The Girl from Beckenham Transcript

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I was born a few years after World War II, and brought up in a nice house in a typical suburb of Southeast London, Bromley, in Kent. My parents both worked. My father was a long-distance lorry driver and my mother was a shop assistant. They got married shortly after the war simply because that's what everybody did.

The government gave generous allowances, and my brother and I both had free milk at school; a third of a pint in a glass bottle with a silver top. I don't think my parents expected too much of me after school. I think they thought I would kind of grow up, you know, have a bit of fun, get married, and have some children. The swinging sixties kind of changed all of that.

I mean, we had the best music in the world. It was a great time to be a teenager: fabulous fashion, and the pill. Twiggy was my fashion model of the day, and everybody wanted to look like her. She was a tall, skinny girl with a flat chest and flat hair, and I wanted to look like her, too, but no chance.

You know, I was completely out of style. My hair was thick and frizzy, and I couldn't do anything with it. I wore horrible glasses, and I had a waist and hips. You know, I even tied Coca-Cola cans in my hair to try and make it straight, but it didn't really work.

I wasn't good at school, and I didn't like school. So, when I was fifteen I went to the Evelyn Paget College of Hair and Beauty in Bromley to study hairdressing. I passed the course and was transferred to the Evelyn Paget School in Beckenham, which is where I met Mrs. Jones.

Mrs. Jones was my quarter-to-three shampoo and set on a Thursday afternoon. Sometimes she would have a little trim and a chocolate-kiss rinse, and I think I permed her hair once. As I would do her hair she would chat to me about her son, David. She would say, "You know, he's always been an artist, and he sings in a band," and, you know, it was the same kind of conversation week after week, and I would nod and smile. And she seemed so proud of him.

I didn't take much notice until one day she mentioned the song Space Oddity, and I looked at her and I said, "Space Oddity, you know, I've heard that on the radio. Are we talking about David Bowie?"

She said, "Yes, I'm his mum."

I mean, who knew? And there was a buzz about David in Beckenham. You know, he played at The Three Tuns, albeit folk songs, but he had the hit Space Oddity. I hadn't heard much more from him. So, I kind of thought he might be a one-hit wonder.

The first time I saw David he was walking down Beckenham High Street in a dress. He was with this girl with skinny black pants on. And I met the girl, Mrs. Jones brought her into the salon. It was Angie, David's wife and I liked her immediately. She was so cool and fabulous, and she looked so great. I mean, she certainly didn't shop in Beckenham. I heard a bit about her life. She did David's lights, and they used to run around London and go to all the clubs. I mean, it just sounded so glamorous.

I didn't see her for a while, and then when she came back it was Christmas week. She was coming for an appointment Christmas week. I mean, every self-respecting salon in the land is busy Christmas week. So, I took her to one side and I said, "There's no appointments, darling. Here, take my number. Give me a call. I'll come to your house and do your hair."

Well, off I went to Haddon Hall, which was the name of their home. It was about a mile out of town, a huge mansion that had been divided into flats, and they had the middle floor. You know, I'm curious, I've heard about her life; I'm kind of curious about the way she lives. So, I walked into the house, into this massive living room, which was completely overwhelming, but it wasn't that so much. It was more the way it was decorated: a dark blue carpet, dark blue walls, and a silver ceiling. It was so calm. There wasn't much furniture, a couple of couches, a chair or two, some cushions on the floor, and the rest of the room was completely covered with record albums and musical equipment.

David and Angie were sitting by a large bay window, and they were discussing the merits of cutting his hair short. He had this long, blonde, wavy hair at the time. They asked me my opinion. I said, "Well, you know, no one else has got short hair, you know. Nobody. You'd look really different."

So, he comes over with this magazine cover, and there's this Kansai Yamamoto model, and she's got this short red hair. And he said, "Can you do that?"

Well, as I'm saying, "Yes," I'm thinking to myself, "It's a woman's hairstyle, and how am I actually going to do that?" But inside, you know, I'm excited, because this is a time to be creative. I mean, fantastic-looking bloke, tall and slim, long white neck and a beautiful face. I thought, "If I can pull this off, he's gonna look great."

So, I guess it took me about a half-an-hour. I chopped his hair off, and after I'd finished, his hair wouldn't stand up. You know, it just kind of flopped. And I'm looking at it and I'm kind of panicking, and I can see he's not looking too happy. So, I said, "As soon as we tint the hair, it's going to change the texture. It's gonna look great. I can promise you, it's gonna stand up."

I was praying I was right.

I went and experimented with color, and I found the color; Red Hot Red, with 30 volume peroxide to give a bit of a kick. But, you know, there was no product in those days; you didn't have gels or fixatives. There was nothing to help me make it stand up. So, I used GARD. It was an anti-dandruff treatment that I'd used on the old girls at the salon that set hair like stone.

The second he looked at himself in the mirror, with that short red hair, any doubts he had completely disappeared. I mean, Angie and I looked at him in awe. He looked fantastic. He gained a couple of inches with the height. You know, a huge wave of relief washed over me. I'd done it. I'd done it. It was standing up. I was so relieved.

I'm packing to leave, and she says, "Well, how much do we owe you?" I said, "Oh, two pounds, please." They called me, and I went up to see them at a place in London the band were playing, and I

went to see them, and I still wasn't sure what kind of a following he had. You know, he played folk music. I wasn't quite sure.

I walked in and the place is packed. It's a college. The kids are about my age, but they're not like me. I mean, they're well-educated, everything that I wasn't. The lights went down, some music came on, and the band took to the stage, and it was a real "oh my God" moment for me.

