Running The Gauntlet of the Blue Peter Garden

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When you have had an unconventional childhood it stands to reason that your thinking in general will also be unconventional. When you have lived in desperate fear during practically every waking moment of your early life, things that are fear-inducing to others do not evoke fear within you. The positive of what has been extremely negative begins to free you up from the constraints that hold others back.

I blame the New Romantics for everything that I am about to confess. I was an impressionable 11 year old when seated crosslegged on the floor in front of the television. It was a Sunday and in between all of those never-ending pseudo religious shows came on a show that made me sit up and take notice.

It was called ’20th Century Box’ and this particular episode that captured my attention featured a local boyband made good. They were called Spandau Ballet and there in the middle of this group of gorgeous young men was one that took my breath away.

Tony Hadley was my first crush.

Not only did I love the way he looked but I also really loved the way the band sounded and made it my mission to be their number one fan. I started buying all of their records and cut clippings from all of the many magazines that featured them. The radio was tuned to the stations that were playing their music and before long I would drift off to sleep listening to Gary Crowley who it appeared was friends with the band and regularly revealed useful information about them.

One night just as I was in between wakefulness and slumber, I thought I must be dreaming when I heard Gary Crowley announce that Capital Radio was going to be organising a Junior Best Disco In Town at the Camden Palace and none other than the Spandau boys would be performing there!

I was beside myself barely able to sleep for weeks until I could get tickets to this mind-blowing event but before then I had to somehow convince my Mother to let me go. If I had just told her that I would be visiting my best friend for the afternoon it would have been a doddle but because I told the truth and because the Camden Palace was a nightclub, it became quite complicated, even though the event was taking place during the day.

With a little creative reasoning and the assurance that my best friend’s seventeen year old brother and his friend would take care of us my Mother eventually gave her consent. It was to be the first moment of the rest of my life.

The long awaited day came and my friend and I were beside ourselves. Our chaperones arrived on motorcycles and took us to the Palace. Not sure that Mum knew about that! What seemed like thousands of teenage girls were milling around the entrance of the Palace and queuing to get in. Back then, as it was our first ever experience of something like this, we took our place patiently in line as the excitement built and politely waited to gain entrance.

The inside of the nightclub was not what I had expected. I thought it would be very Saturday Night Fever disco-esque but instead of sparkly lights everywhere it was cavernous and dark and filled with screaming girls.

We made our way to as close to the stage as we could but being good girls who had waited our turn we were many rows back behind all of the older girls who were now all leaning against the stage with their arms crossed waiting for something to happen. And happen it did!

The compere announced that the action was about to start and that very soon Spandau Ballet would be coming out on stage. I didn’t know what to do but was filled with adrenalin and an urgency that I couldn’t let this opportunity pass without somehow making contact with Tony Hadley. To what end I have no idea – I hadn’t thought that far – and it certainly wasn’t sexual (bearing in mind my age and life experience). It was just an overwhelming feeling that somehow I had to stand out from the crowd…and what a huge crowd it was.

Unbelievably the crowd got even bigger as the band started to make their way out on to the stage. Everyone surged forward and not only was I now unable to see anything at all, I  felt even further away from the action. At either side of the stage were short staircases up to another level of the club. Levels that seemed to get a clearer view of the stage albeit from the edges. I grabbed my friend and dragged her up those stairs. It was a good move – we could not only see the stage better but now we could see everything about us, including the girls at the front of the stage who were ‘fainting,’ being lifted up and carried backstage.

Oh my goodness – if ever there was a moment when I knew what needed to be done it was this one. My friend and I made our way through the crowd putting our previous politeness to one side and after much effort managed to get to the front of the stage in the vacated spaces left by those expiring girls; our new role models.

As soon as I was able to, I caught the eye of a giant baldheaded bouncer and proceeded to ‘faint’ directly in front of him. As with all the girls before, his strong arms reached out and lifted me out of the crowd. He picked me up gently and carried me backstage, placing me at the feet of Duran Duran and a person whose gender to me at that time was indistinguishable: Boy George.

I was backstage and where I felt I belonged, surrounded by every well known act of the early 80s (Haircut 100, Steve Strange, The Belle Stars, Junior, Modern Romance and so on – it was a dream come true for this particular 11 year old) and I was filled with an excitement that rippled through my being.

Within moments I found myself chatting with Spandau discovering that Steve Norman’s sister (I think) went to my school and generally chit-chatting the afternoon away. The boys thought I was cute. They had no idea how young I was and I wasn’t about to tell them. I was just so happy to have achieved what I set out to – I wanted to stand out from the crowd and not only had I made that happen but I was now – within only a few months of having discovered this band – standing and passing the time of day with them.

