I left home at 19, having cancelled my forthcoming wedding to the man I had been engaged to for two years. I moved in with my lover, Tim Street-Porter, who I would later marry, and together we threw away our years of architectural training. Tim became a highly successful photographer working for the glossy magazines, and I started a career as a journalist. By the age of 22 I had a weekly column in a national newspaper. Over the next decade I would be at the centre of the art and music scene in London night after night, backstage with Pink Floyd or drinking with Janis Joplin. I'd model for Zandra Rhodes and put on a show at Joan Littlewood's theatre at Stratford East. I'd meet Barbara Hulanicki, Twiggy and Manolo Blahnik, and Ossie Clark would design my wedding dress. I'd get busted for drugs and go on anti-war demonstrations. I'd have lunch with Terence Stamp and spend hours in drinking clubs with Francis Bacon. I was a strange mixture of brash exterior and insecure interior. My hair changed colour about as often as I had sex. I tried owning pets, but they didn't last much longer than the husbands.
The decade started with the Rolling Stones and ended with Johnny Rotten. It was inevitable there would be fallout.
The morning after my wedding party, I dripped around the Fulham flat with a hangover, trying to tidy up the mess. I gathered together the spliffs and acid tabs and popped them in a brown envelope on which I helpfully wrote the word "DRUGS!" in black Pentel. I got the 1950s nudie 16mm movie and a couple of underground comics we'd been given and stuffed them in another big envelope and wrote "PORN!" on it as a joke. I put both envelopes in a prominent position on the shelf in our office, to be dealt with on our return from our honeymoon.
My relationship with Tim had totally taken over my life. I was 20 years old, and Mum and Dad could no longer control what I did, any more than they could control what I wore or how I did my hair. I was totally infatuated with Tim. He was tall, thin, good-looking, interested in the same music, art and movies as me - Jean-Luc Godard, Pink Floyd, Robert Rauschenberg, art deco and cutting-edge design. Tim had studied architecture in London, and then spent two years in San Francisco working as an assistant to a practice in Berkeley. It was at the height of counter-culture, with violent student demonstrations, and San Francisco was the spiritual home of flower power. Tim was very English and charming and he soon fell in with a whole group of interesting musicians, from Country Joe and the Fish to Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company.
Tim had returned to England in 1966 when he decided to abandon his architectural studies in his final year (his father was furious) and work as a trainee film editor, picking up photographic commissions whenever he could. Soon he was regularly working for the architectural press, and learning how to edit TV commercials. He'd already shot and cut his own films of Las Vegas and California on Super-8, and they'd been shown at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, which is how we'd met.
In 1967 I wrote some sample articles about design and mailed them off to a handful of magazine editors in the hope of landing a lowly job in journalism.
I was very excited when Audrey Slaughter, editor of Honey magazine (a monthly for young women), offered me a job on a new magazine called Petticoat. I was given the grand title of home editor. All for the sum of £18.50 a week! For the first time there was to be a weekly magazine aimed at young women my age. It was an exciting prospect, working with a group of young women like Frankie McGowan (whose sister Cathy had presented Ready, Steady, Go!) and Lauren Wade. Lynne Franks was our secretary! Among the designers whose work I featured was Zandra Rhodes; she and her long-suffering boyfriend and business partner, Alex McIntyre, became very close friends of Tim and me. I'd first encountered them at a party in Paddington. I was entranced by this stylish couple who looked quite unlike anyone else. Zandra's hair was short and bobbed, dyed navy blue. She had painted black and white checks from her eyelids up to her eyebrows. Alex was very glamorous, with the longest hair I'd seen on a man. They seemed a formidable pair, and I was too shy to say hello to these style icons.
When we met again in 1968, Zandra was in partnership with Sylvia Ayton, working out of a tiny office in the West End. Soon they began cutting patterns and fitting clothes on me, because I was a perfect size ten and looked great in their designs. In those days Sylvia was the dressmaker and Zandra the fabric designer, but that was soon to change. They had an extremely fractious relationship, to put it mildly. I came to believe that Zandra, a bit like me, has only one way of doing things, her way, and there is no point in trying to reason with her: she's on another waveband, on planet Zandra. That's what makes her unique - and also impossible.
In March 1969 my career as a journalist really began to take off: I moved from Petticoat to the Daily Mail. The Mail's women's editor, Shirley Conran, offered me a job as deputy fashion editor. I was very flattered and accepted immediately. My immediate boss was Sandy Fawkes, a red-haired, tempestuous journalist with a legendary temper and a huge appetite for booze and men - she was to be my mentor throughout my drunken two years at Associated Newspapers. Sandy wore black pleated skirts, white silk blouses, black sparkly tight sweaters, black stockings and high-heeled shoes. She oozed glamour, even in the smoky atmosphere of the back rooms of the bars where we seemed to spend hours every day.
Most weekdays, at 1pm, Sandy and I walked up the road to El Vino's wine bar, in Fleet Street, where women were not allowed to buy drinks or stand at the bar. We sat at a small round table in the back room with the opera critic from The Guardian, Philip Hope-Wallace, the editor of the Daily Express, Derek Marks, and various other middle-aged executives who liked nothing more than to stare at my legs and buy me champagne. Sandy was a complete star in this environment, graciously accepting compliments and downing bucketloads of champers without appearing to get pissed. I was awed by her confidence and ready put-downs. In the office I felt intimidated by unattractive sub-editors who were invariably male, white and middle-aged. Senior executives just slavered over me. Sandy taught me to stand my ground and win.
It was 1971, and I had only been married for four years, but already I'd lost all notion of being faithful. There was so much in my life, from music to film to fashion - Tim and I lived in a whirlwind of exhibition openings, parties and events. On paper (and in photos) we seemed the perfect couple - with so many shared interests - but I'd had several affairs within a couple of years of being married. I was too young to be tied down. On the Mail I learnt how to exploit my youth, my striking appearance and my opinions to full effect.
