Tuesday, 28 September 2021

Henley PR man's memories of David Bowie

A PR man from Henley who worked with David Bowie on two worldwide tours says he was the “ultimate artist”.

A PR man from Henley who worked with David Bowie on two worldwide tours says he was the “ultimate artist”.

The singer died on Sunday, aged 69, after an 18-month battle with liver cancer.

Paul Carey, 44, of Reading Road, ran PR campaigns for the Bowie during the early 2000s to promote his albums Heathen and Reality.

Mr Carey, who now runs The Music Management in Henley, said Bowie was a cultural icon whom he ranked above Michael Jackson and John Lennon.

He said: “I worked with Bowie for three years on day-to-day PR, including campaigns, releases and tours. I worked on two albums and the tours around them.

“He would call or email me and we would work through our strategy and what the best thing to do was.

“He was very clever with publicity — he was the master at that and we would spend a lot of time deciding which magazines and newspapers were the best to speak to.

“I travelled all over the world with him, many times in America as well as all the UK stuff. In 2002 we also did the Meltdown Festival where he was the chosen curator.

“It’s only when you look back that you realise how lucky you are.”

Mr Carey says Bowie’s personality was at odds with the enigmatic stage persona he created and he was always friendly with the crew and staff.

He said: “When you are on tour there’s lots to deal with but also a lot of downtime which we would spend chatting. His public persona was juxtaposed to his real life personality and not many people got to see that.

“He was extremely intelligent - for someone to create that enigma you have to be. He was very creative and had a particular eye for detail. He never left anything to chance and for me he was the ultimate artist.

“He was funny, always quipping, and always had a smile for anyone he met. He could turn on that charm and was always chatting to the crew.

“In terms of a working relationship you get as friendly as you can but he kept his friends and confidantes very close. I wouldn’t put myself in that realm but in terms of being a trusted colleague at work, I felt within that circle.”

Mr Carey said the news of Bowie’s death came as a shock but that the star’s move away from the limelight had been a clue that he was not well.

He said: “I was totally shocked when I heard. I had an inkling because he had been out of the public eye for so long but I still couldn’t believe it and those I know who have worked with him were shocked as well.

“The coverage on TV and radio on Monday and the outpouring of love on social media was phenomenal.”

Mr Carey lives with his wife Julia Burness, 37, a jewellery designer, and their two children.

His company deals with music for sporting events including the rugby and football world cups and he has previously worked with the likes of Dame Shirley Bassey, The Who and Elton John.

He said: “Bowie was the best artist I’ve worked with. The best ones are always those who teach you something about their craft.

“When I left the Outside Organisation to go travelling in 2003 he sent me a really nice email. He had given a speech in Berkeley University in 1999 where he told students ‘if there’s an itch, play it’, trying to motivate them to go for it. In his email to me he said, ‘have a ball and if there’s an itch, go and see a doctor!’

“His death is a huge loss to the creative industry. People like Michael Jackson and John Lennon were revered but Bowie’s cultural significance eclipses even those names and puts him up there with Elvis.

“What sets him apart is he wasn’t only a music icon but a style and cultural icon too. Throughout his whole career he tried to innovate and change and challenge perceptions, you can’t say that about anyone else.”

Publisher Pete Smith, of St Mark’s Road, Henley, recalled Bowie’s appearance at Live Aid in July 1985, which he helped organise.

He said: “A few days before the show we were given the opportunity to show the video of the Cars’ Drive at about the same time as David Bowie was to be on stage but it was too late in the planning of things for us to schedule it.

“This one video showcased the challenge before us like no other. It could obviously raise more donations than anything planned by its dreadful impact.

David Bowie had a copy of my show running order. He was consulted. He decided to do something. It was Major Tom to Ground Control.

“He dropped a song from his pre-rehearsed set to make time for the Drive video to be shown. And so we lost the song Five Years. I’d say that was heroic. We can all be Heroes, after all.”

Radio presenter DJ Mike Read, who lives in Mill Lane, Henley, said: “He was an innovator, one of those who put on a mask before he went out.

“I did something with him at Wembley Arena once and the place was full of Ziggy Stardusts with orange hair. Then Bowie came out on stage as the Thin White Duke!

“He was an extraordinary character who summed up the creativity of this country. He was very brave at trying something new and whenever I met him he was charismatic without being loud. He didn’t portray the pop star he was.”

Photo courtesy of Brian Rasic.

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