My relationship with Simon Le Bon began back in December 1980, when I was a rookie writer for Sounds and visited the Rum Runner club in Birmingham to conduct the first major music press interview with Duran Duran.
In those days Simon was not the sleek Rio machine of pop fable, rather a slightly chubby youth who embraced the New Romantic look in an enthusiastic if theatrical way, wearing velvet with a selection of miniature jingle bells attached.
He had a sore throat that day, and didn’t contribute much to the interview. He did, however, come up with the headline for the piece (“We want to be the band to dance to when the bomb drops” – it was during the Cold War) and invited me back to his place for a cup of cocoa.
“I should cocoa,” I said. Well, I didn’t say that but I did decline his offer, instead accepting the generous gift of one of the many bells adorning his wrist. I kept it for a while but then threw it away, goddamn it. How much would that be worth to a Duranie now?
Our paths crossed several more times during the years of his worldwide pop stardom, most poignantly shortly after he took part in the 600-mile Fastnet race in 1985.
He was part of a crew of 24 on Drum of England, a 77ft ocean racing yacht. All was going swimmingly until, three miles off Falmouth, the keel sheared off. Simon was asleep below deck and awoke to find the boat had capsized. He and four other crew members were trapped beneath the hull, waist deep in oily water.
They were rescued by a Royal Navy diver, who was blissfully unaware he was saving the life of Princess Diana’s favourite pop star. I met up with Simon about a month later and he was indeed a changed man.
“When the helicopter dropped us off,” he told me, “the first thing I did was tread in a cow pat. It sounds so funny, but (a) I was relieved to be back on dry land and (b) it was warm and squidged up through my toes and I was so fucking freezing it felt good. I’ll never quite be able to explain the joy of that cow pat.”
He was trapped for 40 minutes and really did think he was going to die.
“I asked myself, ‘Is this it? Is this what death is going to be like?’ I thought, ‘God, I’m too young, I’m 26 and my girlfriend will kill me’. I laughed at that then I thought, ‘No, I’m not going to die, it’s not my time, mate’.”
When Simon and I met, we often swapped notes about interesting books we had read and spiritual paths we had explored. (Yes, really.) On that day we discussed the merits of tarot, Rosicrucianism, palmistry and the Moonies. As you do with someone who nearly died.
“Have you read the Koran?” he asked, in all seriousness. “I’m going to read that next. It’s probably very heavy-going and I think I’m going to find a lot of it quite difficult…”
He trailed off, then came back again. “You get so far and you think, ‘What is the bloody meaning of life? It’s such an incredible cliche. What is it, Betty?”
I couldn’t help him there, other than to witter on about life being “a journey”. But Simon had nearly drowned, and realised that yes, he loved pop music but he’d learned not only about the will to survive but also the physical strength required to survive in challenging circumstances.
He saw that he must have a life beyond pop music, even though he was still a young man at the height of his fame.
“How old are you?” he asked me, suddenly.
“Older than you,” I answered.
“I bet you’re not. I’m 26,” he said, for the second time.
“I’m 28,” I admitted.
“Are you? You don’t look it,” he teased.
“Good. You don’t look 26,” I added.
“Thanks,” he replied. “We must meet again. I’ll need this in six months’ time.”
So here we are, 27 years later, and I’m reading that Simon has pledged his support to the Air Ambulance Service. “I am speaking as someone who is only here today because of the life-saving efforts of a Royal Navy helicopter rescue team,” he said today.
Pat on the back to you, Simon. You’re a good egg. I’d come back to yours for a cup of cocoa any time. As long as I can bring my slippers (and my husband).