Julie takes flight once more

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WHATEVER you think of Sixties pop stars making comebacks, you'd have to agree that it involves a certain amount of courage. And whatever you think of people who go bungee-jumping, you'd have to agree that a certain amount of courage is involved in that too. All of which makes Julie Felix one of the bravest people I've ever had tea with.

I met Julie in London last week when she was between concerts on a nationwide tour and putting the finishing touches to her new album, Fire My Spirit (her 16th, she thinks). She's 59 now. Her hair was still jet-black and long, her brown eyes still sparkling. She was wearing a silk scarf and a tailored wool jacket. From time to time she broke into gentle song, and it was then that the memory of the guitar-strumming young idealist came back into focus. But there was none of the bohemian about her, and, for that matter, none of the bungee-jumper either.

It was a couple of years ago in New Zealand - the bungee-jumping capital of the world - that Julie, inspired by a friend, leapt off a bridge over the Shotover River in the South Island and plunged hundreds of feet towards the surface of the water below. "You have to keep looking up towards the sky," she said. "It was wonderful."

Julie is one of those people who's been looking at the sky most of her life. She dreamt of a better world 30 years ago, and she's still dreaming of one today. The difference is that in the 1960s she was known to millions through her TV and concert appearances, occupying a space somewhere between the overt political protest of Joan Baez and the more wistful, poetic yearning of the English folk tradition. She provided reflective interludes on The Frost Report, an early David Frost show, and went on to have her own series, Once More with Felix.

It was one of those careers that brought her into contact with just about everybody who was anybody at the time. In 1969 she shared the bill at the Isle of Wight pop festival with, among others, Bob Dylan, and spent an hour with him before he went on stage. "He hadn't performed for a long time. He was very nervous. I just tried to calm him down."

Then there was the time she was dated by Paul McCartney. She met him at a party in Chelsea and he invited her round to his place in St John's Wood. "I tried to be all cool," she said. "And it didn't really work. I remember him playing me an early version of the single the Beatles had just recorded. It was 'Strawberry Fields Forever'. At the end of the evening he drove me home in his Aston Martin."

The era that followed wasn't kind to Julie. "Suddenly people stopped buying my records. I felt as if I'd done something wrong. With most careers you build towards your most successful period, and it comes in middle age. If you're successful in pop music it's going to happen when you're still very young. I had an identity crisis, I suppose." Spirituality and feminism took the place of traditional politics, and now she is part of the movement to reclaim the pejorative term "crone" and affirm the wisdom of older women in society.

The music never died, and the songs on Fire My Spirit are as beautiful and as urgent as anything she has done. And from her home in Hertfordshire she has continued to travel - to Scandinavia, Spain, New Zealand and back to her native America. She's based herself in Britain because she finds it "so sane".

Not that sanity is the first attribute that springs to mind in describing someone who hasn't finished with bungee-jumping yet. The Julie Felix comeback reaches its climax in June when she'll be giving a 60th birthday at the Royal Festival Hall - complete, if she has her way, with a bungee-jump out of her friend Richard Branson's balloon. It gives whole new meaning to the famous Timothy Leary mantra, "Turn on, tune in, drop out!"

IN THE older woman daredevil stakes, Julie Felix still has some way to go to match the legendary German film-maker Leni Riefenstahl. The world's most famous 95-year-old, as nominated in last week's IoS, took up scuba- diving when she was in her 70s, and is still at it. According to this week's New Yorker, she informed table-mates at Time magazine's recent 75th anniversary gala that she would soon be off to explore the marine underworld of New Guinea. No wonder her most famous film was entitled Triumph of the Will.

Feeding time for the Wolff

TALKING Germans and female exploits, I am fascinated to learn of the success that first-time novelist Isabel Wolff is having with one of Munich's biggest publishing houses. Ms Wolff - who is English, I should stress - handed her agent the completed manuscript of The Trials of Tiffany Trott a couple of weeks ago, and within two days the German rights had been sold for Dm150,000, or about pounds 60,000. Believe me, that's some going.

Ms Wolff is naturally delighted by the response to her work - "a comic odyssey through the singles scene" in which the central character is an older version of Bridget Jones - but is also honest enough to realise that the speed with which Marion von Schroder, an imprint of the German publishing giant List, picked up on the book may have had more to do with her name than anything else. And certainly with her blond hair and blue eyes, Ms Wolff will look the part when, as will surely happen, the queues at book-signings stretch down the Strasse. In Britain, The Trials of Tiffany Trott, which started life as a column in the Daily Telegraph but was ousted by Bridget Jones, will be published by HarperCollins in July.

THE Collected Letters of HG Wells will no doubt appeal to a very different market. Not the least of its characteristics will need to be considerable wealth. For I am startled to see that this four-volume set from Pickering & Chatto, no doubt a work of great scholarship and an object of great beauty, retails at a cool pounds 275. Even more startled that Michael Foot, in his review of it in the Daily Telegraph, failed even to refer to this extraordinary price.

Why they couldn't stop Horowitz

I NOW know what you have to do to get the better of a Today presenter. Many a politician has tried, and one or two have nearly succeeded, but nobody I've ever heard on the programme has managed to hi-jack an interview quite like the poet Michael Horowitz when he turned up one morning last week to denounce as a charlatan the new kid on the poetry block, Murray Lachlan Young. Horowitz was unstoppable. He simply went on and on and on, brushing off all attempts at intervention, to the point where one began to feel for the presenter Alex Brodie. "The trouble was he never looked at me," Alex told me, "and when you haven't got eye contact with someone it's very difficult to get their attention. It's easier to cut someone off if they're on the end of a phone." So that's the secret - seize the mike, gaze into the middle-distance, and just keep ranting.

HERE we go with more Full Monty translations. In Croatia, the film goes by the title, Skidatjte se do Kraje - literally, "Strip to the End". While the Norwegian title, Blanke Messingen, actually means Shiny Brass, which is a euphemism for "bare bum". Many thanks to my friend Maxton, and to Sherry Weston of Falmouth. Keep them coming.

A man who took pride in the pit

NOT backward in coming forward is Denis MacShane MP. A fax arrived from him in the office last week with a suggested entry for For the Record, our quotes of the week column. Very helpful of him. Only the quote was made by none other than Denis himself, and he obviously felt it was worthier of a wider audience than that which reads Hansard. I don't normally approve of self-promotion of this kind, but I have to say I think he has come up with a rather splendid quote. "Politicians who complain about the media are rather like sailors who complain about the weather," Denis opined, "and spin doctors who complain about the media are rather like snakes who protest about being in the snake pit." Ingratiation will get you anywhere.

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