The real Brian Jones

He was the original Rolling Stone, who drowned in mysterious circumstances at the age of 27. But his girlfriend at the time, Anna Wohlin, says she knows who killed him. With a biopic about to be released, she tells Louise Jury the true story behind his death

Wednesday 16 November 2005 01:00 GMT

She has spent all her adult life as a footnote to rock 'n' roll history: the young, Swedish girlfriend of Brian Jones, the woman who found him dead in his swimming pool.

In the immediate aftermath, Anna Wohlin suffered depression and a miscarriage of the child she and Jones did not even know they were expecting. In the 36 years since, she has married and had a daughter, Amanda, and set up her own clothes boutique in Stockholm, whence she returned after the turmoil of Jones's death.

To most of the people who know her these days, she is Anna, who plays golf, sees her friends and is currently planning her 60th birthday celebrations next May. Only those closest to her know the story of her colourful youth on the fringes of one of the biggest bands in rock history, The Rolling Stones.

But now she is preparing for a renewed flurry of notoriety as her early life is reprised in Stoned, a new movie chronicling Stones founder Jones's final years and his death at the age of 27.

As a consequence, Wohlin is speaking to The Independent and has given a rare interview to a Swedish magazine, which is making her very nervous. "Only my friends know. I don't talk about it," she says at home in Sweden. "I have a shop and I don't know what my customers will have to say." For the film certainly shows the swinging side of the Sixties, a period when Wohlin came to London and partied with the likes of Roman Polanski, Peter Sellers and Jimi Hendrix.

"You must remember that when I lived in London, it was very small. It was very easy to get to know all these people. If you wanted to go to the best clubs and you were young and Swedish it was very easy. It was a great time," she says.

The film may still shock her more conservative customers. It shows the heady excitement of life around The Rolling Stones, but then Jones's growing estrangement from the band, whose other members finally kicked him out for failing to turn up to rehearsals.

It follows Jones's final months, living with Wohlin at the idyllic Cotchford Farm in East Sussex once owned by the Winnie the Pooh creator AA Milne, and his tricky relationship with his builder, Frank Thorogood.

Wohlin first came to Britain at the age of 16 to study at a school in Wales, but quickly gravitated to London. She was part of a dance troupe, The Ravens, when she met Jones at The Speakeasy Club, and he asked her to move in with him on the farm. It was there that Jones was discovered in the pool on the night of 3 July 1969, by Wohlin and Janet Lawson, a friend of Thorogood's.

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Though rock 'n' roll legend has it that Jones was drugged to the eyeballs, the coroner's report found little evidence of drugs in his system, while his blood alcohol level represented the equivalent of him having drunk three-and-a-half pints of beer.

Both the film and Wohlin's memoirs suggest that he was largely clean by then, after the shock of being busted by the police a couple of years earlier. He had even assaulted Wohlin upon discovering that she was still popping prescription pills.

She concedes that his life before they became lovers genuinely was the hedonistic party of legend. She had previously resisted his advances despite adoring him for five years for fear of becoming simply another conquest. But she swears that he was calmer by the time they got together in 1969. "He had stopped with the drugs," she says. "He was so scared about drugs. When he was busted and all that, he hated it. He hated the police. People have the wrong impression."

Those final months were brilliant, she says, because they were young and in love. "I lived with Brian and it was very nice and easy. He was very happy about his country life. He said it was the first time in his whole life that he felt he had a home." He wanted to marry her and settle down, and bring his two sons, Mark and Julian, by previous relationships, to visit. "He was prepared to have a family. He wanted to have a big family and lots of dogs. He was even talking about having horses."

Most histories of the Rolling Stones maintain that the other band members kicked him out. But Wohlin says that Jones was thinking about leaving before that. A blues purist, he disliked the musical direction the band was taking, and did not want to tour America any more.

"So many times the car would come down [to take him to the studios] and Brian would say, 'Anna, you'll have to go out and tell them I'm not going to go, I don't want to.'"

For years Wohlin had refused to talk about their time together - not least because she had signed a contract with The Rolling Stones' management to discuss his death only with their agreement. But she read legions of stories that scarcely represented the man she remembered, and finally decided she would go public after she and her husband divorced a decade ago.

"My husband was quite jealous and he didn't want to know about Brian," she says. Her version of events, The Wild and Wycked World of Brian Jones, was published five years ago and has been re-issued to coincide with the release of Stoned. Its director, Stephen Woolley, who was previously best known for producing hits such as The Crying Game and Scandal, met Wohlin a couple of times in the 10 years he spent developing the movie, and she hopes that their efforts will correct the impression of a nasty and petulant hedonist out of his head on the night he died.

For both she and Woolley believe Thorogood's deathbed confession that he was to blame for the death, not drugs and drink. His relations with Jones had been tense at the time, with rows over bills and his workmanship, and they fear that resentment bubbled over when the men were messing around in the pool.

"I don't think Frank meant to kill him, because I don't think he was a killer," she says. "I think it was some sort of horseplay. I think it went too far." Thorogood's behaviour on the night was strange, she says. As Wohlin scrabbled to save Jones, he would do nothing to help. The tragedy sent Wohlin into a deep and long-lasting shock, and she blamed herself for leaving Jones alone with Thorogood while she went to answer the telephone.

"I kept silent all these years because, even if I had friends who [would have] supported me, I was a little bit scared over it. I knew something was very wrong. He didn't die of drowning because he was drunk and drugged, but how could I prove it? I couldn't."

The Rolling Stones' management stepped in, apparently arranging for the farmhouse to be cleared and spiriting her away out of the country because, "I was just a nuisance, I was just a problem." But Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman were "very nice to me", even if, she claims, Mick Jagger never replied when she wrote.

Today, Wohlin admits that she is still angry, not least at herself for not being stronger. She wishes that she had insisted on staying for the funeral, and is torn between believing that the police should re-open the case - a possibility at one point because of the publicity surrounding the film - and letting matters lie.

Despite quibbles that the movie underplays Jones's strengths as a musician and takes artistic licence with the swimming pool scenes, Wohlin is pleased that it is being released. "I think it does justice to him," she says.

I ask her whether she has any regrets and she pauses. "I would never, ever wish anyone to experience that painful moment when he died. I wish that I had never experienced that," she says. "But I have never regretted meeting Brian, because he gave me so much.

"Brian was fantastic. What I loved about him was that he was caring and generous and he had a sense of humour. We could talk to each other about everything. He was clever and he was a brilliant musician. I still miss him."

'The Wild and Wycked World of Brian Jones' is produced by Blake Publishing, priced £17.99; 'Stoned' goes on general release on 18 November

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