What enormous fun!

This event was the starting point for what was to come and it really did set in stone the belief that not only could I manifest any desires I had but I that I could do it fairly simply.

Over the following months and years I began to attend more ‘Junior’ events and realised that there were groups of young people who felt like I did. Word would travel through the groups about which celebrities would be where during the coming week and arrangements would be made to meet up so that we could see them. It was a way of getting out of the house and doing something different, so for a while I joined them.

However, being part of the crowd did not suit me. I didn’t ever feel like I fitted in and this situation was no different. I didn’t want an autograph. I didn’t want to be a fan. I wanted to be part of the excitement. You know the feeling you get if you have ever been in a school play – the excitement that builds up over days where you are so energised that you can almost see sparks coming off your skin – it was like that. I wanted to be in a constant state of ‘pre-performance nerves.’ It made me feel an all-consuming excitement and was an antidote to the complete and utter sense of despondency, loneliness and fear that I had as soon as I walked in through my front door.

There was also something about the people I chose to meet. I soon got over the excitement of Spandau Ballet and Tony Hadley. I had done what I had set out to do – I had met him and stood out from the crowd. The organisers at Capital Radio had put me on the guest list (no more fainting for me to get back-stage) and so I sat with the band and chatted away whilst Tony suggested that I might like his younger brother and I suggested that their new musical direction might be more commercial but had totally lost that Spandau ‘essence.’

Depeche Mode were also there and having met them a few weeks earlier at Kensington Market, I was already on speaking terms with Andy Fletcher, so we swapped numbers. It was a little bit odd a week or so later explaining to my Mother who it was on the ‘phone when he called from his mother’s home in Basildon.

Soon none of these bands held any further intrigue for me and so my attention diverted to the more unusual performers of my time. I fell in love with Boy George and Culture Club. Not to any end other than a distraction from my daily dismal life.

‘Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?’ had just reached number one and the presenter of TOTPs announced that the band would be live on the following week’s show. Great! I took that as a personal invitation to go along to the studios and meet them all. Somehow I already knew that TOTP’s was filmed on a Wednesday and then broadcast on a Thursday. Wednesday was double art after lunch and so I felt that I would not be ruining my formal education by expanding my extra curricular activities, deciding to bunk off school and go down to the BBC.

A friend and I embarked on this adventure together. I won’t name names in case she would like to keep this part of her life to herself! We made our way by underground to White City and then walked the short distance to the studios.

There was a main gate manned by ‘concierges’ who were in a security ‘hut’ located centrally between two barriers; one for those going in and one for those coming out.

Confidence is always a winner so rather than faff around waiting for the band to arrive or leave and be one of many, my approach was to just brave it out by approaching security with these immortal words, “My cousin Debbie works in make up and is expecting us.”

“Do you know where you are going?” came the reply.

“Yes,” I said as we sauntered through the barrier to the main doors without daring to look back.

Neither of us had ever been inside the BBC, nor did we have a cousin named Debbie between us, let alone who worked in make up, so we didn’t exactly know where we were going but we had fun finding out. Too much fun it seemed because after about 30 minutes of us wandering aimlessly around the corridors on the lower level, a security guard on the inside of the building spotted us and gave chase.

We clearly had age and chutzpah on our side because he didn’t catch us – even when he was joined by more security guards who were all on the look out for the two young girls in their school uniforms roaming the hallowed hallways.

It was quite simple. Instead of running away from them we had instead taken up residence in a dressing room on the TOTPs corridor and were now neighbours with Boy George et al.

It wasn’t long before we heard BG’s dulcet tones in the vicinity and dared to peek our noses out of the door. He laughed. Well, you would if you discovered two adorable schoolgirls had taken up residence in the room next to yours.

We shyly chatted and became mesmerised by George. He kindly invited us along to the Lyceum where the band were performing the following day. We had no idea whether it was a  formal invitation or not but decided to go along anyway.

What it meant was that George came out of the backstage door to say hello to us. We were happy and then went on our way.

Future visits to the Lyceum to see the band would not be as simple.

A year or so later, a different friend and I heard that Culture Club, along with every other great band of the time, would be attending the British Rock and Pop Awards. Nowadays they are known more simply as the BRIT Awards.

Having learned a thing or two about getting into venues without being on the guest list or having been provided with tickets had now given us professional ‘ligger’ status. At the prime ages of 12 and 14 we had this down.

