I hold my pass up to the windscreen and when the man in the hi-vis jacket squints at it I think he’s going to turn me away, tell me that I shouldn’t be here and I shouldn’t be doing this. Instead, he directs me to what I presume is Wembley’s staff car park. I smile at him, not sure if I’m relieved or not. And as I coast along my mind floats away again; ten years away, back to when I fell in love with Jimmy Clark.
Saturday morning, sitting on the sofa with a bowl of Coco Pops, trying not to spill any of the muddy milk on my fluffy pink dressing gown. Half watching TV and half reading an issue of Sugar or More! or Bliss.
Then a beach filled the screen. Bright white sand, sparkling blue water, gentle wave sounds. The beat started, the camera panned and there they were, naked from the waist up. Unity, in the video for their debut single Obsession.
I dropped my spoon, oblivious to the splash. For three and a half minutes there was only that beach. And him.
That began my own obsession. Anything with the Unity logo on it, just for Jimmy. I wrote letters to him; others went to my magazines, with quite a few published. And lying under my Unity bedspread with my Unity lamp on, I would stare at my favourite poster of him on the back of my door and know that the twinkle in his eye was just for me, that his strong, powerful arms were made to embrace me, that he only smiled for me.
Of course, the feeling dulled with time. Did it go away? That’s what I told myself. But my hands are shaking and I nearly clip my wing mirror as I inch into a space. Because for the past week I have only been able to hold one thought: you’re going to meet him.
I’m feeling right stressed. Just come off stage after the usual set of crowd-pleasing shite: old Unity tracks where I weren’t even lead vocals and my solo hits what were written for me. I told them, I told them again and again that I wanna put some of my own material in there. And they said do it, and you’re out. Fans’ favourites and that’s your lot. So what did I do? Same thing I always do: what I’m bloody told.
I throw off my T-shirt and slump into the faux leather armchair, nearly slipping off it. Feel like I’ve gone twelve rounds with Tyson Fury. I’m not in the best shape, but it’s the humiliation what really wears me out. No-one’s ever gonna respect me as a song-writer. Eleven years in this biz and people just see another grinning idiot in a sleeveless top prancing about on stage. No matter how loud the screams and cheers, they don’t fill the void.
I know something what does, though. Quick bit of sculpting the powder with the platinum card then I hoover a whole poodle’s leg off the glass table. Oh yeah, that hits the spot. Woah, we’re half-way there! as Jon Bon Jovi sang. Christ, this one’s like a footie pitch marking. Up the other nostril it goes – smells like… victory. Victory, the pick for me, better than Vicks to me…
Should really be writing this stuff down. Keep it for my next phase, my darker phase, when I start aiming for the older crowd.
That’s what I needs, some proper respect, from adults. Shed this boyband tag once and for all. Have people my own age playing my tunes. They think I’m another celebrity wanker but I’m not, I’m just a normal bloke. Trouble is I’m always surrounded by wankers.
As if on cue, Dave’s gut bounces into the room. ‘Great show, Jimmy son. We’re… are you getting high?’
‘Dave, no one says high. You’re either buzzing or mashed or wasted or—’
‘Right, fine, you’re—’
‘As a song-writer, words are very important to me, Dave.’
My manager rolls his eyes and starts clearing up like a SWAT team’s about to burst in any minute. His big face is contracted into a few deep lines, like a reverse facelift. ‘For God’s sake, Jimmy, we’ve got bloody media commitments.’
‘Oh yeah, forgot about that.’ The young journo bird. The thought cheers me right up. ‘Okay gaffer, lemme just freshen up and you can bring the lovely lady right in.’ I flash him the Jimmy Clark smile, proven to melt nine out of ten hearts.
Dave surveys the room then pulls out a pack of silver B&H. ‘You got five minutes, son.” He sticks a fag behind his ear, mumbles something about me needing to sort myself out, and leaves. Moody bastard.
I peel off the chair and open the door a crack. This Lois Lane bird is coming into the waiting bit as Dave’s shuffling off in the other direction. Crikey – bit of a looker, this one. Early twenties, dark skirt-suit, hair tied up all business-like.
I turn to the mirror; still got it. This could be fun. No one tells Jimmy Clark what to do.
I’m perched on a plastic chair opposite Jimmy’s dressing room. The door shuts – I hadn’t noticed it was ajar. Come on, be professional. You’re not a work experience kid anymore.
I’m on time, but will no doubt be made to wait, since it’s so not rock ‘n’ roll to keep to schedule (not that Jimmy, bless him, is in any way rock ‘n’ roll, no matter how many tattoos he gets). He better not cancel on me – it may not be NME, but Girl Thing is number one in print and online with its target readership of eight to twelves, the lucrative ‘tweenage’ market.
I’m just glancing at my watch when the door opens again and I hear that familiar voice from behind it call out, ‘Come in love, I’m ready for you.’
The dressing room is a real mess and the stink of male body odour hits me in the face. Two leather swivel chairs have been set up face-to-face and Jimmy is leaning back in one, trying to look relaxed but failing. I hear the door swing shut behind me.
His famous thick dark hair is especially dark and thick with the amount of sweat in it. He still has the same strong cheekbones, but they twitch involuntarily, and he grinds his jaw like a cow grazing. He has taken off his stage T-shirt but hasn’t bothered to put another one on. His tattoos are like oil.