I met Sandy's friend John Hurt, who had just finished filming the television drama The Naked Civil Servant, in which he played the famous raconteur Quentin Crisp, with dyed red hair, exactly the same shade as mine. Tim was away shooting in Milan and soon John (he had no idea I was married) and I were back at my house in bed. An amiable drunk, he was totally captivating and charming. Another time I embarked on an affair with the son of a famous painter, a champion oarsman. There was nothing he liked more than having sex in his bedroom at his parents' house in Regent's Park, with me wearing my new wolf-fur coat, under all his trophies hung on the wall.
In 1974 in a copy of Harpers & Queen I read a feature called "Young Turks" about up-and-coming single (ie, eligible) businessmen. I was intrigued by the soft-focus picture of a young man called Tony Elliott, with slightly crossed eyes, a wistful expression and long hair. I was fascinated by the story of the public school boy, the same age as me, whose father had been absent during most of his childhood. His mother, a highly intelligent doctor, had brought up three children by herself. Tony had gone to Keele University to read French, but left to set up his own magazine, Time Out, which he put together on his mum's dining table in her flat on Gloucester Road, financed by a loan she had given him of £75 to get him started.
In the photograph Tony looked boyishly seductive and when our paths crossed a few weeks later the attraction was mutual and intense. I went up to Tony at a party and introduced myself. He was rather self-effacing and shy but that only made him even more attractive. We arranged to meet for lunch at Bianchi's in Soho. Before long I was sneaking off to his flat in Primrose Hill. Tony asked me if I would go away for the weekend with him, down to a cottage in the Forest of Dean belonging to David May, Time Out's news editor. I devised a cock-and-bull story about needing to go and work on Tony's new magazine, Sell Out, claiming we were having a working session to generate ideas. With hindsight, I can see that Tim didn't buy that rubbish for one minute. But at the time I was surprised when he turned up late on Saturday night at David's cottage and confronted me. He told me if I got my stuff and got in the car with him within ten minutes, he'd drive us back to London and it would be OK - he'd never discuss tonight or Tony and me again.
"What do you mean, 'ten minutes'?" I asked petulantly. Tim said nothing, but turned, got back into the Porsche and closed the door, resting his head on the seat-back and shutting his eyes. I went inside the house and closed the front door.
I spent the next 15 minutes ranting about the general unfairness of time limits, how I needed longer to think about the situation. Tony watched in silence from the sofa. David and his girlfriend hid in the kitchen, too scared to come out. The only sound outside the cottage was the hooting of an owl in a tree nearby. It didn't calm me down. In my fury I suddenly heard the roar of the Porsche. Tim was gone.
I'd blown it. My marriage was definitely over this time.
In late 1976 I was making an episode of The London Weekend Show in the studio on the South Bank, about the latest outrageous hair styles, with about half a dozen people known as the Bromley Contingent (some of whom became the band Siouxsie and the Banshees) and they had brought along a surly young man called Sid Vicious. His companions had blue, black, spiky, Mohican and real works of art on their heads, but his own hair seemed just filthy and dishevelled.
I was gathering confidence about interviewing people on location, but I was still rather nervous in the studio. Mr Vicious looked like big trouble. He hawked up a large amount of phlegm from his throat and spat it on the floor.
Next, he lit a cigarette. I was told to rehearse my introduction to the programme, which was on autocue in front of this bunch of sneerers, and I was sweating with nerves. Sid started mimicking me every time I spoke, and in the end I totally lost it and told him to shut up (to "fucking well shut up", to be precise).
Soon the patronising studio floor manager appeared. My heart sank, now I had well and truly lost my grip on the situation. "Look here, Sonny Jim," he boomed at Sid Vicious, "you know the rules. Get that cigarette out of your mouth, sit up and stop swearing, otherwise you're out of here." Astonishingly, it worked. Sid stubbed his fag out and from that moment on was completely pliant. He didn't say much of note, but at least the gobbing stopped. I was the host but it felt almost impossible to get any of the vitality and spirit we captured on film in the grim setting of a studio. Young people felt intimidated, and who could blame them?
I first saw the Sex Pistols at the artist Andrew Logan's studio early in 1976. Andrew was an old friend I knew from the early days of hanging out with Zandra Rhodes; we both wore a lot of his chunky mirrored jewellery and I'd attended his Alternative Miss World contests. This party was on Valentine's night and was in full swing when Tony and I arrived. It was not a romantic occasion. After less than half an hour the music came to an abrupt end when Johnny Rotten's microphone packed up. A fight broke out between the roadies and technicians who had supplied the PA system. Tony and I made our escape. I was curious, though, because the Pistols definitely were exciting and full of high-powered energy - even if they were lousy musicians, that didn't seem to be the point.
He sat on the edge of the mattress on the floor. A sleeping bag lay on top of it. The others slumped in a line behind him, leaning against the wall, on piles of bedding and cushions. A stuffed rat flew through the air and narrowly missed my head. I decided to ignore it. The skinny boy with the white pasty skin, a sprinkling of spots ruining its perfection, turned his piercing gaze on the camera, ignoring me. His short hair sprouted upwards in tufts, stiffened with some gunk, and was dyed electric orange.
"So, John, who do you rate as musicians?" I knew the question was pointless before I'd finished it. The cameraman moved closer to that unflinching stare.
"I don't have no heroes, they're all useless," he replied in a quavering north London accent. My sentiments entirely - Johnny Rotten had hit the nail on the head.
Extracted from 'Fall Out' © 2006 Janet Street-Porter. Reproduced by permission of Headline Book Publishing LtdReuse content