This is a monstrous year so far, when it comes to loss, and these are two articles I truly wish I'd never been asked to write. However when my friend took her own life in May and I was asked to write them I desperately wanted to make sure that she was recognised for the extraordinary person she was. Two articles seems excessive, I know — and I felt that strongly at the time, and not least because she had older/closer writer friends who could have done it far better. However, I was the one who was asked to do it and though published a few days apart these were both written in one burst of controlled emotion the day after she'd gone. Juggling love and loss and professionalism, I felt as though Sall was with me all the way — cigarette in one hand, Sauvignon in the other, saying 'go on, darling — you can do it!' And so, of course, I did.
And here, too, are links to Sally's books on Amazon, because never mind what I have to say about her, what she had to say (about pretty much anything and everything) is well worth reading. I really miss her so I'm working my way through it all, just to keep her close.
Even those of us who search for interesting new combinations of words every day are struggling with constructing appropriately reflective and insightful responses to what one (non-writer) friend of mine described, on my facebook timeline, as 2016's 'plague'...
I had only just posted my feelings about the loss of Victoria Wood (below), renamed this page 'RIP' and was about to post a link to my January article in the Telegraph about the death of Bowie, when news of Prince's death — I mean, REALLY? How is that even possible? I thought he had 'flu?— came via an old-school style 'news flash' during Simon Mayo's show on R2. At the time I was driving to pick-up my youngest son (from karate; context is all) and pulled over abruptly, wonkily, turned-up 'Purple Rain' way past 11 and sat in the car, crying.
These losses are starting to feel not merely generational — ie, my god, we're ageing and vulnerable and our heroes are too — but somehow personal (I'm currently in the process of writing a Will; maybe I ought to speed that process up?).
Anyway, while I was fortunate enough to spend time alone with David Bowie and to shake Victoria Wood's hand, I never met Prince. I did, however, see him play several times, of which the most extraordinary large concert (and this is merely an issue of degrees) was the Sign o' The Times in-the-round gig at Wembley Arena in (I'm assuming; I have a terrible memory) 1987. It was... well, what? From a writerly perspective it was mostly a breathless adjectival pile-up: Thrilling? Yes! Exhilarating? Yup! Energised? Oh yeah, it was electric-like-Bob-Dylan-wouldn't-even-know-how-to-spell-the-word. Indeed, as splendiferous arena-sized funk-rock mash-ups go, it was entirely transcendent.
After this, delighted and sated in equal measures, me and my then partner headed off to some sweaty, low-ceilinged, warehouse-ish dive in, I dunno (Camden springs to mind, though it could just as easily have been Old St, or Vauxhall) and watched The Man perform one of his secret 'spontaneous' after-hours marathon jam sessions in front of a couple of hundred other Prince-drunk punters. This was, if truth be told, almost too much of the proverbial good (no, great) thing.
I was lucky to see Prince a few more times and then as a magazine editor in the early 1990s deal with the demands of the so-called (by me, anyway) 'Squiggle Years': Prince's PRs biking-over brand-new Artist Now Known As Squiggle logos, for example, so you could insert them into your Squiggle-related copy... or arriving mob-handed at my office clutching one copy of The Black Album, letting me listen to it (for review purposes) before taking it away again, like it was the Ark of the Covenant. Yup, 'The Artist...' in the 1990s was proper uberstar bonkers, obviously — yet it didn't matter; he'd already redefined the parameters of how to deliver showmanship with near-obscene levels of musical virtuosity so if he wanted to play at being a 'Slave' or a Squiggle, too, then hey, y'know, whatever...
Year went by and music got mostly squeezed out of my life. And then, in 2011, I heard that Prince (he's seen sense, post-Squiggle) was playing a one-off 'festival' style gig at The Hop Farm in Kent, a 30-minute drive from my home on the south coast. My partner and I took our oldest sons (we have four between us, two each), Noah (then 13) and Jackson, 9. It was stupendously, possibly even surprisingly brilliant and Prince's ability to wow a crowd was utterly undimmed (maybe I'd lost the faith but He hadn't). It wasn't even a particularly big crowd and so it felt peculiarly intimate, while hearing 'Purple Rain' as the sun set over the Garden of England remains one of my Peak Prince Experiences*
And then this was my son Jackson's first ever gig. To put this into perspective, my first gig was Sailor. 'A Glass of Champagne' is a decent enough pop tune but (I think it's entirely fair to say) not really fit to clean 'Pop Life's' shoes. To see Prince aged eight... well, that's a privilege.
So yesterday it fell to me to tell Jackson that Prince is dead...
'Prince is dead? For real?' Jackson was clearly shocked. 'But, Mum, I saw him play and it was the greatest thing ever and I needed to see him again...'.
I really couldn't put it any better myself.
(* That Hop Farm set list in full: We Live 2 Get Funky/ Let's Go Crazy/Delirious/ Let's Go Crazy reprise/ 1999/Little Red Corvette/ Nothing Compares 2 U/ Raspberry Beret/ Cream/ Cool (inc Don't Stop Til You Get Enough)/Let's Work/U Got The Look/ Make U Feel My Love/ Purple Rain/ Kiss/ Controversy/ Play That Funky Music/ Controversy reprise/ Everyday People w Larry Graham/ Come Together/ Wanna Take U Higher/ If I Was Your Girlfriend/ Dance Disco Heat/ Baby, I'm A Star)
I met Victoria Wood just once, very briefly, during my Observer TV critic years when we were both at the Royal Television Society Awards in 2007, the year she won for 'Housewife 49'. Introduced by 'Housewife's' producer, Piers Wenger, I gushed at the poor woman, on-and-on, like a sad fan-girl — even though I knew she was shy and was almost certainly hating being talked-at by anybody, much less a tired-and-emotional TV critic at an awards ceremony. Anyway, she dealt with me brilliantly, batting away compliments with a grin while wriggling, clearly mildly uncomfortable yet effectively pinned against the wall by this slightly pissed stranger who was, needless to say, delighted to be in the company of Greatness, albeit fleetingly.
And I really can't quite conceive that she's gone already; pathetically, I was absolutely convinced that one day I would meet her when I was un-pissed — possibly in a supermarket frozen-peas aisle — and she would somehow spontaneously decide I had to immediately become her new best friend... and then I would end up round her house, drinking tea... oh, and then the doorbell would go (in Wood's real, north London, life I don't suppose she had a doorbell) and — woo-hoo! — suddenly there would be Julie, too, and later, with a bit of luck, maybe Celia would rock-up. And thus we would all sit around being fabulously female and funny together (me equally female but dramatically less funny, obviously). And then Victoria would — inevitably — say something like, 'Kate, we really must write together!'... and then... well, then I'd wake up.
Thus, having lived a life so sufficiently thrilling that a) David Bowie had once made me breakfast and, b) Victoria Wood had befriended me over the petit-pois, I would go on to die happy and, despite being much younger than either of them, probably long before the too-alive-to-ever-actually-die David Bowie or Victoria Wood; two incomparably brilliant people in their respective spheres who are gone — whoosh — before any of us were remotely ready. (I wonder if DB and VW ever met?...).
Anyway, you were wonderful, Victoria Wood, and we will all miss you terribly — but especially we women of A Certain Age whom, I'm pretty sure, all mistook you for our very own, most brilliant, Secret Best Friend...