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My meetings with David Bowie, and the disarming comments that changed me

I said, 'Hi,’ opened my fist and the tissues fluttered to the floor. He cracked up. And so it began

David Thomas
Monday 11 January 2016 17:43 GMT
David Bowie performs at Sydney Entertainment Centre during his Glass Spider tour in 1987
David Bowie performs at Sydney Entertainment Centre during his Glass Spider tour in 1987 (Patrick Riviere/Getty Images)

It was the spring of 1983 and I was 24 years old when I finally met my hero. The interview took place in the drawing-room of a suite at Claridges. Fifteen minutes before it was due to begin I was led upstairs and told to wait in the bedroom. By then I'd already met a lot of rock stars and got over my fanboy nerves, but this was different. This was him.

I was in a muck sweat. The palms of my hands were liquid. I didn't want to give him, of all people, a soggy handshake so I took some tissues, stuffed them into my hands and clenched my fists around them. Just then, the door of the room opened; a slim, blond figure (he was wearing his hair in that Let's Dance bouffant at the time) walked in, smiled, and said, 'Hi, I'm David Bowie.'

He held out his hand. What could I do but shake it?

So I said, 'Hi,’ opened my fist and the tissues fluttered to the floor. He cracked up. And so it began.

David Bowie was famously charismatic: incredibly funny, charming, attentive, full of great stories, able to make men as well as women fall in love at first sight. About a quarter of an hour in I asked a question: 'Do you still travel with flight cases that have bookshelves inside them?'

He grinned and said, 'Yes, but how on earth do you know about them?'

'Because,' I blathered, 'I've probably read every magazine or newspaper article about you, ever!'

And I probably had. I belonged to the Starman generation, who – boys and girls alike - fell hopelessly and forever in love with Bowie when they saw him that first time on Top of the Pops in July 1972.

As we all did, I rushed out and bought Ziggy, then Hunky Dory and Man Who Sold the World, and every album thereafter on the day it came out. I escaped school to see his Station to Station tour at the Wembley Empire Pool: Bowie Sinatra-cool in black and white, the only colour on stage his flaming orange hair, the blue of his Gitanes packet and the glow of his cigarette. Every new album had been an education, every new image a role-model. But anyway …

David Bowie Dead

Bowie looked at me, must have decided that he was in the presence of a genuine fan and then he really began to talk. His generosity of spirit led to a cover story in The Face, the style magazine of the era, that essentially gave me a writing career, on both sides of the Atlantic.

I interviewed him on two more occasions. The first was in 1986, on the set of Labyrinth, in which he played the Goblin King, and the least said about that, the better. The third was just before his 50th birthday.

Bowie was in New York, married to Iman and just beginning to emerge from a decade or so of creative stagnation. At the start of our conversation - and no tissues were harmed in the making of this anecdote - I wryly remarked that this time I was going to try and be a bit more resistant to his charm.

'What do you mean?' he asked.

'Well,’ I said, ‘it's just that you're so fucking charming and always it makes me think, "He likes me! He likes me!" and then I don't ask any really tough questions.'

'Hmm ..' he pondered. 'Of course there is another possibility.'

'What's that?'

'I may not actually dislike you.'

I always used to tell that story as an example of pure distilled charm. Faced with the accusation that - as he once wrote - 'It's not really work, it's just the power to charm', Bowie trumped me by being more charming yet.

It was at least a decade before it struck me that he may simply have been telling the truth. So to anyone else who, like me, sometimes finds it hard to believe in other people's affection, or even to perceive, I pass on this message from David Bowie, to bear in mind the next time they are filled with doubt in the presence of another person: he she or they may not actually dislike you.

And I – perhaps like you – completely adored David Bowie.

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