Following David Bowie Home

A journey through South London a few days after the death of David Bowie in January 2016, following a pilgrimage he had made himself, in secret, back to the places where he grew up. I wrote about this for The Independent on Sunday but here’s an updated version, now that we are a year on.  If he meant anything to you at all, or you are curious about why he meant so much to others, please read on. There’s a video to go with it, of things I saw that day. I can’t put his music on that for copyright reasons, so I am playing the chords for Heroes. Anyway, here goes …

David Bowie told the driver to stop when they got to the house where he was born. He was weeping. “It’s a miracle,” he said quietly to himself, looking out of the tour bus, which was squeezed into a tight back street in Brixton, south London. “I probably should have been an accountant instead.”

This very private moment happened in 1991, when Bowie was almost at the height of his powers, and was observed only by a member of his band, according to Paul Trynka’s biography, Starman. But in the hours after Bowie’s death at the age of 69 last on 10 January, it emerged that he had made another, even more secret trip back to the places where he was brought up, shortly after being diagnosed with liver cancer. What did he see when he came here with his then 13-year-old daughter, Lexi, in the summer of 2014?

Now that Bowie has been cremated, with no family or friends present at all, I’m following his trail back through the years to understand him, the life from which he emerged to become a global superstar, and what we are really left with now. Continue reading “Following David Bowie Home”

“When they talk about the war, will they remember me?” A last interview with the remarkable Dame Vera Lynn

Softly, with a voice that is still clear after all these years, Dame Vera Lynn begins to sing. “For a little bit of heaven fell, from out the sky one day …”

She is 97 now and rather frail, the light from the window making a halo of her finespun white hair. But some of the old strength returns as she duets with her younger self. Every word is right, even though this recording was never released and she is hearing it for the first time in 70 years. Back then, Vera Lynn was the “Forces’ Sweetheart”: the girl with the bright smile whose songs kept the home fires burning.

When the song was recorded in 1944, she was about to go on a dangerous mission: to sing to “the boys” on the front line in the jungles of Burma. “I reminded them of their sisters, their sweethearts and their wives they had left behind, and what they were fighting for,” she says when it is over. Continue reading ““When they talk about the war, will they remember me?” A last interview with the remarkable Dame Vera Lynn”

The cooks, the thief taker, the Olympians & the survivor

‘Tis the season to look back, apparently, so I’ve been looking back on some of the interviews I’ve done this year for the Sunday Telegraph. They include the cooks Clarissa Dickson-Wright and Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall neither of whom cooked me anything, unfortunately. A nice piece of cake was offered by Cormac Murphy O’Connor, former Archbishop of Westminster. The former head of the Metropolitan Police Lord Stevens handed me a piece of paper with some stunning statistics about low morale in the ranks. The Olympics and Paralympics were a source of closure after 7/7 for the Games Maker Dr Andrew Hartle. On the other hand, Rebecca Adlington seemed glad it was all over. The Olympic closing ceremony was organised by Es Devlin and Kim Gavin. It featured Ray Davies of the Kinks. The architect Zaha Hadid designed the Aquatics Centre but told me she hadn’t been offered a single ticket. Talking of generosity, Joan Bakewell said she would not be leaving any of her money to her children. But for me, the most stunning interview of the year so far was with Juliana Buhring who survived the Children of God and is now in the final stages of attempting to become the first woman to cycle solo around the world.

‘The Beatles were lucky to get me’ Ringo Starr

Ringo Starr looks at a photograph of his young self and laughs. ‘We didn’t know what was ahead of us. You never do. We didn’t think it would last.’ The black-and-white image shows the Beatles in suits in the early Sixties, waiting to appear on a television show. He’s not sure which one. Paul is whistling, George is distracted, John is wide-eyed and Ringo is staring at the camera, his feet up on a seat. In the picture (below) he looks the most assured, by far. ‘Even Paul thought, “Well, I’ll probably end up as a writer.” So did John. George was going to have a garage.’ Read the rest here

‘I apologise to Britain’ Jools Holland

Photo Ian Derry

Jools Holland broke one of the great taboos in 1986, by telling the viewers – live at tea-time – to tune in or be ‘ungroovy fuckers’. There was uproar and he was suspended. Times change. A few years ago a poll of broadcasters named it among the 50 Most Gripping Moments In British Television History. You might expect Holland to be proud of that, but he is not. ‘I would just like to apologise to Britain,’ he says, not joking. ‘Mary Whitehouse wrote to me, saying, “If you do this, standards will drop.” I wrote back saying: “I absolutely agree with you. It was an inadvertent slip of the tongue on my part but actually, you’ve got a point.” She was quite right. It has all gone downhill.’ Read the rest of the interview here