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An incredible 40 years have passed since Raquel Welch burst onto the screen in her now-famous fur bikini in One Million Years B.C. She caused an international sensation and was instantly established as a global sex symbol.

But as she opens the door to her palatial Mediterranean-style home, nestled high in the Hollywood Hills, it becomes clear, even four decades on, her star quality is undiminished.

Even dressed simply in black trousers and a light top, the star, now 67, exudes sensuality and the confidence of a woman who knows her charm and still turns heads the moment she enters a room. Yet the actress claims living up to the image of being Raquel Welch hasn't always been easy.

'I think I was always more intimidated by my image than anyone else,' Raquel laughs. 'Especially in the beginning.

'You feel like you're going to be discovered as a fake. Like everyone will think: "Well, why did we think she was so great?'''

It doesn't worry her that much anymore, though she concedes being an icon attracts detractors like a magnet.

But these days, the four-times married beauty is happy living alone and says she's more comfortable 'being myself' than at any time in her life.

'It's human nature to pick people apart,' Raquel says.

'But now I really like creating things on my own. I'm going in a whole new direction, which I've been wanting to do. I want to be true to my own voice.'

Around her, the living room walls are adorned with paintings and photographs - most notably of her two children, Tahnee, an actress, and Damon, a computer consultant.

At Damon's wedding Raquel, wearing a low-cut sexy dress, notoriously upstaged the bride by arriving after her. There's an autographed photo of her with Burt Reynolds and, above the mantelpiece, a large picture of Raquel in the fur bikini, which shot her to stardom.

The rest of Raquel's home is characterised by its understated elegance, although ferns, lush fabrics and rugs hint at the star's fondness for opulence.

She might be heading towards 70, but her figure is remarkably close to the 37-22-35 statistics that made her famous. And she claims her clear skin and bright eyes aren't the results of cosmetic surgery but of practising yoga and drinking a lot of water.

The 168cm-tall star insists: 'There's nothing very remarkable about my looks. My skin glows because I inherited good skin from my mother - and I stay well away from soap and water because they dry out your skin. Don't get me wrong. I have some tiny wrinkles around my eyes, and I think I earned every one of them!'

There's also no salt, processed food or caffeine in Raquel's strict low-fat diet and she's a firm believer in supplementary vitamins. She also takes a calcium tablet every day.

After three of her marriages ended in divorce, Raquel vowed never to wed again. But in July 1999 she broke that promise, to marry restaurateur Richard Palmer. Sadly, they separated after just four years.

Now she's enjoying leading her own life and making decisions about her future.

'Body beautiful is not the top priority anymore,' Raquel says. 'Health and wellbeing is where it's at.'

She's also glad to escape the pressure of being perfect.

'If you're a fantasy figure, nobody wants to wake up from the dream,' she explains.

'Nobody wants you to be in real situations. I've fulfilled almost everybody else's fantasy all these years, so now it's time for my own.'

Check out our Raquel Welch picture gallery

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