So another day, another tragic celebrity death – this time the genius
that was Prince and yet another ‘I was there’ pop culture moment.
Beware – this is a l o n g anecdote…
It was January 1995 and I was a young Assistant Producer working on
The Sunday Show, BBC2’s new live show based up in Manchester.
Alongside newcomers like David Walliams, our other on-screen reporter
was US supermodel Veronica Webb – a stunningly beautiful ‘it girl’
from NYC who I was responsible for (setting up VT stories and the
I’d somehow become good friends with ‘Our Vera’ (as I liked to call
her) and had earlier been posted over to Manhattan to film with her
and to hang out at niteclubs and that. She was fab and glamorous but
was about to become even more fabulous…
In late February, Vera rang me from NYC and told me she had become
‘friends’ with Prince (code for shagging) and ‘did we fancy doing
something with him on The Sunday Show?’ She promised she could get an
interview with him – his first in ten years – while he was over tour
in the UK. ‘So, were we interested?’
Of course, everyone in BBC Manchester jumped to it and within seconds
we had changed the editorial of the opening show tx’ing on Sunday
March 5th 1995. Ian Stewart was to produce and I was to assist, write
questions and sort everything out (and keep Veronica happy).
Thus began an incredible Prince-related week, I was flown down to
London and I then tried to get Veronica to tie Prince down to our
filming schedule. This meant a series of bizarre nightly phone calls
with Veronica at around 4 or 5am (i.e. this was when Prince was
winding down for the night after his gig and after the afterparty orgy
or whatever) and trying to get him to agree to locations and
questions, etc. So far so typical TV…
Eventually he agreed to film on the Saturday that week, the day before
our first TX (by now my parents were heartily sick of answering the
phone at 4am). Finally it was happening – except for one strange
caveat. As Prince was in dispute with his record company, we wouldn’t
be getting an interview with ‘Prince’, we would instead be getting
either a ‘Ghost’ as Prince was dead or perhaps a Japanese Kamikaze
pilot character whose name I forget. This was before the whole ‘Artist
formerly known as’ stuff so I was very confused but tried to be cool
with it – it was bloody Prince after all…
Then, on the Friday night I was called over to Claridge’s where
Veronica was staying in order to go as VIP guests to see Prince
perform at Wembley. He sent his Rolls Royce and his chauffeur and,
thanks to our traffic problems lateness, actually delayed the start of
the gig until we – that is to say, his girlfriend, Veronica – arrived.
That definitely felt v cool…
What didn’t feel so clever was me trying to be professional and
stupidly turning down an invited back to Prince’s hotel room
afterwards to hang out and party all night with him and Vera and his
pals. I still remember everyone saying to come but we had a shoot the
next morning and I was a BBC employee trying to do the right thing.
What a bloody fool I was…
The next day, Saturday, at about 8am the crew took over Dick’s Bar at
the Atlantic Bar and staged a set ready for Prince/the Ghost of Prince
or maybe even the Japanese Kamikaze pilot persona. We waited and
waited but, after about 8 hours or so, gave up. Prince was sleeping
and forgot to turn up…
He was embarrassed though and called Vera to arrange for us to film
the next day at Wembley – and promised to perform live on the Sunday
Show if we did an OB link. Once again, everyone jumped to it and the
very next day we arrived at Wembley at 10am…
Here, once Prince actually arrived, things became very weird. We
couldn’t look at him directly in the face or speak to him (remember we
were about to film an interview but hey, ho). However this all changed
when he decided to get on stage and start playing. Me and Vera went up
on stage and stood there while Prince serenaded us (I remember I made
myself useful by brushing her hair at one point).
On stage, playing his guitar, Prince was incredible – a world famous
musical genius who spoke to us without any pretension or artifice. He
rocked out and blew everyone away with a blistering performance of
‘Sexy Motherfucker’ live on BBC2 at lunchtime on a Sunday. This
interview will be amazing, I thought.
It was – but for different reasons. As soon as he stopped playing, the
Ghost of Prince appeared and he stopped talking. Now mute, and
uncommunicative, we retired to the interview location above the stage
and tried to film the interview. Prince, now masked, refused to speak
and answered only by whispering in his soon-to-be wife, Mayte‘s ear.
She would then interpret him and speak for him…
Bizarre though it was – it was pure TV gold and I’ll never forget
sitting two feet away from Prince as he whispered and giggled his way
through his first TV interview for 10 years.
Afterwards, everyone went off happy and relieved. I was so relaxed I
didn’t mind waiting for ages for my cab and went and sat in the
canteen alone – here I was delighted when Prince joined me and ate and
laughed and chatted again completely normally. I felt very privileged
to experience Prince the regular guy…
The whole thing was just a fantastic mad experience and remains one of
my proudest moments and coolest memories.
But if only I had said ‘Yes’ and gone off to his party…
RIP Prince – you were fucking amazing.
This story originally appeared on BBCNews.
(Photos: Pacific Coast News)