David Bowie

David Bowie

Let’s scroll back in time to early 1983 where I am twenty one, in my final year at London University and holding a Saturday job at a small, exclusive bridal and ball gown shop on the Fulham Road to help make ends meet.

It’s late February and for once I am unusually early for work. Graham the boss has yet to arrive, so I am standing on the doorstep, looking out down the peacefully quiet, deserted road.

A man turns the corner. Even though he is a long way off, I can tell that this is no ordinary man. He is a vision – with a shock of perfectly platinum blonde hair and a very expensive, long navy coat. Even at this distance I can tell that the coat is superlative because of the way it hangs and flows around him as he walks, almost in slow motion because he is such a vision of beauty. It really is like something out of a movie.

At this juncture we need to cut to my twenty one year old inner voice to get a full understanding of the situation.

Here’s how it goes in my head:
‘That’s a hot bloke in an expensive coat walking down the road towards me.’
‘Gosh! The hot bloke looks like David Bowie!’
‘It is David Bowie!’
‘David Bowie is walking towards me!’
‘OMG! David Bowie is standing in front of me!’
‘OMG! OMG! David Bowie is speaking to me!’

I’m sorry that we have to do this part in my inner voice, but the truth is my face has fallen into some sort of paralysed contortion and I’m fairly sure my mouth is hanging open with my tongue lolling out. (I wouldn’t be surprised if I was drooling too. I was incapable of articulation of any sort.)

Let’s return to my inner voice to get back to the action, shall we?

To recap, I’m standing on the wet doorstep of a bridal shop on the Fulham Road and the Adonis that is the God, David Bowie, is standing in front of me, trying to have a conversation.

Instead, I’m having an argument with myself:
‘Oh no! My hair isn’t brushed! I’m wearing no make-up! I look dreadful!’
‘But look, it’s true! David Bowie’s got the most beautiful, odd coloured eyes! He’s positively radiant!’
‘Why don’t we marry him! I think he’s still single!’
‘But I’m wearing a truly awful Laura Ashley dress that makes me look like some fat, dowdy, fuddy duddy Jean Brodie type! Not at all the sex n drugs n rock n roll siren he’s probably used to!’
‘He’s talking to you, girl. Answer him! Come on! Act normal. Focus! Focus!’
‘But what does David Bowie want with a bridal and ballgown shop?’
‘He’s asking what time the shop opens, dummy! Get on with it!’

It was this last thought that punctured my musings, bringing me crashing into real time and the urgent need to answer him.

I stammered that the shop opened at 10am. Was there anything in particular he was interested in?

To be absolutely fair to the divine Mr Bowie, I have no idea how long I’d been standing there looking gormless but he clearly could see that a) I had recognised who he was and b) I was struggling to cope, pretend he was just a regular guy and carry on as normal.

I must have looked pitiful.

The gentle, supportive and understanding smile that twitched and stretched across his beautiful face as I made a complete gibbering buffoon out of myself will stay in my memory until the day I die. We only shared a moment, but it was the most glorious and longest moment of my life.

And then he was gone. My future husband had turned on his very expensive heels saying he would be back.

When Graham arrived I breathlessly told him the drama that he’d missed. He nonchalantly replied that Bowie’s female manager had popped in during the week looking for a dress and had said she might come back on Saturday. Being an exclusive shop, Graham was used to celebrities.

Oh joy! Oh joy! My Adonis is coming back! And he’s not the one getting married! There’s still hope for me! I thought.

I borrowed some of Graham’s make up (he was a very camp, early 80’s, Mark Almond type) and did the best I could with my face. The dress would have to stay as my future husband had already seen it and the damage was done – best not to draw attention to what a catastrophe my dress was by changing it now. All I had to do was wait for his return and think of a plan that would ingratiate myself to win his heart.

But before I’d had time to hatch said plan, David – I can call him David now – returned with his manager woman.

Graham dutifully swept her into the back studio for a private consultation whilst My David sat on a rather delightful little Regency chair in the front of the shop, reading a magazine.

My job was to police the door – we did this when we had VIP customers. We didn’t lock it, as that would be impolite and suggest we were closed. No. We put me on the door and I would politely inform potential customers that we had a VERY IMPORTANT CUSTOMER having a private viewing and could they possibly come back in about an hour? It was good for business and reinforced the exclusivity of the shop.

But on this particular occasion, I was doing my utmost to completely block the door with my body so that no possible interloper could enter to steal my prize.

It was then that I spied the radio and hatched my plan!

I would impress my future husband with my musical knowledge. I was pretty good at pop quizzes and had seen a lot of bands live! It was a sure fire winner idea!

Readers, you have to appreciate that in the 1980’s we didn’t have digital this and download that or Bluetooth or broadband or wireless technology. I don’t even think the PRS existed. We had a good old fashioned transistor radio – top quality of course – but no less a radio, which was always tuned to Radio 1 because it was the best channel before Radio 2 stole its crown and all its listeners.

The next bit happened in slow motion. That’s how I remember it.

The radio was on low. Not so low that you couldn’t hear the music but low enough not to hear the presenters. (They were called DJ’s in those days.) But I didn’t hear the presenter. What I did hear was a new song I’d never heard before. This new song had the unmistakable opening four bars that were very akin to many of the songs that the ‘doo wop’ band, Showaddywaddy had been putting out in the late ‘70s.

With gazelle-like nimbleness I leapt from my door blocking position and launched myself at the radio, turning it off with one decisive twist and saying the immortal words, “We don’t want to be listening to any of that Showaddywaddy rubbish!”

Surely this would impress my future husband!

What followed can only be described as a Wallace and Gromit moment. Graham and David’s Manager Woman had co-incidentally emerged from the studio to witness my deed and now stood, white and aghast, completely incredulous. Silence filled the shop. And David stifled a giggle.

In one fell swoop I had denounced ‘Let’s Dance’, David Bowie’s only UK number 1 and a defining moment in his musical career as rubbish. Publicly, to his face. Before it had even been properly launched, because indeed, this was the day that the song got its first airing.

I still go cold at the memory and whenever it’s played I’m right back there, reliving the awful nightmare. I bought the single, I bought the album, I went to the Serious Moonlight tour. But nothing would or ever will live down that awful moment.

I was devastated by David Bowie’s death two weeks ago. Not only is it a huge loss to the world of music and a landmark in the British trajectory of creative output, it robs me of the opportunity of saying how gravely and deeply sorry I am for my terrible gaff. A regret I can no longer put right.

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