The day Simon Le Bon came round to my house

My ex-husband said that, if I told the story of my time with Duran Duran, no one would believe me. Luckily I have pictures to illustrate it! This story appeared in the Guardian in 2014 – but here are more details.

I was an obsessive Duran Duran fan – I just loved the music so much. It inspired me to want to become a singer-songwriter. So when I had to leave school in 1996, aged 16, and the deputy head told me I’d have to work out what to do with my life now, I replied ‘I know what I’m going to do. I’m going to go and find Duran Duran.’

I found out where the band were recording, thanks to a fellow fan I knew called Mandy, and started hanging out outside the studios. One day, Simon Le Bon turned up on his motorbike. We became friends, bonding over the fact that we both came from Pinner.

He said ‘I’d like to go back to Pinner sometime.’ He took my home telephone number (I didn’t have a mobile back then – neither did most people). The next day, he phoned me up and, to my utter disbelief, asked if he could come round.

Simon arrived at my house on Friday 7th March 1997 (yeah, it was 22 years ago, but it’s the sort of thing you remember when you’re a massive Duran Duran fan!). I was in raptures. He was riding his motorbike, was dressed all in leathers, and had brought along a spare helmet for me. The bike ride we would go on that day was one of the most thrilling experiences of my life – but before that, he would come into my house for about an hour.

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I made him a cup of tea. He sat at our kitchen table, picked up my guitar and played me a song he’d written, ‘Already Gone’. It was beautiful and delicate, but he said that Warren – Duran Duran’s guitarist at the time – said it sounded too much like ‘Wonderwall’, so the band weren’t going to use it. It didn’t sound like ‘Wonderwall’ to me, though it had a similar chord progression – but how many songs have the same chord progression as others? Millions. It’s a real shame that it was never released, because it has the loveliest melody.

My dad wandered into the kitchen and said hello to Simon. He seemed to take it for granted that a major rock star was sitting in his house drinking tea! Though my dad didn’t know anything about pop music, so he probably didn’t realise what a big deal it was. At the time, he had a massive black eye from an operation. After he’d left the kitchen, I apologised to Simon for his slightly frightening appearance, as my dad looked as though he’d been in a pub fight. Simon shook his head and said, ‘He looks cool, like a boxer!’

Then he asked if I owned a cassette player. I did, and he got a tape out of his leather biker jacket pocket and played me the band’s newest track, ‘Electric Barbarella’. I love electropop, though the lyrics and video are pretty unreconstructed (but that’s ’80s pop stars for you).

We went up to my bedroom so I could play Simon a song on my Casio keyboard, though I was extremely embarrassed about all the Duran Duran posters all over the room. In fairness, I was a teenage girl though – and what superfan doesn’t have posters of their favourite band all over their walls?

Later, as we were leaving the house, Simon stopped by a map of ancient Persia by the front door, and asked about my origins. I explained that I was half-Parsi Zoroastrian, and he seemed fascinated.

ducati

I was so scared about getting on his motorbike. I’ve always been physically risk-averse, but I rationalised, ‘If I have to die, there’s no better way than this.’ I held on so tightly to his leathers around his waist, I’m surprised Simon didn’t loosen my grip as it must have been painful! We zoomed up to Croxley Green, where my first boyfriend lived. I will never forget his jaw dropping open as he saw us riding up his road on the bike (a top-of-the-range bright red Ducati 888).

Simon came round again a week later, so I could play him a reworked version of ‘Already Gone’, but didn’t stay for long.

Those days are in the few sweet memories from my childhood, and I will always be grateful to Simon for making my troubled teenage life so special.

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THE GREAT WEIGHT LOSS CHALLENGE!

Day 33

Me: 12st 4.8lbs (total loss in 33 days: 9.4lbs)

Hurray! At last I’m on the downwards slope again.

John: 14st 4.25lbs (total loss in 33 days: 3.25lbs)

John there, pledging allegiance to the mighty Apple god. If you ate more apples, John, you might lose more weight!

