series in Hollywood,' she explains.
'I had two children and a husband, there was no way I could go.
'Perhaps it would be different today, but there was no way Mick would have come to Hollywood with me. I had to make a choice, but really there was no choice.'
Instead she travelled with Gough to Norfolk, where he was filming The Go Between with Julie Christie and Alan Bates. She found an idyllic Elizabethan farmhouse which they bought and she threw herself into motherhood and gardening.
For years they were happy, but when Gough started work at the National Theatre and returned to Norfolk only at weekends, the cracks in their marriage began to show.
'I was living a very earth mother lifestyle,' she says, 'while Mick was very theatrical and thespian. He had a terrible eye for the ladies. He started coming home less and less and we were having terrible rows.
'I had actually got what everybody said was the perfect formula for happiness - I had the husband, career, the two children and a lovely home. It should have equalled happiness, but it didn't. I felt so alone.
'For two years, I tried to keep it together. I thought I could still be Mrs Gough and an individual. But I was growing away from being his dolly bird. I was becoming a woman.'
The evening they agreed to divorce, she says, they went to bed, cried and held each other. 'We loved each other,' she says smiling. 'But we knew we couldn't continue to make each other so unhappy.'
Like Billie, who recently said she wouldn't take a penny of her ex-husband's millions, Anneke also walked away from her marriage empty-handed.
'Mick used to seethe about giving money to his first two wives,' she says. 'I told him I didn't want a penny. I said I'd rather be friends.'
In fact, what Anneke did next left friends thinking she'd gone slightly mad. While taking a course in meditation in London, she heard the controversial spiritual figure Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh.
Leaving behind her 14-year-old daughter Polly, then a boarder at one of the Rudolph Steiner schools in East Sussex, she took 12-year-old Jasper to Poona in India, donned the orange robes of Bhagwan's cult followers and joined his ashram where free love was the order of the day.
'For the first few nights I cried into my pillow,' she says. 'I'd swapped my wonderful home for a mattress in a communal dormitory.
'But there were some wonderful people there - including Terence Stamp. I was a bit bored by the free love thing. I'd had enough of all that. It was the meditation I was interested in.'
She stayed from 1975 to 1981 - at one stage spending ten days blindfolded on a cushion. Later she followed Bhagwan and his disciples to a ranch in Oregon, then to Vancouver where she scraped a living cleaning houses.
It was while she was there, in December 1982, that Gough phoned to tell her that Polly, recently engaged to be married, had been killed in a car crash with her bridesmaid-to-be.
'It was gut-wrenching,' she says. 'She was about to marry a farmer's son, a lovely boy. She had her whole future ahead of her.
'She was driving home and her car hit a patch of ice and skidded into a ditch. She and her friend drowned.'
Perhaps even more poignantly, Polly died never knowing that Newley was her father. 'We never told her,' says Anneke. 'At what point do you tell a child that? Mick had adopted her. She was ours.'
She told her son Jasper, now a photographer at Sotheby's, the truth about Polly's paternity only last year. Anneke adds: 'He listened and he said: "It's no big deal."'
Newley died in 1999, without ever discussing the fact that Polly was his child with Anneke.
When her daughter was still alive, Anneke met up with Newley in New York when Gough was on stage there. 'We had dinner,' she says. 'He showed me pictures of Tara and Sacha, his children with Joan. I showed him pictures of Polly.
'He said she was beautiful, but that was it. We cooed over each other's children. It didn't feel strange to me. I always thought of Polly as mine and Mick's.
'I was devastated to lose her but I always feel that she is here with me.'
Before she finally found peace in Devon, Anneke's life was to take a few more twists and turns.
After Polly's funeral, she returned to America, paid a man $1,000 to marry her so she could get a Green Card and set up her own interior design business.
'It was very common for followers of Bhagwan to do that so we could stay in Oregon,' she explains. 'It lasted as long as it took to get the paperwork stamped - I can't even remember what he was called.'
At 50, Anneke fell in love for the last time - with a 35-year-old deep-sea diver and marine biologist. They married in 1993 in Hornby Island, Canada, where she was living in a community of artists and running an amateur dramatics group.
But after Anneke remortgaged her house to pay for him to go to drama school, he left her for a 23-year-old fellow student.
'I thought: "This is the last time my heart's going to be broken",' she says. 'I couldn't stand it any more. There have been no men for ten years now. I have no need for anyone else. I am enough in myself.'
She returned to England ten years ago, moving first to a little cottage in Purbeck, Dorset, belonging to Edward Fox, with whom she is still friends; then to Devon four years ago, to a worker's cottage on the edge of a farm.
A portrait of her ancestor Sir Richard Grenville hangs on the wall - a reminder of the roots of her remarkable life.
Her memories could undoubtedly produce several autobiographies. But not surprisingly, after so much turbulence in her life, at 65 she craves only peace now.
'I just love it here completely,' she says. 'I love going to sleep surrounded by cows. Weeks go by and I don't talk to anyone. I am perfectly happy on my own. I don't have a single regret. Out of each heartbreak, you grow.
'Isn't that what life is about?'
The intriguing story of Dr Who's sidekick by BARBARA DAVIES, Daily Mail - Last updated at 10:00, 25 July 2006