Victoria Clarke

Source: Daily Telegraph
Copyright: (c) The Telegraph 1996

The Arts: Jerry Hall? She has it easy… James Delingpole talks to the girlfriend of wild man Shane MacGowan about life with a rock star

SO MICK Jagger likes to chase younger models? It could have been worse, Jerry. Much, much worse. At least he never bit the heads off bats or tried to strangle you in the middle of the night, as Sharon Osbourne’s husband Ozzy did. Nor did you end up divorced after four months like Jane Tilbrook and her husband Glenn (guitarist of Squeeze). Nor did Mick ever paint himself black and throw himself out of a car travelling at 50 miles an hour, as did Victoria Clarke’s long-time boyfriend, Shane MacGowan.

As Jane, Sharon and Victoria reveal in a Channel 4 documentary tomorrow, the rock wife’s role entails rather more than glamorous parties and expensive shopping expeditions. Foremost among her requirements, it would seem, are an iron constitution and an unflinchingly tolerant attitude towards bestial behaviour..

Such at least is the view of Victoria Clarke, who appears to have grown rather fond of her boyfriend’s errant ways.

“It’s what separates successful actors, musicians and writers from ordinary people,” says Clarke, who began dating the foul-mouthed, heavy-drinking, snaggle-toothed singer long before he achieved notoriety with the Pogues. “They’re able to indulge themselves and express themselves as they feel, and to be accepted for it. I like that.” She even talks affectionately of the car incident.

“I think he did it to prove he was immortal,” says Clarke, a journalist and author and one of the few women interviewed on Rock Wives who seems to be totally happy with her lot. “And maybe he is, because he didn’t get hurt. He just ended up in a loony bin. But he’s a very beautiful, lovely kind of person really. Sweet. Honest. He’s got a lot of integrity.”

It was some time before she came round to this unorthodox view of the wild man of Irish folk-rock. “I first met Shane in a London pub when I was 16 and I didn’t like him at all. He was arrogant, stuck-up and not at all attractive. But there are certain people you’re destined to fall in love with whether you want to or not.” (And no, she has never been bothered by those teeth.)

She certainly didn’t do it for the money. “He was just a bloke with a band who played old Irish songs very badly. Nobody could have known he was going to be big.” And she thinks it’s a misconception that most rock wives are gold-diggers. “A lot of them are rich already. Now they tend to be models. In the old days they were actresses or people like Linda McCartney who came from wealthy families.”

Why, then, would a single woman of good fortune wish to end up with the sort of creature who spends most of his time away on tour, high on drink or drugs, pursuing groupies? Chris (Squeeze) Difford’s ex, Cindy, puts it down to naivety: “I made this stupid assumption that this songwriter husband was in touch with his feelings because he was writing these fantastic words.”

Bebe Buell, a model whose conquests include Rod Stewart, Elvis Costello, Todd Rundgren and Steve Tyler, ascribes it to instinct: “I’m a rock ‘n’ roll girl and I might as well just face it.”

But the most common motivation would appear to be the challenge of trying to redeem the irredeemable.

In some cases it pays off. After the attempted strangulation incident, Sharon Osbourne managed to wean Ozzy off drink and drugs and turn him into a model husband. She manages his career from their mansion in Gerrards Cross, in Bucks, and, though she sees him for only 10 days each month, he phones her 20 times a day and has abandoned his unsavoury habit of biting the heads off bats.

ACCORDING to Clarke, however, it is a mistake to try to change your rock ‘n’ roll man. First, he needs those wild experiences to inspire his art. Second, he’ll ignore you. “You name it, I tried it. Blackmailing him that I’d leave, tell his parents or shop him to the police. Putting him in clinics…”

Far better, she reckons, to treat his excesses with amused detachment. The couple now live in separate houses. Hers is an ultra-white, scrupulously tidy, no-smoking zone where Shane is scared to venture. His is “indescribable. If I told you it was like the flat in The Young Ones, that would be after it had been cleaned.”