And he is obviously off his face.
I sit on the edge of the vacant chair and reach for his hand. It’s like gripping a warm steak. ‘Sophie Collins, Girl Thing.’
‘Jimmy Clark, popstar,’ comes the reply along with the familiar grin. Seeing how seedy it is close up makes something inside me die.
I press on. Since he seems reluctant to make small talk I take my Dictaphone out and start recording.
‘Right, then. Um, Jimmy, you’ve been in pop music for more than ten years now, going back to your days with Unity.’ He snorts at the word. ‘What would you say has been your—’ Jimmy snorts again, too loud to ignore this time, and I’m no longer sure if it’s in reaction to what I’m saying or to what he’s put up his nose.
‘Look, love, I’ve got just one thing to say.’
He leans forward clumsily.
‘I don’t give a fuck about any of them out there.’
‘Those kids don’t care about Jimmy Clark’s music, his vision. I’m just another tool. You could put a singing turd on stage and they’d pay to see it. I wanna be respected for my song-writing talent, by adults, people with jobs who can get into pubs. Bollocks to them kids.’
He sits back again, satisfied. He doesn’t look like he is going to answer any more questions.
‘You know, that door locks,’ he says, raising an eyebrow.
I look at the man before me, this red-eyed, smelly mess. ‘Maybe I’ll just be off.’
He shrugs. Then a wicked smile broadens his face. ‘Wanna do some gear?’
That were a laugh. I watch her leave, arse shuffling about like two footballs in a sack. What have I done? I’ve told the truth; I’m sick of lying. Put that in your magazine, sweetheart, ‘cause you know what? Jimmy Clark just don’t care.
I was in that dressing room for less than four minutes. It was probably the shortest interview I’ll ever do.
That’s not to say it was a waste of time. On the contrary, as I follow the exit signs down the winding corridor, I’m grimly aware that Jimmy gave me exactly what I came for.
I raise my head as Dave re-enters the dressing room. He’s met with an unfamiliar sight: popstar James Alexander Clark sitting on the floor bawling his eyes out.
‘Jimmy, what the—’
‘The interview? You let her in without me? I was only gone—’
‘The interview, my career, everything. Over.’
I start sobbing again.
Girl Thing didn’t send me to do a cosy, predictable Q&A with Jimmy. They wanted to find out how serious his drug habit has become. And from our little non-meeting, my conclusion is: pretty bloody serious.
So far, Jimmy’s Class A addiction has been kept a secret from the public. But it could explode at any moment. The magazine has to be ahead of the game, renounce support for a person or an act before they have a chance to embarrass it. It doesn’t want to be screaming Jimmy rocks as good as ever the same time as Clark in cocaine shame is plastered all over the tabloids. Think how the parents who buy their little treasures’ magazine subscriptions would react.
Girl Thing just removed Jimmy Clark coverage from its editorial calendar.
I pull away from Dave’s bear-hug.
‘We got three choices, Jimmy,’ he says, looking me right in the face.
I nod. I’ve come down faster than Meat Loaf with a crock parachute.
‘First, we call the girl back and try to patch it up. Tell her you’ve been under a lot of stress recently, that you’re just over-tired, blah blah blah.’
‘Not sure we can wing that one, gaffer.’
Dave looks like he expects the worst. ‘Why?’
‘I offered her some.’
He grimaces. ‘Okay. We call up her boss and say that we don’t wanna be in their magazine, tell them they can’t cover your tour—’
‘Come off it, Dave.’
He sighs. ‘Well, then you know what we have to do. And we gotta do it right now.’
I nod again. ‘Yep. But I wanna do it. About time I faced the music.’ I snort meaningfully. ‘Maybe this has been a blessing in disguise.’
Dave smiles, cutting through the thick atmos. I smile back. The big cuddly pillock.
He whips out his mobile and scrolls through to find Sharon, my publicist.
Reaching the exit door, I hesitate. I try to focus on the fact that I’m just the messenger and nearly turn around, fearing getting shot in the back. Maybe I’d deserve it.
I hope Jimmy decides to confess his addiction to the public. It could take his career to a new level: the older crowd. Because everyone loves stories of singers’ battles with drink and drugs, don’t they? Spun right, the tale of redemption can bring humility to a star’s image; he or she can seem like a fighter, a survivor. Jimmy could finally be cool, play Glasto, get interviewed by actual music magazines. Meanwhile, Girl Thing will simply groom a new idol to fill the void.
It’s grey and wet outside, the air smells fresh and new. Unlocking my car, I see a group of hysterical young girls at the other end of the concourse, kept back by crowd control barriers and the hi-vis brigade. Banners declare things like We [heart] u Jimmy! and Marry me Jimmy! and all that screaming will give them sore throats in the morning.
As I reach for my seatbelt, one little girl catches my eye. Her face full of hope, her body a ball of tension inside pedal pushers and a bright T-shirt, poised to erupt at the sight of her idol. She’ll think it’s the best day of her life, that one glance from him will fill her heart and make her happy forever.
I smile, envying her. But in the time it takes to check my mirrors, it passes.
Jonathan Last is an ex-teacher and journalist who now works as a web editor. He is the author of the memoir ‘Teaching with Chopsticks: TEFL from the Frontline’ and is a University of East Anglia creative writing graduate.
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