The death of Marc Bolan has its own legend. Fans from around the world have converged on the tree in south-west London where the glam rock star drew his last breath 35 years ago today. Now, however, it has been revealed the legend was wrong.
For the first time, an eyewitness to the devastation of the car crash that killed the rock star tells her story to a national newspaper. Vicky Aram, 77, a former nightclub singer, was invited back from a party by Bolan, his girlfriend Gloria Jones and Jones's brother Richard to discuss musical projects. Following them in a separate car, Ms Aram was at the scene seconds after the impact.
It was thought Bolan was killed when his car hit the now much-beribboned sycamore tree. He was, in fact, killed when his Mini hit a steel-reinforced fence post. Where previously he had been thought to have been crushed to death in the car, a new book reveals he suffered a horrific head injury from an eye bolt in the fence. The book also reveals that the tree so despised by fans actually prevented the car from sliding down an embankment and causing an even worse tragedy.
The revelations come in a new biography, published this weekend, Ride a White Swan: The Lives and Death of Marc Bolan written by the journalist Lesley-Ann Jones.
Speaking to The Independent on Sunday this weekend, Ms Aram described how she was driving just seconds behind Bolan on the ill-fated night: "As I came over the bridge with Richard [Jones] beside me, I can still in my mind see, so clearly, a purple car which looked like a little beetle. It was upright and it was smoking and there was a tiny glimmer of light from the moon, the night was so still."
The "little beetle" was the Mini driven by Gloria Jones. Ms Aram said she didn't immediately stop at the car but drove a few metres past it.
"I said 'we've got to get them out, this car might blow up'. I took my mother's rug from the back of my car and put it on the ground. Some of the fans are comforted by the fact he was laid on a nice lady's rug. I don't think Richard thought Marc was dead, but I knew he was. Gloria was groaning and almost conscious. But Richard cried and said 'please don't leave me'." In an eerie parallel with Bolan's death, Ms Aram said she crashed into a tree on the way to give evidence at Bolan's inquest a month later.
At the height of his fame in the early to mid-1970s, Bolan – born Mark Feld – outsold Jimi Hendrix and The Who with his band T Rex. But his good looks, catchy songs, air of mystique and untimely death at the age of 29 meant interest in the star has never waned.
Fee Warner, founder of the T Rex Action Group, bought the land where the sycamore tree stands to stop it from being felled. She and volunteers preserve the shrine dedicated to Bolan. Ms Warner, 53, said: "A lot of people don't realise there was a fence between the tree and the road, because the fence was removed. When we came to build some steps, we found that when they had taken the fences away, they had taken away the ones that were undamaged, but the damaged ones had become buried on the site. That explains something which I have never been able to understand: why the damage to the tree is far higher than anything a Mini could have done."