Saturday, 21 December 2013

November 1978

Bright & Old

It’s funny going round to Dina’s after spending an hour on a date with Sarah Brightman, the girl from Kenny Everett’s Hot Gossip that Mary Whitehouse couldn’t shut down.

And now they have a top ten single, I Lost My Heart To A Starship Trooper, which proves they have voices to match their shapes. ‘We never deliberately set out to be sexy,’ says sexy 18-year-old Sarah. ‘It’s simply our style of dancing. We were very surprised when we heard Mrs Whitehouse had complained.’

We sit in a coffee bar just around the corner from where Hot Gossip have been rehearsing. I feel like I’m on a date with Salome − being castigated by Mary Whitehouse really gives a gal an edge. Sarah has big, bouncy black hair and lips like Kate Bush. Lots of girls have lips like Kate Bush these days.

‘I want to make as much money and be as successful as I can before I get too old for this business,’ she reveals, and tentatively sips a black coffee. ‘But it’s really hard work. I get up at 5.30am most mornings and don’t get back home until midnight. My time teems with constant rehearsals, filming and strenuous exercise.’

Sarah danced with Pan’s People when she was sixteen. ‘I decided after eighteen months with them that it was time to give another girl a chance, so I joined Hot Gossip. I much prefer working with this group. Their dancing comes more from the heart. The funny thing is, we only wear those flimsy costumes because it’s much easier to move around.’

Oh, I see.

‘We try to be different. The public had ten years of Pan’s People and Legs and Co., but now they want something more exciting. We’ve all had classical training and we put a great deal of thought into our sets.’ One routine involved a French chambermaid in suspenders and sexy schoolgirls. Her boyfriend Andrew, a 27-year-old rock-group manager, is very understanding.                                                                           

‘Most men like to watch pretty girls bopping around wearing next to nothing.’

Not me.

‘But they hate it if one of those dancers happens to be their girlfriend.’

I wouldn’t mind.

‘But Andrew knows the work we put into our act so he doesn’t mind.’

Right on, Andrew. Hold on. Shit, she’s got a boyfriend. Well, I ain’t buying her another coffee.

‘Somebody once said this is the century of the dance. And suddenly in the seventies everybody wants to do it like Hot Gossip.’

Of course they do, Sarah, of course they do.

From the ridiculous to the sublime . . .

(Sarah married another Andrew -- Lloyd Webber -- in 1984, and the couple divorced six years later. She has received 160 gold and platinum awards in 34 countries, and is the only artist to hold the top spots on the Billboard classical and dance charts simultaneously. Sarah’s been ranked by the Recording Industry Association of America as the best-selling female classical artist of the twenty-first century, and has a Guinness World Record for the success of Time to Say Goodbye, the most successful single in German recording history. She has sold over 26 million albums and more than two million DVDs and is the world's richest female classical performer with a fortune of £36m. Sarah’s now in training to be a real life starship trooper – embarking on a journey to the International Space Station, currently set for 2015. My, oh, my).

Virgin have arranged a phone interview with Mike Oldfield, who’s currently promoting his fourth album, Incantations.

Apparently, Mike is in the back of a Rolls Royce driving round London while doing a series of interviews on the in-car phone. I’m at home in the King’s Cross council flat I share with my parents holding on tightly to my notebook and pen, and Mum’s in the kitchen preparing dinner. It’s a familiar scenario.

The interview is set for 4.30. At 4.25 the doorbell rings and mum answers it. ‘There’s a man outside says you know him,’ she tells me. ‘Strange looking bloke.’

Shit, who’s that? The phone’s gonna ring any second.

I open the door.

‘Mr Cain? Hello, I’m Mike Oldfield. Look, I’ve got my chauffeur waiting in the Rolls downstairs, but if it’s all the same with you I’d like to have a chat here. I’m sick to death of sitting in the back of that car. Put the kettle on.’
'I’ll tell me mum,’ is about all I can say, as he walks past me and wanders into the living room.

I know Mike Oldfield is supposed to have changed his hermit-like image, but this is ridiculous.

I’m flabbergasted, in a Frankie Howerd way, but that’s nothing compared with my mum who, wearing her nylon housecoat, hides in the kitchen making endless cups of tea for the thirsty superstar.

In between the Typhoo, Mike tells me how he clawed his way out of a ‘living hell’.

It turns out the 25-year-old millionaire composer of Tubular Bells has been trapped in his own bleak house in the wilds of Gloucestershire for the past five years, shunning the outside world.

‘I was hanging on the edge of a cliff, terrified of falling into the unknown,’ he reveals. ‘I began to lose my mind and had two nervous breakdowns, each lasting for three months. The idea of killing myself even entered my head. I started to really hit the bottle. I was petrified at the thought of meeting people or leaving my home. The only way I could face those doing those things was to get drunk.’

So why did Oldfield − hailed as rock music’s greatest composer − become a hermit?

‘I was determined to prove to myself that I could have a bad time. I always believed my parents didn’t like me. My mother was one of those really neurotic housewives − but she took it one step further. She became addicted to tranquillisers and alcohol after giving birth to a Down’s syndrome child.

‘She spent many years in and out of mental hospitals. My father is a doctor and he treated her like a sick wife. She finally died four years ago − a wreck.

‘Right from the first I realised what was happening to her and decided that if this was how people lived, forget it. So I retreated into myself, striving to find my own world in music. I’ve tried to make some sense out of the whole thing ever since. I’ve tried living with lots of women, but I couldn’t have a proper relationship with them because I had to make them hate me.’

Tell it like it is, Mike. Maybe I should be charging him for this. By the hour.

He married a mystery girl − whom he refers to simply as Diana − this summer. But it wasn’t exactly George Burns and Gracie Allen. Within two weeks they’d split up and are now in the process of getting a divorce.

But now Mike has had enough of the past and wants to ‘play at being a superstar’.

‘I always wanted to be one, but I felt too guilty. I’m just waking up to the fact I can enjoy life if I want to. I can have loads of money and loads of girls. It’s so easy to change.’

Mike has shaved off his beard, cropped his hippie hair and now looks like a Vegas playboy.

‘I’ve even started going to discos and dancing the night away. It’s great.’

(Last I heard, Mike, who turned 60 this year, was living in the Bahamas and has seven children from three marriages – there’s a man chasing rainbows. His autobiography, Changeling, was published in 2007 by Virgin Books. A year later he released his first classical album, Music of the Spheres, which topped the UK classical chart and reached
number nine on the main UK album chart. At the 2012 Summer Olympics opening ceremony Oldfield performed renditions of Tubular Bells. In October 2013 the BBC broadcast Tubular Bells:The Mike Oldfield Story, an hour-long appreciation of Oldfield's life and musical career. He’s currently creating a new rock-themed album of songs, Man On The Rocks, set for release next month).

Next: Blondie in New York and a chance meeting with the Shangrilas at CBGBs
Adapted from the book Tell Me When by Barry Cain
© Barry Cain 2013

Check out Barry’s new novel, Wet Dreams Dry Lives http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00H0IM2CY



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