It’s November 2003 and I’m standing backstage at London’s Wembley Arena listening to the sound of about 5,000 music fans roaring their approval of a legendary musician who has just taken them on a musical journey through his life.
In a moment David Bowie is going to come through the black curtain in front of me and I will have 45 seconds to interview him as we walk between the stage and his dressing room. I’m an experienced music reporter but my legs are shaking.
A few hours earlier, during a more formal interview in that same dressing room interview Bowie was relaxed, open and amusing in his answers.
On the three occasions I interviewed him for CNN’s music shows “World Beat” and “The Music Room” he presented the same manner — an artist who was completely at ease with his art.
Good-humoured and energetic with an enthusiasm for new innovations both in terms of musical creativity and sharing that music with his fans, with whom he enjoyed a warm, almost personal relationship.
The concert contains new music from his album “Reality” along with a generous serving of hits and favourites from his archive — a unique body of work that contains ground-breaking music, often ahead of its time, sometimes challenging audiences to catch up with its creator, and many musical anthems which can seem as fresh now as when they were written.
He talks with a twinkle in his eyes — ah yes, those other-worldly eyes — as he answers questions with a good-humoured and sometimes mischievous smile. This was the show’s second interview with David since the release of the album. He apparently enjoyed our previous feature and his management made the unusual step of approaching us to see if there was something more we could do together. As delighted as we were, we couldn’t simply repeat the same piece so we needed to add something extra — and so the idea of the backstage walk came about.
It’s unusual to get this kind of access. Most stars won’t let the press anywhere near them until they have showered, had a drink and spruced themselves up a bit. During that time the emotional energy from the performance has dissipated. But here was a privileged position, the chance to grab one of the world’s biggest music stars at the climax of his performance.
The curtain moves and suddenly he’s here. The camera light switches on and we start to move. Brevity is essential. “How was that?” He’s covered in sweat and I can feel the heat from his body as we dodge past roadies and equipment, down the stage stairs and into the long corridor which runs alongside the arena — just meters from the position where thousands of fans are still screaming his name. He’s clearly euphoric about the reception in his home city but carries it lightly, understated, “not too bad, eh?” little jokes, no monumental quotes worthy of standing as testimonial to his career but an unforgettable encounter with a great man.
A handshake and “hope to see you soon” and we’re done. The footage of this moment has been lost in the CNN archives, which is a pity. He never toured again after “Reality,” health issues cutting it short the following year. But the meeting simply serves to accentuate this memory and brings goosebumps to my body as I write this after hearing the tragic news of his passing, so many years after sitting down with friends, putting on the vinyl record and listening to “Five Years…” and the music that punctuated my life.