In their first interview together since the classic Coca-Cola ad was filmed in Italy more than 40 years ago, Linda Neary and Marie-Louise Windeler recount their unique experience of acting for the first time and share some personal memories from the making of one of the world’s most recognized commercials during a recent visit to Coke's London offices.

What were you doing in Italy, before you were scouted for the ‘Hilltop’ advert?

LN: I was working for a family.

MLW: You must have been about 20.

LN: I thought I was younger than that!

MLW: I was on the cusp of being 18, so maybe you were about 19. I was studying Italian and History of Art in a convent, and traveling around the whole of Italy. It was lovely.

Linda at Coca-Cola's offices in London, being interviewed for the Coca-Cola Bottle documentary
Linda at Coca-Cola's offices in London, being interviewed for the Coca-Cola Bottle documentary

Did you enjoy living at the convent?

MLW: I eventually got into it, and had a good social life. I was this European girl amongst a lot of South Americans – who I’d never been around before – and there was one American who stayed for about three months, and a couple of Dutch. So it was quite lonely to begin with.

Were you still blonde back then?

MLW: I think so, all the Italians were trying to get into the convent. They were obsessed with anyone who wasn’t Italian!

What was the family like that you stayed with, Linda?

LN: They were lovely. He was Italian, and she was English.

Gallery: See behind-the-scenes photos from the interview

How did you get the job with them?

LN: I answered an advert in The Lady from a man who’d been married to an Indian princess. They’d just broken up, and he’d got custody of the daughter, who was eight, and he wanted a nanny. I think I was about 18 then, and he decided that even though my credentials were all good that I was too young to have sole responsibility for the girl. He gave my details to his friend who employed me, and she had two girls who were older, about 10 and 12.

Do they know that you’re the star of Coca-Cola’s ‘Hilltop’ ad?

LN: Oh yes. I’ve seen them since, and kept in touch.

MLW: Did you have to book an afternoon off for the shoot?

LN: Yes, the mother was furious. She was a very strict lady, and terribly glamorous. She wasn’t happy when she found out that I was being paid for something else, while I was employed by her.

MLW: Did she try and stop you?

LN: No, I can’t remember what I did. I must have lied, and then got caught by my own lies.

MLW: Was it a whole day of shooting then?

LN: Yes, well, we had to learn the song in the morning and then shoot it in the afternoon.

Hilltop's leading ladies with The Coca-Cola Company's Director of Heritage Communications, Ted Ryan
Hilltop's leading ladies with The Coca-Cola Company's Director of Heritage Communications, Ted Ryan

What were your first impressions of the crew?

LN: I remember the cameraman getting cross, because when I was singing the song, I wasn’t smiling enough. Whatever I was doing wasn’t right! It took about 50 takes, so he wasn’t happy. And the more someone tells you off, the more scared you get.

MLW: The cameraman was a big character. He started chatting to me because I came from London, and I think he liked London. I don’t know whether he was English, but he started calling me 'Little Miss London' and put me in the front row, which I was quite pleased about as I used to enjoy singing.

Your mum’s an actress, so were you a natural?

MLW: I didn’t quite have her confidence, but I definitely wanted to get to the front. I think the guy who was orchestrating it probably wanted lots of international people, and I sort of looked more American.

Marie-Louise reflecting on her role in the iconic 'Hilltop' ad for the Coca-Cola Bottle documentary
Marie-Louise reflecting on her role in the iconic 'Hilltop' ad for the Coca-Cola Bottle documentary

Do you know how the other actors were recruited?

MLW: I don’t actually, but why would you go to Rome and think that all these nationalities would be there, especially in those days! It was weird and extraordinary. Maybe there were a lot of students. Then again, I think there were only 12 or 14 of us, so it was quite a small group.

LN: Was the triangle bit at the end filmed at a different time?

MLW: It could have been, or perhaps organized at the bottom of the hill.

Were you nervous about singing in front of people, Linda?

LN: Yes - I can’t sing, so that bit’s dubbed. You wouldn’t want to hear me.'

What was it like seeing yourself on TV for the first time?

LN: I don’t even like photographs, so I hated it to begin with. “Turn it off” I used to say to my mother.

(Marie-Louise is called away to film her part for the Coca-Cola Bottle documentary)

Linda and Marie-Louise meeting for the first time at Coca-Cola's London office
Linda and Marie-Louise meeting for the first time at Coca-Cola's London office

What’s the fondest memory you have from filming that day?

LN: Having my makeup done. I’d never worn makeup before.

Have you stayed in touch with any of the actors?

LN: No, because there were only two other people there, as the scenes were filmed separately.

Can you still recite all the lyrics to the ‘I’d Like To Buy The World A Coke’ song?

LN: Not all of them, maybe the first two lines.

Linda Neary, then and now
Linda Neary, then and now

How has life changed since the ad was filmed in the ‘70s?

LN: Good question. What is the main difference? I guess it's media isn’t it? And mobile phones. After I went traveling for a few months there was no communication with my family. Occasionally, you could find a phone box and ring home, or send a postcard, but there was no email and you didn’t have a phone. Now, with my kids having left home and been traveling, you can email people all the time. It must have been hell for my parents, as we were a very close family.

I guess you didn’t have Facebook back then?

LN: No, in parts of Greece and Turkey, there weren’t even any phone boxes! I could go for weeks without contacting my family. So that’s the biggest difference, you’re always in communication now, and everyone can track where you are. You can’t lie about where you are anytime.

Did the ad air before you got home?

LN: It must’ve done, because I didn’t know anything about it. I was told it was only going to be aired in the States, but when I got home my father said, “Oh my God, all these people want to talk to you!”

It’s been almost 20 years since the ‘Hilltop Reunion’ ad. What was your reaction when you were asked to reprise your role?

LN: It was just lovely to go away and do something different, and jump on a plane with the children.

Marie-Louise Windeler in florals once again
Marie-Louise Windeler in florals once again

Your daughter, Kelly, who was 10 at the time, appeared in the ad with you. Was she a natural in front of the camera?

LN: She just loved it, because everyone spoiled her, and she’s sociable and easy-going. Her brother, Dan, came with us, too, and he was much more shy so he found the whole experience more difficult. When they released the ad for the Big Game, we were invited to the States to go on television and do various interviews and promotions. Kelly came with me, but Dan wouldn’t come. So it was just the two of us in New York for five days. We flew first class, and she thought it was the best thing that had ever happened to her. It was wonderful.

You’re here to be interviewed for the Coca-Cola Bottle documentary. Do you remember your first sip from a glass bottle?

LN: I remember my parents had some great friends with a son who was my age, and we used to go to the pub in our little village. Pete and I used to sit outside with a glass bottle of Coke with a straw and a packet of crisps – with the salt in a little packet, that you would shake inside it.

If you could choose to buy the world one more thing, what would it be?

LN: Perfect harmony.

Matthew Hepburn is editor of Coca-Cola Journey Great Britain.