I mean, David was Ziggy Stardust. He had full makeup on, his hair was flaming on his head. They all wore costumes. The band had this kind of flat velvet pastel-color suits tucked into their boots, and David had a similar kind of look on, and when they played, I mean, the place rocked. They were so good. This wasn't folk music, that's for sure. They were amazing. What a great band.

I went home thinking to myself, well, my God, I didn't expect to see that. Angie called me and said, "Come to the house," you know, "We'd like to talk to you."

So, I went up to Haddon Hall, and Freddie Burretti was there. Now, Freddie had helped design the costumes with David. I went up, and he was so fey and fabulous. I was entranced, his mannerisms, the way he talked. I mean, he was fantastic, Freddie. I'd never met a gay man before. At some point during that evening, David leans over and kisses Freddie full on the mouth. Well, I didn't know which way to look. I kind of looked at Angie, and she's laughing, and I'm thinking to myself, I'm completely out of my league here. You know, I wasn't like these people. I didn't know who Nietzsche was. I'd never heard of Lou Reed. I certainly didn't know who Andy Warhol was. I'd never seen guys kissing before. I was from Beckenham.

Angie takes me to one side later that evening and says, "You know, David and I have decided we want you to come on the road with us. So, you're to go tomorrow to MainMan offices in London and discuss your wages with Tony Defries, David's manager."

So, the next day I go up to the offices in London, heart in hand, and I talk to Tony, and by the end of the afternoon I've got the job. I'm driving home and it's suddenly sinking in. I'm going to go on the road with a rock and roll band. I mean, it's like a dream come true. I couldn't believe it. I went to Evelyn Paget's the next day and gave in my notice. And my boss said to me, he said, "You know, Suzanne, you should think carefully before you give up a well-paying secure job."

I looked at him and said, "Yes, I have."

After this, of course, my confidence knew no bounds, because I've done David's hair. So, I met the band at the flat, and I cut Woody's hair, the drummer, who's a bit like a short, blonde Bowie. And I cut Trevor's hair off and sprayed his sideburns silver. The only holdout was Mick Ronson. He didn't want to look like David.

So, then I started on the road with them, and we even did Top of the Pops. They played Starman, and during the chorus David draped his arm around Mick Ronson's shoulders. I think it shook Britain to the core. You know, it certainly shook my mom and dad. It was great.

David was always so ambitious, he wanted to do rock and roll theater. So, we started in Finsbury Park, at the Rainbow Theatre. We were there, like, 18-hour days. There was scaffolding and mime artists, dried ice, and fantastic lights. I mean, it was an amazing show. We were all sworn to secrecy. No press, no cameras, no nothing. But we made such a big deal of it, it made the show so appealing. By the time it opened, everybody came, and I think the only person that didn't like it was Elton John. You know, he walked out halfway through saying, "That's not rock and roll. He's never gonna make it now."

Well, I could feel the momentum gathering. We were driving around the country in a bus, and fans were following us, and it was a really great time. Everything was going so well. I was with David all the time throughout that period. You know, I would be with him before the show, doing his hair, his costumes, getting him everything he wanted; I was kind of his personal assistant as well as his hairdresser.

He did many costume changes, and one was during a guitar solo. I mean he would come to the side of the stage. I would have his Gitanes cigarette and a glass of wine, and he would take them, and I would change him while Mick is wailing like ten seconds and ten feet from where we were. It was exciting, but we had it down to an art.

We went to America, and we really traveled in style in the States. We stayed at the Plaza Hotel in New York, and the Beverly Hills in California. We were in Ziggy's world, and no one wanted to go anywhere else. I mean, I never wanted to go home.

We had a great head team. This group would go ahead of us to a different town. It was Cherry Vanilla, famous groupie, and Lee Black Childers of Warhol fame. And they would go into a town and they'd go to the clubs and create a big fuss, and get the people to come to the gigs, and it was very successful.

I met Iggy Pop in California, and we went to the Beverly Hills Hotel, and he said, "I want you to dye my hair blue."

I said, "Okay."

So, I dyed his hair blue, and I said, "You know, you might want to wash it a couple of times before you go back in the pool." Well, of course, he completely ignored me, and dived in the pool, and there was a blue streak from one end to the other at the Beverly Hills Hotel pool. And I think he was asked to leave after that.

I even went to Japan with David, you know, and I met Kansai Yamamoto, and picked up some fantastic costumes of his. It was great being in Japan. I mean, I was being noticed. Suddenly, I was the one. I was suddenly cool. You know, everybody kind of wanted to know me, the girl with the thick hair and the glasses. You know, suddenly I had become the one to be.

I went back home after one of these tours and I walked down Beckenham High Street. I looked in the window of Evelyn Paget's. My God, it looked so small. I thanked my lucky stars I wasn't there anymore. You know, Beckenham hadn't change, my family hadn't changed, but I'd changed so much. I was a million miles from where I'd been before.

The last show that David ever did was at Hammersmith Odeon, and he just stood on the stage and said, "This is the last show we're ever going to do," and played Rock 'n' Roll Suicide. And it was sad to say goodbye to Ziggy. I think we were all sad to say goodbye to Ziggy. But I didn't go home. I mean, I went to Italy and fell in love with Mick Ronson, the guitar player, and moved with him to London, and it was a great ending for me.

I am thankful for my luck. You know, I'm so grateful that I met Mrs. Jones and Angie; so grateful I gave them my telephone number, otherwise somebody else might have lived my life. Thrilled that I met and married the guitar player, the late, great Mick Ronson, and had a beautiful daughter with him. I met so many interesting people throughout that time, and heard so much wonderful music. I'm so grateful for David for taking a chance on me, and taking me on the road with him.

My haircut's on British currency now - the Brixton ten-pound note. Who would have thought I could have done that?

Thank you.