Funny what you remember when you busy yourself in a garden, on a cold Sunday, prepping things for the arrival of spring. Hauling out a clump of weeds from the raised bed, I suddenly remembered an event from 1983 and burst out laughing. My wife - and my dog - looked at me, strange. I recounted the reason for the mirth, but only the dog really listened. (My wife hated name-dropping, but for this yarn, there is no avoiding it.)
Working in the advertising industry back in the day when the industry was particularly fond of using celebs to front telly ads, we got to rub shoulders with a few.
Dennis Waterman was one. Remember him? Tel Boy from the BBC series Minder? Terry McCann. He's back currently, in a series called New Tricks on UK TV, which ain't half bad.
We brought him out in the 80‘s to front a campaign for the Ford Dealer network, using a cheesy adaptation of the Minder theme song ‘I could be so good for you’, which he actually sung. Quite well too.
Dennis, sorry, Mr. Waterman was great to work with. As he was out here for a few weeks he brought his partner with him – Rula Lenska – who starred in a few television series’, including the fabulous ‘Rock Follies’ with Julie Covington. Like Dennis, she was a surprisingly good singer. It was a terrific road trip, travelling all over New Zealand with a bunch of of pasty Brits who absolutely loved this place. They loved their music too, and the guitars would come out most nights for some wonderful jams.
We shot the final ad in the series in Auckland and after checking into the White Heron in Parnell (a great little rock star pub that has long since disappeared, sadly), Dennis, Rula, me and the film crew settled around a large table in the piano bar to enjoy a quiet one. Or two. Music trivia quizzes would generally dictate who financed these pre-dinner sessions; Waterman had a memory like an autistic savant elephant, especially music trivia: if it was about the British pop invasion of the 60’s, 70’s punk or the early 80’s New Romantic sound, he knew the answers.
This first night in Auckland, who should be down the other end of the bar but one of my all-time heroes, David, sorry, Mr. Bowie having a chinwag with Tom Conti. They both had roles in a movie called Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, which was being shot here. I think Bowie shot the clip to ‘China Girl’ at the same time. It featured New Zealand’s Geeling Ng and it was pretty steamy for its day; immediately banned by most countries with names that end in ‘..stan’.
Half an hour later I’m visiting the bathroom to give back some of the White Heron’s beverages and I bump into Mr. Bowie, right there in the lineup. Not to let a chance go by, I strike up a conversation and before you know it, we are The Very Best Of Friends, as often happens at hand-drying machines.
With that came a great opportunity for a practical joke.
“Look, this may be a slightly odd request, Mr. Bowie, but I’m at that table next to the piano with a bunch of people and it would totally blow them away, Mr. Bowie, if, when you walk back through the bar, you pretended to know me. It would make my night.” Grovel, grovel.
He smiled. He got it. What a great guy – he told me to go ahead of him, sit back at the table, and he’d wander past in a couple of minutes and pretend I was a really good old mate of his. Brilliant! We can be heroes, just for one day.
So I rush back to my crew and get immersed into a conversation about tomorrow’s shoot. Then everything hushes as everyone at the table looks up at the international megastar standing behind me. Bowie puts his hand on my shoulder: “Porangi… Porangi Hoiho, is that you, old bean? Crikey, it’s been years… how are you my dear old thing?”
(Bowie is playing this out really, really well).
At which point I look up at David Bowie. I’m glowering, and pretending to be really annoyed I say: “Bugger off Bowie, can’t you see I’m busy in a meeting with Dennis Waterman!!?”
My table goes into shock.
David Bowie is now a stunned mullet.
It is very, very quiet. And awkward. The hang time of awkwardness makes this moment seem an eternity.
But then I smile – a tiny hint of a smile, at David Bowie. Mr. Bowie.
He knows he’s been had. And he smiles.
As the penny drops around the table, much mirth ensues; it was a truly wonderful moment, one that developed into a memorable evening with stars and guitars. What a bloody decent chap - what a good sport – Mr. Bowie turned out to be.