This post has been made possible by my awesome Patreon supporters Ricky Steer, Marc Alexander, Chris Birkett, John Fleming, Mary Clarke, Matthew Sylvester, Brian Engler, Jack Scanlan, Dave Nattriss, Musical Comedy Guide, Mark White, Lucy Spencer, Shane Jarvis, Graham Nunn, Emily Hill and Marcus P Knight.

They receive a whole host of exciting rewards in addition to this credit, including my secret never-published fiction and top secret photos! If you enjoyed this post, please support me on Patreon. 

Rewards start from just $1 a month, which is 85p in real money and gets you access to my weekly Patreon email. It’s like this blog, but EVEN BETTER!

The day my mum stole my shoes

When I was 13, I fell in love with a pair of boots. They were just so beautiful and stylish and shapely, in black leather with high stiletto heels. I’ve scoured Google Images and can’t find the exact pair of boots, of course – these were only available in 1994 – but here’s an example of the kind of style I’m talking about.

boots

The boots were £25, and I saw them in Dolcis in St Ann’s Shopping Centre, Harrow. I was especially keen on buying them, because my first ever concert was coming up. I was going to see my favourite band Duran Duran, as my new penpal Anna (a fellow Duranie) had won us tickets in a radio competition by identifying a clip of the track ‘The Reflex’.

It was January 1994, the concert was at Wembley Arena in a week’s time, and I was putting together the perfect outfit. I already had a black and white frilly New Romantic blouse, which in retrospect was hideous, and a black mini skirt and black tights. In my view, all I needed to complete the look were these boots, the pièce de résistance of the ensemble. Despite being a plain child with a face full of hair, I was harbouring a delusion that Simon Le Bon would somehow see me in the crowd, pull me out onto the stage and declare his undying love for me – if only I had the right clothes.

duran81[Duran Duran as New Romantics in 1981.]

So I told my mum about the boots, even though I knew there wasn’t a cat in hell’s chance of her buying them for me. She rarely bought me anything, and I didn’t get pocket money when I was 13, either. The rationale was that my mum would buy me anything I needed, but what she deemed necessary fell within a very narrow bracket. Still, I wanted to tell someone about the boots.

‘I’ve seen these amazing boots!’ I breathed. ‘They’re so beautiful, Mum! So stylish. They’re black leather and are in Dolcis in Harrow. Can we go and see them?’

To my amazement, my mum said yes. We went to Dolcis and, to my relief, the boots were still on display. My mum agreed that they were lovely. As I’d known she would though, she refused to buy them for me. ‘Your feet are still growing, darling,’ she murmured, ‘and your bones are soft. You don’t want to squash your feet into pointed shoes and wear heels yet, otherwise your feet will be misshapen when you grow up.’

I sighed. I very much did want to squash my feet into pointed shoes. I was disappointed, of course, but accepted my mum’s rationale as a reasonable and caring explanation for why I couldn’t have the boots. As a consolation prize, she said I could wear her slouchy flat navy boots to the concert. They were the wrong colour, of course, and weren’t nearly as stylish or shapely, but they were better than nothing.

slouchy[Totally the wrong boots.]

The day of the concert rolled around. I donned my black and white frilly blouse, my black skirt and tights, and the wrong boots, frowning at myself in the mirror. If only I had a fairy godmother who could transform my unattractive footwear into the perfect stylish ankle boots I’d seen.

Then my mum came home – and she was carrying a Dolcis bag! She put it down by the front door while she took off her coat and shoes. I looked in the bag, and saw a shoebox with the name of the boots on and my size, size 3. This couldn’t be happening! Surely my mum hadn’t bought them? I peeked in the box. It contained my boots!

‘MUM, YOU BOUGHT THEM FOR ME!’ I shrieked, launching myself at my bewildered mum and wrapping her in an enormous hug. ‘THANK YOU SO MUCH! I LOVE YOU SO MUCH!’

I couldn’t believe it. I’d always had my mum down as a joyless, neglectful mother who had never paid any attention to me or cared what I wanted or needed – but I had been wrong.  She was the best mother in the world. She truly loved me.

