Sunday, 28 January 2018

DAVID BOWIE & THE BABYCHAM BOTTLE




I met Paula and Nick Fitzherbert through mutual Dulwich College parent-chums when our sons were pupils there. When my marriage collapsed in cruel circumstances, they were the only couple who didn't run away. While the rest of Dulwich behaved as though I had leprosy, crossing the road outside the school gates to avoid having to talk to me and perhaps running the risk of becoming contaminated, Paula and Nick continued to invite me as though I were still a real and valid person. Nick and I took to going to gigs together, by artists obscure and long-forgotten, or fledgling and as yet unsigned. It was a bit like a live-musical version of the TV quiz game 'Pointless', in which we endlessly tried to out-do each other by finding the least prolific band imaginable...
Nick died today. The big C finally got the better of him. I have no right to feel devastated. He was not ours to lose. Still, I am sad beyond words, and have spent the day reflecting on both his upbeat and giving spirit and his ever-ready willingness to help, never expecting any favour in return. When Brian Bennett, Ed Bicknell and I decided that we should put together a commemorative CD to celebrate the long and all-encompassing career of Clem Cattini, for example, and I was up to my eyes in Bowie, Nick stepped in with an offer to design and create the packaging. Phil 'The Collector' Swern selected the tracks and worked out the running order. All I had to do was write the words.
The anecdote below appears in my memoir-biography of David Bowie, 'Hero'. Nick told it with glee, and it about sums him up. What a friend he has been. How very, painfully much we are going to miss him.
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David Bowie spent his fortieth birthday skiing in Switzerland with his son, and relaxing before the onslaught. He had no idea that a major sponsorship and marketing deal was going on behind his back. He was supposedly going to accept sponsorship from the makers of Babycham - the sparkling perry which had been hugely popular in the UK during the Sixties and Seventies, and the first alcoholic drink to be advertised on British TV.
‘The sponsorship deal was for Bowie's 1987 Glass Spider tour,’ recounts Nick Fitzherbert, a former public relations expert, presentation skills coach, magician, member of the Magic Circle, and author of the books 'Presentation Magic!' and 'The Business Presenter's Survival Guide'.
‘The client was Showerings, and I was working on their PR. Francis Showering was the Shepton Mallet, Somerset brewer who invented the drink. Babycham was still a big brand in those days, but they were looking to reinvent it. They thought that David Bowie would be a sure-fire fast-track way to do this. This all went on for about four months.
‘They talked to David Bowie’s people. It got as far as Concorde flights going backwards and forwards to New York. A comprehensive video was made to explain why it was all such a brilliant idea. I didn’t personally believe that it would ever happen. But I knew more about music than anyone else on the team, so I got dragged to all these important meetings with lawyers for both sides.

'All the contracts were drawn up in both names - David Bowie and David Jones. The idea was that he would promote the product during his live performances on the forthcoming tour. We hadn’t got as far as deciding exactly how we were going to brand it, but an enormous amount of money had already been spent. I was planning to start with an outrageous idea, such as, David was going to perform with a microphone shaped like a Babycham bottle, and he’d have it in his face all the time, during every concert! Perfect! Then somebody thought, finally, that perhaps it might be a good idea to mention it to David himself. Needless to say, his horrified reaction was "Absolutely no way!" You’d think that someone might have thought to ask him first!’

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