London Evening Standard - Mon 3rd Mar

London Evening Standard
03 March 2003

Ferry was close to the end

By Marianne Macdonald, Evening Standard
3 March 2003

It's a pretty forlorn time for Bryan Ferry. Last August he and his wife, the ex-model Lucy Helmore, announced they were separating after 20 years.

Now they are in "the worst part of negotiations", he tells me gloomily, on how to divide their possessions - the house in Holland Park (Ferry bought it from Helmore's mother), the New York apartment, the studio in Hammersmith, the house in East Sussex, the art and, of course, their four sons, Otis, 20, Isaac, 17, Tara, 13 and Merlin, 12.

So, although he looks amazingly good for 57 - trim in his Ralph Lauren jacket and trendy Dolce and Gabbana cords, with all his hair - Ferry is in a cocoon of grief. His voice fades to a whisper when he mentions his private life, as if even the thought of it drains all his energy.

"It is a very unpleasant business. It takes up a lot of your head space," he whispers, looking glassily out of the window. The divorce, he goes on, clearing his throat, "had been brewing for quite some time. Quite a few years.

I think my wife was ill-advised to call Dempster [the Daily Mail's gossip columnist, Nigel] to tell him we were separating. She just did it. I don't know why." He frowns distantly at the view - we are in a suite at the Sanderson hotel. "And then everyone goes, 'Woo! What's going on here?'"

He draws up his lips and bites hard on his nail, pondering the antics of the paparazzi, who have been wild in their attempts to get shots of him with his new girlfriend, the 21-year-old dancer Katie Turner.

She is supposed to look like Lucy when young - I don't know if that's true - but in January the paparazzi got lucky, snapping Turner and Ferry on a beach in Barbados. For some reason Ferry got Turner to make the promotional video for his current album, Frantic, and I must say, this is so like a lovers' home movie you feel almost embarrassed watching it - Ferry keeps laughing in a shy, happy way at the camera, slicing his fingers through his dark hair. At one point he even clicks his heels in the air.

For the past two or three years Ferry has been constantly touring - America, South America, Japan, Europe, Britain - presumably in a bid to blot out the gloom of the break-up, so it's not really surprising he got together with someone during the lonely months on the road.

What is odd, is the age difference. But he does look 10 years younger than he is, with his glossy blue eyes, seamed, tanned face, and floppy hair that stands up stickily when he ruffles it. He is reluctant to discuss the relationship: presumably it hasn't thrilled his kids, three of whom are still at Eton.

"Can we talk about Katie?" I ask. He stares firmly out of the window. "No. No."

"I noticed she filmed your video for Frantic."

"Yeah, the two of them did it. Her and Rhett, my producer. Yeah, she was very good at that, actually." His voice fades out. "Very good at editing," he adds in a whisper.

"You looked as though you were having a laugh making it."

"Yeah. It's quite good to do those sort of things." And we begin talking about the video he is making for his tour.

Ferry has always gone for very young women. The hero of the iconic Seventies band Roxy Music, who famously fused fashion and pop, was 30 when he was with the 18-yearold Jerry Hall, and 36 when he married his 22-year-old wife. Now he is ploughing through paperwork "this thick" for their divorce, he sighs palely, holding his thumb and forefinger three inches apart.

"And it's just embarrassing to be having to do interviews and being obliged to discuss it. The worst the thing is when you read things in the tabloids.

It's so sleazy and, what's the word, smearing and innuendo, it implies this that or the other and gives the wrong end of the stick. And there's a whole new breed of paparazzi." He sighs again.

Wanting to get the picture of him with his new girlfriend? "Yeah. And if you're doing something normal, they make it look ..." Bad?

"No, weird. For example, I was buying a suit in Sloane Street, signing a cheque, and there were photographers pressed up against the window. I've always been jealous of my privacy and have guarded it quite well for most of my career."

He disconsolately fiddles with a text message from his tour manager on his mobile phone. "It has got me down," he says. "All this kind of - the legality thing and all the stuff you have to go through: it's rather scary. It's very hard for everyone who gets involved in it. All one's friends - I think you just give a hard time to everybody around you when you have such a thing going on in your life."

By now his voice is so whispery it barely lifts itself out of his throat.

"So you're not much fun to be around!" he concludes with an unexpected, refreshing laugh.

I ask him if he knows why the divorce happened. "Oh yeah," he says, "but I'm not talking about it."

I get the impression Helmore gave him the class and style he yearned for - Ferry's father looked after pit ponies down a mine near Newcastle, while her father and brothers went to Eton - but that they had too many issues to be happy. Helmore found him difficult and moody, she has said, and in 1993 she revealed she was an alcoholic and drug addict and went into rehab for nine months.