My mother disentangled herself with distaste. She never liked me hugging her. ‘What?!’ she snapped. ‘What are you talking about?’

‘The boots!’ I repeated in ecstasy. ‘You bought the boots for me!’

My mum looked down at the bag. ‘Oh, no darling,’ she said vaguely. ‘These aren’t for you. They’re for me.’

Then I remembered that, being 4’10”, my mum also took a size 3 shoe.

I stared at her. ‘For you?‘ I asked, my excitement ebbing away into an unrecognisable ache in my chest.

‘Yes,’ my mum said, smiling distantly. ‘You couldn’t possibly have thought they were for you. I mean, I already told you they’re bad for your feet. You’re still growing.’

And so, for the next few years, I had to watch my mother walking around in my dream pair of boots.

boots

THE GREAT WEIGHT LOSS CHALLENGE!

Day 22

Me: 12st 6.8lbs (total loss in 22 days: 7.4lbs)

Hurray! I’ve lost more than two stone this year now. Another five to go…

John: 14st 3.25lbs (total loss in 22 days: 4.25lbs)

The fungal toenail is back!

This post has been made possible by my awesome Patreon supporters Ricky Steer, Chris Birkett, John Fleming, Mary Clarke, Matthew Sylvester, Brian Engler, Jack Scanlan, Dave Nattriss, Musical Comedy Guide, Mark White, Lucy Spencer, Shane Jarvis, Graham Nunn, Emily Hill and Marcus P Knight.

They receive a whole host of exciting rewards in addition to this credit, including my secret never-published fiction and top secret photos! If you enjoyed this post, please support me on Patreon. 

Rewards start from just $1 a month, which is 85p in real money and gets you access to my weekly Patreon email. It’s like this blog, but EVEN BETTER!

The time I nearly got into S Club 7

As a teenager, I was desperate to be a pop star. I couldn’t sing very well, but that never stopped the Spice Girls, right? So I wrote songs, and practised singing them (and cringed at the sound of my own voice. These days it’s a lot better and stronger though, so practice does pay off).

I spent my late teens scanning the ‘Auditions’ pages of the newspaper The Stage, hoping to spot the advert that would lead to my big break. A lot of the ads I circled were searching for singers for pop groups. And thanks to an ad placed in 1998 when I was 18, I almost succeeded in getting into a famous pop group: S Club 7.

The advert in question was for ‘singers and presenters’, and was an open casting call for boys and girls aged 15-19 at Pineapple Studios in Covent Garden, Central London. So I dolled myself up and turned up at Pineapple to find half the teenage world already there.

teeth

[Me. Nice teeth, shame about the earrings.]

There were literally hundreds of equally glammed-up girls and spruced-up boys queuing in line. Eventually, a woman from the production company came out of the main hall.

‘We’re not going to be able to audition everyone, as there are so many of you,’ she said, ‘so if I point at you, you’re to come into the hall, and if I don’t, then apologies and thank you for your time.’

She started pointing at teenagers – and, to my delight, she pointed at me. I walked into the hall gleefully.

We all sat on the floor in a group in front of a tall blonde woman, who explained that her production company were putting together a TV show featuring a girl-and-boy pop group. She went round the hall and asked us each to sing something. My mind went blank, so I sang ‘Happy Birthday’!

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[I’ve only just realised that my vest says ‘Jesus’.]

Then I remember being asked to interview a beautiful mixed race girl. I asked her a question about her love life, and she said ‘That’d be telling,’ and I replied ‘Yes it would, so tell me!’ The blonde woman seemed to like that, and smiled approvingly.

I hadn’t brought along a CV or photo (not that I’d have had much to put on a CV at that age, other than winning Miss Harrow!) so the blonde woman gave me her card and asked me to post my photo and CV to her. I remember her saying ‘And do post them, as this is going to be big.’ The name on her card was Heather Alexander, and she was from 19 Management – which I realised excitedly was Simon Fuller’s production company (he managed the Spice Girls).