MacGowan’s behaviour is, in any case, much improved since he quit the Pogues and formed the Popes. “Touring for 300 days a year contributed a lot to his mental instability. Instead of admitting he wanted to leave the Pogues, he’d get really drunk so they’d chuck him out.”

It made for an interesting life. Once, MacGowan decided to stub his cigarette out on a dog in Trafalgar Square. “The owner was a big man and really, really angry. He was kicking Shane’s head in, so I had to explain that Shane was a bit mental.” No sooner had they escaped than MacGowan decided to knock over a news stand and assault a Chinese gentleman in front of a police car. Clarke bundled MacGowan into a cab and escaped in the nick of time.

Some things never change. After I left the Groucho Club, Shane barged in, argued with the reception staff, ordered three double martinis and notched up an pounds 80 bill for Channel 4. Minutes earlier, I had asked Clarke whether she had any advice for all those would-be Patsy Kensits and Paula Yateses who are dying to become rock wives.

“Go ahead!” she says. “It’s a laugh, isn’t it?”

Being a rock wife is a little like being an arctic explorer, in that it’s not necessarily something you do for the good of your health. It’s not a sensible thing to be. I first realised the enormity of the gulf between what is considered normal in a relationship and what I had always taken for granted in mine when I was called from my bed, one night many years ago, by the landlady of my boyfriend, Shane MacGowan. She had heard strange noises coming from his flat at the top floor of her respectable town house. On attempting to gain entry, she was forced to retreat by Shane, who stood at the top of the stairs – blood gushing from his mouth, teeth akimbo – and hurled an acoustic guitar at her.

Shane is a well-known musician with a reputation for drug and alcohol-fuelled impropriety, so his landlady was, in fact, prepared for a certain amount of unsociable disturbance when she took him on as a tenant. The blood, however, alarmed her, along with the fact that in one hand he had been holding a half-eaten Beach Boys record, their Greatest Hits, Volume Three.

When I arrived, in my capacity as the girlfriend, to sort things out, Shane calmed down enough to explain to me that he had taken 15 or 20 tabs of acid earlier in the evening, and had become convinced that the third world war was taking place and that he, as the leader of the Irish republic, was holding a summit meeting in his kitchen between the heads of state of the world superpowers, Russia, China, America and Ireland. In order to demonstrate the cultural inferiority of the United States, he was eating a Beach Boys album.

The unusual thing about all of this is that I reacted to it as calmly as I would have if Shane had told me that he was upset because his telly was on the blink. To me, it was a perfectly normal occurrence. Shortly after this happened, I spent four days with Shane in a hotel at Heathrow airport, because he was due in America for The Pogues’ first-ever major US tour, supporting Bob Dylan. Unfortunately, because of the large quantities of cough mixture and gin that Shane was consuming, British Airways kept refusing to allow him on any of their planes. When he finally got on a plane, it took four people to escort him and he screamed the whole way to Dallas. We didn’t quite make it in time for Bob, which was probably a good thing, given the circumstances.

What I describe may seem extreme, and had I married Paul McCartney or Sting, I would have spent the past 10 years happily designing veggie-burgers and raising my children to be environ- mentally friendly, but from what I have gathered about the music industry, the kind of lifestyle I have endured is not all that out of the ordinary. It would seem that rock stars, more than other creative types, feel the need to express themselves as much through acts of wanton physical self-destruction as through their art. Or perhaps the alcohol and drugs become their art. Whichever, as a rock wife I have found myself living with someone who favours the Keith Richards/ Iggy Pop style of rockdom over the Cliff Richard kind. Many people are curious as to the allure of a man like Shane, and indeed as to the reality behind the public perception of this way of living. I have seen Shane described as many things in the media: ugly, toothless, drunken, big-eared, moronic and republican come to mind. Never handsome, sexy, desirable, witty, intelligent, all of which (naturally) I believe him to be. So it is important to realise that not all of what you read in the papers is necessarily true.