For his part, Ferry was addicted to cocaine and suffering from depression when they married in

1982. Helmore got him off the drugs and cheered him up for a few years, but he got miserable again in the Eighties.

HE says that he would much rather talk to me in six months, when the divorce is over, but despite that he is perfectly pleasant and much more relaxed when I turn off the tape recorder. I do notice, though, that he interrupts me almost every time I ask a question. He will stop speaking, and in the pause, I will say something like, "It's very interesting, that" but as soon as I begin talking he will raise his voice and come up with another thought about whatever he had been saying before.

At first, I think he just can't listen, but I start to think the emotional overload has turned him into a sort of sloth. His reactions are so delayed that if you poked him with a fork he would probably take five minutes to say "ouch".

I ask if his famous near-death experience, when his plane was hijacked en route to Nairobi three years ago, made him reassess his priorities. He nods.

"Yes, because if you narrowly avoid death, I think you get a greater awareness of time. And are you making the most of that time? - all that sort of thing. So things that you're half thinking of doing you tend to do. Like the Roxy

Music reunion tour. After that I was like, 'Okay. Let's do it!'"

The tour was last year and now Ferry is thinking of reforming Roxy Music. This, despite the fact that they began in 1972 and broke up in 1983.

"I felt it was time to move on," he says, his voice getting much more positive, and indeed, audible. "But now I think it was ironic that the last album that we did, Avalon, was the most popular we ever made. Now I look back and I'm a bit wistful that we broke up too soon."

So they might re-form? Ferry nods. "Yes. Well, I don't know. But we got on very well on tour so it's not impossible."

Did they discuss it on the tour? "No. No. But it was great, a positive thing. It was very exciting. There was a big sense of anticipation before each concert: you felt the electricity in the air. It was weird, a cut-it-with-a-knife type thing."

The tour was sold out, so though a lot of you, like me, may be thinking, "No, Bryan, don't do it!" it might not be so ludicrous.

I ask him about getting depressed, which he's talked about before, and he seems surprised. "Have I really?"

"You've said you were close to suicide at times."

"But that was years ago." "I think you said in the early ..." "I think anybody who does creative work does it," he interrupts, in one of his weird mistimings. "Sometimes when you're writing and things aren't as good as you want, because you set yourself certain standards, you can get quite down. But it hasn't happened for quite a long time."

"You were suicidal when you lived with Jerry Hall."

"Well, she wasn't really there. Erm. Then I was writing the album The Bride Stripped Bare. There are some very good songs on that album. Yeah," he says softly to himself.

The way Mick Jagger nicked Hall from him has passed into rock legend, but the truth of the matter is that Ferry was unfaithful to her, she wanted to marry him, and he wasn't sure. He thought she was addicted to publicity and keen on money. Ferry was down when he was with her, too.

"I wasn't actually slitting my throat but I imagine it was as close as you could get," he has admitted. "And Jerry certainly couldn't handle it. It would have taken a very strong and mature woman to be able to."

She didn't arrive as she said she would at his empty and gloomy hotel in Montreux and he found out she had gone off with his mate Mick from the papers.

It was just before Christmas and Ferry spent Christmas Day by himself "playing up the tragedy", according to a friend.

OF course now she has given up on Mick Jagger, and he and Helmore are separated - she is seeing the Old Etonian Robin Birley - the interesting scenario raises itself of him and Hall getting back together. Ferry doesn't seem keen on the idea. "Oh, that was a million years ago," he says stiffly. But are they friends? "I dunno. I never see her." And he begins talking about the neverending tour.

This began two years ago to promote his album of Thirties songs, As Time Goes By, segued into his Roxy reunion tour, and continued to promote Frantic, his album of Ferryesque love songs and Dylan covers. The second leg is just beginning. He is playing the Shepherd's Bush Empire tonight and tomorrow night, having already toured Britain last year. God, doesn't he get sick of touring?

"Oh, I dunno," he says, "travel gives you a kind of adrenaline rush. It's a typical Bob Dylan thing to do, isn't it? He never leaves the road. And I kind of understand why. Because you get a certain rhythm in your life, being part of this unit that travels around in a huge caravan. And I think I was starved of audiences for a long time because I was locked away in studios, in self-imposed exile from the world.

"But when you actually see the audiences who like what you do it's fantastic. Just getting applause in that part of your life and people cheering - it's very good."

Balm, I should think, to his wounded soul. Helmore once said: "Bryan's music is the only thing that really matters to him, but I'm not jealous." But to a lot of people he is a god, and it is amazing he is still going strong, like his old rival Jagger, after all these years.

I ask Ferry what he puts it down to. He laughs and his face suddenly lights up. "Stubbornness! No. I love music and I think that's probably why it is."

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