I posted the CV and photo off ASAP, and got a call soon after from the blonde lady for a ‘recall’ – also to take place at Pineapple Studios. I turned up and there was a short queue of pretty girls who all looked similar to me: dark hair, dark eyes, and tanned, beige or olive skin.

I had to do a piece to camera and say who I admired most in the world. I remember saying something about Duran Duran, which they probably didn’t expect from someone my age. Then I’d prepared a song, ‘Fever’ (I was singing jazz standards throughout my teens and playing the piano too, though I sang a cappella during the recall). I think in retrospect they would have preferred a chart pop song.

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[Me, making friends with a fence.]

They thanked me, and I never heard back. I guess I wasn’t exactly what they were looking for after all. Soon after that, I started dating a much older guy called Simon (not Simon Fuller) who was the band Shed Seven’s manager. The Sheds were signed to Polydor, and when I told Simon about the audition, he said ‘Ah, that must have been for S Club 7.’ ‘Who?’ I asked. ‘They’re the new pop group Simon (Fuller) has put together,’ he explained.

The next year, S Club 7 hit number 1 in the charts with their debut single ‘Bring It All Back’, which was released on Polydor, and I felt extremely wistful and envious. I realised that I and all the other dark-haired olive-skinned girls at the second audition must have been in the running for Tina’s place in the band.

Bring It All Back[S Club 7’s first single ‘Bring It All Back’. Tina is in the red.]

A couple of years later, I received another call from 19 Management about possibly being in S Club Juniors (later called S Club 8) and travelled down to Battersea to meet the team. However, I think they’d forgotten how old I was, and decided I was too long in the tooth at the advanced age of 20!

So I never got to be in S Club anything. My life could have been so different – but would it have been better? Probably not, especially as I had rarely thrived in groups of kids. Plus I’d never have created the Atheist Bus Campaign, and nor would I have had my wonderful daughter.

Lily and Mummy

[Me and the Lilster, back when she was six and had cut her own fringe.]

Years after the auditions, in March 2010, I’d get to perform an original song I’d written (below) with Tim Minchin at the Simon Singh benefit at London’s Cambridge Theatre. (Simon was being sued by the British Chiropractic Association for saying in a Guardian column that chiropractic was bogus, so the benefit was a celebrity fundraiser to support him.) The entire thousand-strong crowd sang the chorus along with me – so I got a little taste of what it felt like to be a pop star then – and it felt awesome.

THE GREAT WEIGHT LOSS CHALLENGE!

Day 16

Me: 12st 9.6lbs (total loss in 16 days: 4.6lbs)

Oh God. It was all going so well, and then I got my period and binged on chocolate. Forgive me.

John: 14st 4.5lbs (total loss in 16 days: 3lbs)

John chooses this moment to narrow the gap.

This post has been made possible by my awesome Patreon supporters Ricky Steer, Chris Birkett, John Fleming, Mary Clarke, Matthew Sylvester, Brian Engler, Jack Scanlan, Dave Nattriss, Musical Comedy Guide, Mark White, Lucy Spencer, Shane Jarvis, Graham Nunn, Emily Hill and Marcus P Knight.

They receive a whole host of exciting rewards in addition to this credit, including my secret never-published fiction and top secret photos! If you enjoyed this post, please support me on Patreon.

Rewards start from just $1 a month, which is 85p in real money and gets you access to my weekly Patreon email. It’s like this blog, but EVEN BETTER!

What it was really like to busk illegally on the Tube

My ex-husband describes my life as ‘a hyper-real existence’. I’ve certainly had a lot of unusual experiences – some of which I sought out, and some of which arrived at my door. The truth is, I was a very eccentric kid, because I had crazy parents and was ostracised by pretty much everyone, and I think that gave me the courage to think and do the unfamiliar.

You see, there was nothing to lose; there were no friends to impress, or to rein me in. Home was hell, so I wanted to be out of the house as much as possible, and I also had a low boredom threshold and low attention span – which partly explains all the weird and interesting jobs I had in my teens and early twenties.

