How I was conned by an unscrupulous TV production company…
I should have seen it coming really, especially after the interviewer referred to ‘Changes’ as a ‘recent’ David Bowie song, but in the event I was stitched up good and proper.
A few years ago I was approached by a researcher for a London-based company called RDF Media. They were producing a programme with the working title of The Changing Face Of Celebrity, and wanted me to put them in touch with Kenneth Pitt, David Bowie’s first manager. I declined but said I would pass a letter on to him. I received a letter, via e-mail, which I printed out and forwarded to Ken. In it were the following sentences: “We will be focusing on Bowie's work and life over the last four decades, focusing on how his changing personas through the seventies and eighties helped to create this legendary performer. I am particularly interested in how Bowie has used his image to market himself and his music, and in this case, study his transformations over the years.”
Demonstrating the wisdom of his years, Ken declined to be involved, as he almost always does, then – because I’d interviewed DB and once worked as Bowie’s PR at his record label, RCA – I was duly invited onto the show myself and, after agreeing a fee, I consented. “I am keen to interview you as I believe you can provide a great insight to this biography,” wrote RDF.
The interview took place in an expensive two-room suite at the posh Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Knightsbridge. I explained to the interviewer that my ‘expertise’ on Bowie was probably his relationship with the media and the first few questions were about his skill at manipulating the music
press to his advantage. We moved on to his music,
his ‘personas’ (Ziggy, Thin White Duke etc), and skirted his drug use in the mid-seventies. At one point I was asked to ‘summarise Bowie’s career in the seventies’, to which I responded: “How long have we got?” much to the amusement
of the camera crew. They were equally amused when, after the interviewer asked
me my opinion on recent Bowie music ‘like “Changes”’, I responded by pointing out that ‘Changes’ appeared on David’s Hunky
Dory album, released in 1971. Hardly recent, I pointed out.
It was soon clear that the interviewer knew sod all about David Bowie, but somewhere in among the questions the subject of Bowie’s teeth was brought up, and I was asked when Bowie had had his teeth job. I replied: “In the early Eighties, I think. Why do you want to know about his teeth?” “Oh just… never mind.” And, then, after more chat about David’s career in the eighties and nineties, there was another throwaway question about his teeth, something about whether his smoking habit had discoloured them. “I guess it must have done,” I replied. I did confirm that Bowie was once a heavy smoker, hardly a secret. I also asked, jokingly, why she was so concerned with Bowie’s teeth. It was laughed off. I made it clear that Bowie’s dentistry was not a subject about which I was well informed. Then it was back to more questions about music and his career.
It was all over in half an hour and after being assured they would inform me when the programme was going to be aired (which they didn’t) I was on my way home. Eventually I got paid and that was that. Or so I thought.
Two months later my pal Johnny Rogan called me. He’d seen me on TV the night before, he said, talking about David Bowie’s teeth. What? David Bowie’s teeth? You sure? “Yes, on some programme about celebrity make-overs… you were quoted as saying that his heavy smoking had stained his teeth… most of the show was some orthodontist discussing Bowie’s teeth with a board and a stick. They had a giant photograph of David Bowie’s mouth.”
And then it dawned on me. The whole ‘music and career’ interview was an elaborate subterfuge designed to lure me into commenting on David’s teeth job, to be used on a show called Celebrity Surgery: Who’s Had What Done? Mindful that I would almost certainly have been unwilling to appear on such garbage, the shysters at RDF Media had cleverly constructed a scenario designed to make it appear as if the programme for which I was interviewed was a respectful documentary about David Bowie’s life and career. In reality it was something entirely different.
I won’t get fooled again.