My friend’s mother (my chosen mother) vey kindly dropped us off outside the Lyceum the morning before the actual event. Dressed in what was appropriate for the times: track suit bottoms (with the double white stripes up the legs) and day-glo tops and accessories it wasn’t as if you could avoid seeing us and that was our plan. We sauntered in with a variation on the ‘Debbie in make up’ line by saying that we were just looking for Mike. There is always a Mike.

We spent some hours wandering around inside the Lyceum and chatting to people, mainly security and roadies and at one point my friend recognised Noddy Holder whose child she had once baby sat. Or been sat on by – who knows? My memory is not what it was.

We walked down to the main ballroom from our ‘spot’ in the Dress Circle and were seen again by everyone in the venue talking with one of the stars and that added to our credibility so that…..on show day we were welcomed at the door, still without any ID or passes and shown in.

Our plan was to hideout all day and then appear once the party started and mingle with all the bands. Or whatever plan a 12 and a 14 year old might have in these unique circumstances.

As you know, making a plan makes God laugh and it was thus with us. God belly laughed (almost out loud) when he placed the official show dance troupe right next to our hide-out as we were gathered up along with all of the dancers (also dressed in similar attire) and escorted to the stage. It’s hard to even type this remembering back to that moment as we wondered whether we should just go with the flow or whether we should admit defeat and let them throw us out of the venue as we confessed to gatecrashing.

As we were deciding what the best course of action would be the lights went up, the music started and we danced along with the rest of our stage partners watching the cameras pass in front of us. There’s no business like show-business and it really was none of our business but the show must go on! We were trapped on stage and dancing like there was no tomorrow.

Thankfully the music eventually stopped, the clapping started and the host took his place on the podium. We hovered, along with the rest of the troupe at the side of the stage wondering what would happen next and whether it was going to be okay.

And it was okay – even when Boy George came up to the stage to collect an award and spotted us both only a few feet away from him. Watching the show back later on the VHS that my Mother had kindly recorded, you could see the look of complete shock on George’s face as he recognised us followed by a massive laugh as he walked on by.

Variations on a theme of this lifestyle went on for quite a while. Some adventures were more successful than others. For a year and a half I attended every recording of TOTPs. I was there for the last ever performance of The Jam, chatted with U2, Echo and The Bunnymen and Pete Murphy (Bauhaus) amongst many. I laughed as Boy George and the singer from Twisted Sister had photo’s taken together and ran away from Bananarama for fear of being dobbed in by them to security. There were so many well known faces who appeared on the show during those 18 months and I met each and every one of them. Some of those bands, who enjoyed more than one big hit during that time, even looked out for us on subsequent visits to TOTPs.

I must now mention that gaining entrance to the studios was far harder than that first visit might have lead you to believe. We now had to resort to climbing over the wall into the Blue Peter Garden and then timing our run to the stairs, with when security were distracted and looking in the other direction. It was like running the gauntlet and it didn’t always work. Sometimes (oftentimes) we were escorted off the premises…but then we just did it all over again.

Saturdays at the BBC were slightly different. We had made friends with an older gentleman (whose name escapes me), who was one of the scenery painters. He took pity on us and rather than watch us be turfed out, escorted us around the building, taking us on tours of all the departments and then walking us into various of the studios whilst rehearsals for shows such as ‘Sorry,’ with the late great Ronnie Corbett and ‘Hi De Hi’ with Su Pollard were taking place. Rather than raise the alarm Ronnie C and Su P treated us like Royalty and were happy to see us each week thereafter.

For a young girl who was living with a paedophile ‘stepmonster’ it was astonishing that I went anywhere near Jimmy Savile during this time. He must have been presenting TOTP’s during our 18 month after school club so we also got to know him a little. He also lived around the corner from where I grew up and so was quite familiar to me. On many an occasion we were invited into his dressing room to chat and yet not once did he do anything inappropriate. Thank God. Having become aware of the reality of this man more recently, it seems like a miracle that we were left unharmed.

Another celebrity neighbour who I bumped into in the corridors of the BBC was the wonderful Kenneth Williams. Oh, what a wonderful man! He was so kind and patient with me and chatted like the neighbours we were even though we had never met before.

There are so many incredible stories to relay of this time but they would render this post never-ending and so just imagine the fun you would have had in the same circumstances from 1981-1983, or thereabouts.

It was acceptable in the 80s.

*For all the posts in this series, please click here:

https://toulamavridoumesser.wordpress.com/category/my-story/

 

 

 

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