This post is called ‘What it was really like to busk illegally on the Tube’, because these days it’s legal and regulated with designated pitches, which kind of takes the frisson out of it and makes it less exciting and fun.

I first started busking on the Tube in sixth form, after leaving my summer job at McDonald’s, at the start of the term in which I’d eventually get kicked out of school. I had recently turned 16, and was small and scruffy and angry.

I decided to busk as I’d been forced under threat of violence to play the violin since I was four, enduring hundreds of lessons, taking my exams and reaching Grade 8. I absolutely hated the bloody instrument – it gave me no pleasure whatsoever to play – but as I now had the ability despite detesting the torturous piece of wood, I realised I might as well make some cash out of it.

So, one evening after school in early September 1996, I took my mum’s Travelcard from her black leather handbag when she came home from work, and travelled down on the Metropolitan Line from Pinner to Baker Street.

Ariane 21.jpg[I always chose the most dignified poses.]

My mum was teaching Law at university at the time, and when she discovered I was taking her Travelcard each evening, she had a massive go at me: ‘Ariane, this is theft! Travelcards are for the use of one person only. You are depriving the London Underground of revenue. It’s illegal!’

It was all for show though – she wasn’t actually bothered, as she would leave the pale pink ticket sticking out of her bag each night so I could use it. (She wasn’t remotely interested in me though – she still isn’t – so she never asked about my busking.)

Sometimes, if she hadn’t got home from work yet and I wanted to go and busk, I would just use the back entrance to Pinner station, which was open between 7pm and 10pm each evening and had no ticket gate. I wouldn’t bother buying a ticket, because I wouldn’t be getting out at the other end – I would be staying within the Tube network.

I will never forget the first time I tried to busk. It was at Baker Street station, at the bottom of the escalator that leads down to the Jubilee and Bakerloo Line platforms. I nervously took my 3/4 size violin out of the case, put the sticky chalky rosin on my bow, and lifted the violin to my chin, bow poised to play Bach’s Concerto in A Minor.

At that exact moment, an exasperated female voice came over the tannoy: ‘Can the busker at the bottom of the Jubilee Line escalator please note that busking is not permitted on the London Underground!’

I packed up my violin frantically, and fled. I then took the Jubilee Line down to Bond Street, and busked properly for the first time. I played my heart out, playing all the classical pieces I knew, and the commuters responded by filling my violin case with coins. Many gave me curious looks, I guess because you didn’t often see 16-year-old buskers. On average, I would earn £11 an hour by playing the violin – almost three times what I’d earned at McDonald’s.

[Me in a subway. These days I’m more likely to be found in a Subway.]

Then I accidentally left my violin on a train. I was both sad about my busking being curtailed, and very glad to see the back of the wretched instrument. Luckily, my mum owned an acoustic guitar which she never used. It was just gathering dust in the living room, and I thought, ‘If I can play the violin, surely I can learn the guitar?’

As it turned out, I was pretty crap at it, but I worked out all the necessary chords, and then started singing and playing pop songs when busking instead. This was much more my thing – at that time, I wanted to be a singer-songwriter. The general public didn’t think pop songs were worth as much as violin concertos though, probably because more people have the skills to do that – so my earnings dipped to around £7 an hour, though that was still far more than minimum wage.

The more I busked, the braver and shrewder I got, and the more I learned. I discovered the most generous people weren’t white men in suits – they rarely if ever gave you money. No: it was young mums, students and ethnic minorities who were the biggest tippers, probably both because they had more compassion, and because they knew what it was like to not have much cash.

air[I guess my flares went with all the 60s songs.]

The best places to busk turned out to be the exact places where London Underground had put ‘No busking’ signs up. My favourite place was the pitch at the end of the Central Line tunnel at Tottenham Court Road. The bottoms of the escalators at Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square were great too, but spots there were pretty much sewn up. I also regularly busked at Bond Street, Green Park and Bank.

Most other buskers were polite. If they asked to busk, it was the done thing to vacate your pitch within 30 minutes. Occasionally, angry male buskers would try to intimidate or threaten you, but I never really got scared by them, because we were in a public place and the British Transport Police were usually fairly nearby.

