Monday, 14 December 2015

WHY I WROTE IMAGINE AS A NOVEL

'Shock and Amaze on Every Page!' This was the brief, during the Eighties. We were the shady stars of the most outrageous rag this country had ever known. Rupert Murdoch appointed Kelvin MacKenzie as the brash new editor of Britain's biggest-selling daily, The Sensational Soaraway Sun, in 1981. MacKenzie hired me. He was the first newspaper editor to perceive that rock and pop stars were looting the limelight hitherto dominated by dull old Hollywood movie broads, and I was his brainwave: a fresh-meat girl-about-town columnist to augment the breathtaking celebrity gossip dished daily by jumpin' John Blake on his crackerjack spread,'Bizarre'. Too many adjectives for you? Never enough on the Currant Bun.

A front-page headline proclaimed me to be a 'Cheeky Telly Girl', so it must be true. I got there via an internship (not that we had the word then) at Capital Radio, a stint writing sleeve notes in the art department at Chrysalis Records, a regular gossip slot on Tommy Vance's show for BFBS (British Forces Broadcasting Service), and a Warholian stab at TV stardom as co-presenter, with DJs Gary Crowley and Nicky Horne, of rock'n'pop TV series 'Ear Say' for the new Channel 4. I soon found myself further down the Street, poached by the Daily Mail to interview rock stars. I spent the next decade on the road with the biggest artists in history, from Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson, The Who and Elton John to David Bowie, Queen, Blondie and the Rolling Stones.

On the road, anything went. We rock hacks toed the line and kept their secrets, and got everything we wanted in return. Unrestrained by the managers, promoters, agents, PRs, record company reps and every other kind of hanger-on hell-bent on scoffing their slice nowadays, journalists and musicians could and did forge close friendships. I was despatched to the New York bureau, where I shared rooms, briefly, with La Toya Jackson – making me perhaps the only correspondent alive who could contradict the rumour, having dined with them together, that Michael and his sister were the same person. Relocating to Los Angeles for the Mail on Sunday, I dossed chez Raquel Welch (she was 'Rocky, I was 'Baby'), and interviewed them all, in every imaginable circumstance: Grace Jones on a massage table, U2 in a pool, Cyndi Lauper on a plane to Vegas, Stevie Nicks inside the Betty Ford rehab clinic. Graduating, after the birth of my first child, to the paper's award-winning colour supplement YOU Magazine - in those days more world features than lipstick and fashion - I broke my share of cover-stories, hitting the road with Cher in a tour bus that also contained George Best's ex-wife Angie, who was the singer's personal trainer; getting nicked for speeding with Rod Stewart; breaking rules in the British Embassy at a reception for Freddie Mercury and Queen; painting Amsterdam pink with the second-hand car dealer who taught Liz Taylor to like sex. It's what he said.
Piers Morgan airlifted me to the News of the World in the mid-Nineties. I wrote 'The Lesley-Ann Jones Big Interview' for him until he quit for the Daily Mirror. By then, Fleet Street was a memory, technology had taken hold, and the unions were buried. Our beloved industry was dissipated and in the early stages of decline. I paused to marry and have another child. I published a biography of supermodel Naomi Campbell, my first book on Freddie Mercury, and then came baby number three.

A year or two out of newspapers was a life sentence. I was in love with the job, and took little luring back in 2007, post-divorce, skin-cancer surgery and all the usual old heartache, to a world so changed that I barely recognised it. I penned freelance features for the Mail, and wrote columns, comment, reviews and interviews for the Sunday Express. My editor there was Martin Townsend, one of the merry band of music-loving mischief-makers with whom I'd once hurtled about the globe. What goes around. A commission to rewrite my biography of Freddie Mercury, and another to chronicle the lives and times of T. Rex frontman Marc Bolan, drew me into pastures new.

But how to park such a back-story and move on? I was never allowed to. It occurred to me that I was often invited to dinner parties and on long weekends in country piles by Haves and Have-Yachts because I was a fount of filthy gossip and farcical yarns. I'd meet people at functions both domestic and foreign who'd perhaps seen me on 'E! Entertainment' in America or equivalent, and who'd say, 'You should write a book!' 'I do,' I'd reply, 'look, here's where you buy them.' 'Not that kind of book,' they'd say. 'A book about you.' 'Nobody would believe it,' I'd laugh them off. Eventually, it dawned.

I've had a life. Like my father Ken Jones, the former 'Voice of Sport' at the Sunday Mirror and The Independent, and a fixture on BBC TV's Grandstand, I have ink in my veins. I've worked on-staff at five UK national newspapers, and have freelanced for many more: here, in the US and as far afield as Japan and Australia, over a quarter of a century. I was at Live Aid. I've covered the Cannes Film Festival, the Academy Awards, the Grammys; the Montreux and San Remo music festivals. I've toured with bands, survived the talk circuit with Sir Ian Botham, and in 2009 accompanied the Royal Ballet on their historic visit to Cuba - the first by a foreign ballet company for over forty years. I have wenched and wassailed with superstars across five continents, written reports from countless countries, got away with it more than most would consider fair. I've lived the double life, and I tell the tale. The other me remains a normal daughter, granddaughter, sister, niece, aunt, mother, god-mother, god-daughter, girlfriend, friend. I've known my share of glory and ignominy, been party to the triumphs and despair of not only my cherished pals but also innumerable household names. Plenty of people make a living writing about less. I could pen volumes, couldn't I, exploring the seething, faded, moth-eaten tapestry of my own life, reliving the magic and dirt and marvelousness of the music industry and Fleet Street? So I have.



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