It seems another world now but my first job in journalism was as a reporter for a small weekly newspaper in the West Country. Golden weddings, flower shows, parish councils, you name it, the news team had to turn the comings and goings of country life into scintillating copy. Well, do our best, anyway.
After two years I escaped to London and became a feature writer on a women’s magazine. Friends assumed this would involve writing cosy stories about shopping, cooking and babies, but they couldn’t have been more wrong. The magazine was keen to attract a younger, hipper audience and I was instructed to interview as many up-and-coming rock stars as I could. While other writers rushed round the world meeting the likes of Mel Gibson and Tom Cruise, I set off in pursuit – metaphorically speaking – of stars like George Michael, Paul Weller and Morrissey.
The reason I’ve been thinking of those heady days was that Morrissey is back in the news again this week. Why? Because he has allowed John Lewis to use a cover version of Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want for their Christmas advertising campaign. One outraged fan complained: “Please, Please is our hymn about longing and unrequited love. No way on earth should it be used to sell household goods or clothes.” Incidentally, the ad, which features an angelic young boy counting the days in the run-up to Christmas, has reduced thousands of viewers to tears. For some reason, even though I cry at virtually anything, I don’t find it heart-rending in the least.
But to get back to Morrissey, my abiding memory of him is his wonderful turn of phrase. I interviewed him over lunch at J Sheekey in Covent Garden and despite his dour, tricky image, he was charm itself. He told me how his mum always believed in him (even when he decided he wasn’t cut out for work) and that as a child growing up on a Manchester council estate he far preferred staying in listening to Billy Fury records than going out to play with the other kids. And even then, he refused point-blank to settle for mediocrity.
“It sounds quite dramatic but I would never be content to straggle midstream,” he told me. “I always felt that if I couldn’t have what I wanted, I would rather have absolutely nothing at all. Perhaps that’s why I always thought that I would be impossibly successful or incredibly inconsequential.”
PS: As The X Factor gets more annoying by the week, 15 year old singer Jasmine van den Bogaerde, alias Birdy, shows the rest of them how it should be done. The great niece of actor Dirk Bogarde has just released her debut album (above) and it’s stunning. Her version of Fleet Foxes’ White Winter Hymnal sends shivers down my spine.