Many people are attracted to the idea of marrying a rock star without having given due consideration to what that person might actually be like. I have personally found the idea very glamorous and the reality quite the opposite. This is not just true of my situation. I have met plenty of outwardly sane and respectable, hugely desirable and famous musicians who are actually manic depressives, paranoids, neurotics, alcoholics, paedophiles, drug addicts, violent or all of the above. That is the fun thing about this business – most of the people involved in it are quite capable of building mutually rewarding relationships with the press, even if they don’t manage it with their wives, so that the unsuspecting punter knows nothing of their real lives. In my case it was fairly obvious what I was getting into.

What happens to the wives of rock stars is that they form relationships with people who are so desirable in the eyes of their fans, their record companies, their groupies and their peers that they veer dangerously between believing they are as wonderful as people say they are and realising their mere mortality. This can lead to drug and alcohol abuse, sexual promiscuity and suicidal tendencies. Their wives are then forced to confront the fact that they are married to two different people, the Performer and the Private Person. I have met very few rock stars who are not two different people. Surprisingly, it is the quiet, outwardly respectable ones who have the most unusual offstage personas. People like Shane, Jerry Lee Lewis, Keith Richard and Lou Reed seem to me to be the more normal, balanced, happy ones.

The problem with living with someone who is often on stage is that they tend to need a great deal of attention from their friends and family when they are offstage. This could be why many rock wives complain that their husbands don’t have any time to listen to their problems.

In my case, I saw rescuing Shane from the brink of madness and death much in the same way other people might view becoming a social worker: as a kind of vocation. In this, I was encouraged by everyone around him: his family, his band, his manager, his friends and his fans. Perhaps not by his female admirers, who wanted that job for themselves.

As the task became more insurmountable and the prospect of finding happiness less likely, I comforted myself with thoughts of other brave women who had sacrificed themselves for famous alcoholic poets: women like Mrs Brendan Behan and Mrs Dylan Thomas. People kept telling me that Shane was a living legend – a kind of Irish National Monument – and I should consider it a privilege to preserve him. This is a classic syndrome. Women more than men are capable of sacrificing themselves to the greater good of their husbands in this manner; witness Norma Major. I believe that is why very few rock stars marry women who are also rock stars. When they do, one of them often has to go – as was true of Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love. I had a few unfortunate run-ins with the Cobains, but I was inspired by Courtney to grow out of sacrificing my career for Shane’s.

Another thing that people believe about rock stars is that they are continually sleeping with groupies and that their wives inevitably just put up with it. I can confirm that almost any band, however awful or unpopular, will have groupies who are willing to sleep with them – that comes with the territory. But I have found no reason to believe that rock wives are any more or less likely to be victims of infidelity than their husbands, and in fact many rock wives find themselves in the position I found myself in, where they attract a constant stream of other rock stars who admire their husband’s music and would like to sleep with his wife to prove it. Or perhaps they would like to sleep with you because they would like you to admire their music more than your husband’s. It is a very childish business.

It is also a popular misconception that the other members of the band, entourage and crew generally react badly to the wives of band- members. This depends, as in real life, on what uses the wives can be put to. In some cases, the women are highly desirable prizes and inspire competition amongst the band. Many cases have been recorded where women have slept with more than one band member while maintaining a relationship with one of them, as in the case of Marianne Faithfull. In my case, I was useful as a kind of nurse/therapist/minder, who could be relied on to feel guilty if I didn’t manage to get Shane on the tour-bus, off the tour-bus, on the plane, out of the bar, on the stage or whatever. This despite the fact that other people were employed to do that job and I was not being paid to do anything. It was many years before I realised that my life would not be significantly affected if Shane fell off the stage every night and I abdicated responsibility.

The moral of my particular story is that if you marry a rock star, you need to be aware that they might not be as hugely confident in their own living room as they are in front of 50,000 screaming fans – they may well be less confident and more self-conscious than most teenagers. They will have become accustomed to having the undivided attention of everyone around them at any given moment. You need to be aware that you have a life of your own and you are not responsible for the life of your rock star. Once you have these two things figured out, you can live happily ever after.

Shane MacGowan’s new single A Christmas Lullaby is released on December 9. Rock Wives is on C4, tomorrow at 11.55pm