It was very, very rare for anyone to throw a banknote in the case, but it did happen. Thanks to tourists, foreign coins were also thrown in at times. And occasionally someone would throw food in the case: my favourite offering was a bag of apple rings, but I was also given a peach and a packet of crisps. I found these perfectly acceptable, and ate them.

It was advisable to fill your case with an average smattering of coins when you started busking. Too many coins, and passengers wouldn’t pity you; too few, and it looked as though you were rubbish and unpopular. Coins of all denominations would prove that it was OK to throw in any value, which is what you wanted – passengers would have varying amounts of cash on them, and you wanted to show it was acceptable to give coppers as well as quids.

Speaking of coppers, the British Transport Police would occasionally come round and tell you to move on. They were generally perfectly nice and reasonable, though one grumpy officer once threatened me with arrest (at which point I pretended to be 15, and said incredulously (and inaccurately), ‘You can’t arrest me, I’m only 15!’). Another time, a policeman looked surprised and said, ‘You’re certainly the prettiest busker I’ve ever seen!’ – which was not necessarily the most fulsome compliment, given that most of the other buskers were old men with straggly beards and looked like tramps.

I couldn’t busk for more than three or four hours straight – not through lack of dedication, but because my fingers would start to hurt from the strings, and my throat would get sore and hoarse from all the singing.

One Saturday morning, I busked for four hours at Tottenham Court Road station and made £30. I then left the station (I’d bought a Travelcard that day) and spent it on a pair of silver trousers. Everybody laughed at my trousers the first time I wore them, and so I consigned them to the back of my wardrobe. What a waste of hard-earned cash!

silver-trousers[These are not my silver trousers, but they’re not far off.]

Homeless people could get very aggressive if you were busking where they wanted to beg, which kind of makes sense – they were relying on donations for food and shelter, whereas I was just after extra pocket money for embarrassing clothes.

I would play the same songs over and over again, because it wasn’t as though passengers were a gig audience – they would never hear more than 30 seconds of music before they were out of earshot. I chose songs that were popular and to which I knew all the words (there was no internet back then, at least not for everyday people). Songs I played regularly included The Beatles’ ‘Hey Jude’, ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’ and ‘Nowhere Man’; Oasis’s ‘Wonderwall’ and ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’; Suede’s ‘Trash’ and ‘The Beautiful Ones’; and The Kinks’ ‘Sunny Afternoon’, ‘Dead End Street’ and ‘Days’.

I eventually stopped busking, because I had a few experiences where I kept getting moved on relentlessly by the police, and a few more sessions where I didn’t earn much. Three years after I stopped, the government made busking in Tube stations legal – I think they’d finally cottoned onto the fact that passengers largely enjoyed the music – but by that point I was belly dancing and regularly making £300 a night.

But that, as I often say on this blog, is another story.

simon-singh-song

THE GREAT WEIGHT LOSS CHALLENGE!

Day 8

Me: 12st 8lbs (total loss in eight days: 6.2lbs).

Hopefully next time I weigh in I’ll have lost half a stone! However, I’m now doing a mini book tour of Chichester (today) and Worthing (tomorrow) so won’t have my scales on me tomorrow morning.

John: 14st 8lbs (total gain in eight days: 0.5lbs).

I’m glad that John’s still checking in each morning. It motivates me to keep on going.

This post has been made possible by my awesome Patreon supporters: Ricky Steer, Chris Birkett, John Fleming, Mary Clarke, Matthew Sylvester, Brian Engler, Jack Scanlan, Dave Nattriss, Musical Comedy Guide, Mark White, Lucy Spencer, Shane Jarvis, Graham Nunn, Emily Hill and Marcus P Knight.

They receive a whole host of exciting rewards in addition to this credit, including my secret never-published fiction and top secret photos! If you enjoyed this post, please support me on Patreon.

Rewards start from just $1 a month for my weekly Patreon email. It’s like this blog, but I’m even more open in it (if you can imagine that!)