The Way I Was: Now I know what fun is: Mike Oldfield tells Nicholas Roe how he learnt to relax with his fame

IT'S QUITE a posed photograph. It was David Bailey who took it. He came out to a little house I had on the Welsh border, where I moved after Tubular Bells. It was one of a series taken for my third album, shot through a window when it was pouring with rain.

I was about 22 or 23 and, creatively, it was a very good period for me. It was beautiful living in that part of the world and I was very happy with my work. But I was very unhappy personally. The basic problem was that I was scared by the success and the attention I was getting. I hadn't dreamt it would be like that; or maybe I had, when I was much younger, but I was 20 when Tubular Bells was released, and by that stage I wasn't thinking about fame.

I was just very insecure. I was also very serious, and had a particularly intense view of the world. There are terrible pressures on young musicians when they're successful - to do this interview, travel all over the world, give concerts.

I began suffering a lot of phobias - agoraphobia, claustrophobia - and though I really wanted to travel, I couldn't stand the idea of flying or being in large cities. I didn't like being in a car, let alone an aeroplane. There on the borders with the rolling hills to look at, I felt a lot happier.

The place was hardly luxurious. It had been a golfers' shelter, and the rooms were so draughty that, when the wind blew, the carpets moved off the floor. I had a few local friends - one was the owner of the local watering hole, and I used to go down there at the weekend and play medieval music. No one knew who I was.

By this time, I think a lot of people had changed their attitude towards me. They expect you to be different because you've sold some records. But you haven't changed; they have. The whole idea of fame is such an illusion. I think that work, for me, meant escaping from the real world. Rather than face it, I retreated into music. It was more than comfort - it was like being an autistic person who is talented at one special thing.

So in the period when this photograph was taken, I was living music 24 hours a day, sleeping, then getting up and working all day. The only other pleasure I had was getting drunk, but that was just to deaden the pain of not making music. It was really awful.

What finally changed me was therapy, towards the end of the Seventies; realising that a lot of my problems stemmed from growing up in a house where one of my parents was ill for much of the time: my mother. In fact, she died not long after this photo was taken, and I was devastated.

Now I look back at that picture and think: I could have been having a ball. I was a sad person and life wasn't much fun, apart from when I was making music which kind of made up for it. There was so much joy there, it balanced things.

Looking back, I'm not sure I would change anything. Having gone through that period, I'm more appreciative of how things are now. I'm as creative as I was, but I don't have to work so hard purely as a matter of survival. I can take a day off and drive down along by the sea and enjoy it. I don't drink so much. I have a wine cellar and I drink bordeaux wine instead of any old thing that's alcoholic.

I've discovered fun. I don't know how, really. I suppose by learning to like myself . . .

'Elements - Mike Oldfield 1973-1991', a four-CD boxed set, will be released by Virgin on Monday.

(Photograph omitted)

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