Keith Altham – No More Mr Nice Guy!

Robin Askew

At home with Sting. The in-no-way-narcissistic rainforest dwellers’ friend and tantric sex enthusiast is looking for a space in his sitting room to hang a giant self-portrait. Unfortunately, it soon becomes clear that this will not match the decor. Eventually, Mrs Sting, Trudie Styler, suggests that it should go in the bathroom in place of a print of the Salvador Dali painting titled The Great Masturbator. "After all," she reasons, "it will just be replacing one wanker with another."

For 25 years, Keith Altham was a "friend of the stars", as they say, first as a journalist on the NME and then as PR man for many of the biggest names in rock, from Rod Stewart to Van Morrison and Paul Weller to Ray Davies. He regressed from representing to Rolling Stones in the ’60s to "Orville the bloody duck" in the ’90s, at which point he wisely decided to jack it all in. Rather than writing an autobiography, he’s chosen to spill the beans on his pop star chums in the rather cheesy format of individual letters addressed to each of his former clients. (To Van Morrison: "What can I say? What a talent. What a singer. What a songwriter. What a pain in the arse!")

In many ways, this is a bloody awful book: poorly written, littered with typos and spelling errors and reeking of self-aggrandisement. But Altham really was at the centre of it all during the ’60s and ’70s. It was he who suggested to Jimi Hendrix the idea of setting a guitar on fire. And in one of the great forgotten footnotes of rock history, he once took Jim Morrison to see Status Quo ("Tell them to turn down, give up and go home," sneered the Lizard

If you’re prepared to endure the leaden prose, there’s a huge reservoir of great stories here. Altham particularly admires Sting, despite Mr. Sumner’s propensity to "to be such a humourless prat", and seems to have preferred the company of down-to-earth heavy metallers like Saxon and Uriah Heep, although he loathed their music. Fortunately, he doesn’t allow these personal friendships to prevent him telling yarns that show them in a considerably less than flattering light. Many of these sail very close to the wind indeed. M’learned friends may wish to examine his introduction for what would appear to be a libellous statement about that nice, well-adjusted Michael Jackson.

Connoisseurs will already be familiar with the one about a typically dishevelled Van Morrison turning up late for a party ("Did anyone order a minicab?" shouted the unfortunate who answered the door), and the message Rod Stewart carved into a tabletop when he learned that Sting was to be the next user of the Lear jet he was travelling in ("Sting, how come you ain’t go no sense of humour, you cunt?"). But who’d have guessed that underneath his carefully cultivated likeable exterior, Phil Collins seethes with rage at being perceived as "the nice man of pop"? Eventually, he snapped when an unchallenging interviewer asked whether he was really as nice as he seems: "Why don’t you ask my ex-wife?"

For celebrity bitchiness, look no further than Elton John’s wedding present to Rod Stewart of a £10 gift voucher with instructions to "buy something nice for the home". And for a real surprise, turn to the chapter on the Moody Blues behaving badly, which features a naked, comatose young woman wedged securely into a washbasin by her arse while Graeme Edge fires arrows at policemen who’ve been called out to investigate the mild-mannered prog-rockers’ raucous partying.

Best stories? Well, there’s a great one about Marc Bolan being evicted from the backstage area of a Rolling Stones gig for sexually molesting Mick Jagger. "Get him out of here," bellowed the indignant leathery Stone. "He just grabbed my balls." "I didn’t realise they were sacrosanct," responded the Electric Elf as he was marched away by burly security guards.

But by a whisker, the accolade has to go to Terence Trent D’Arby, the "silly twisted boy" whose fall from public favour was even more meteoric than his rise. D’Arby seems to have crammed plenty of over-indulgence into his brief brush with fame, but one episode proved too much for his female manager. She resigned when he rang her late at night in her hotel room demanding that she procure condoms for his latest female acquaintance. It seems this sexually provocative performer was too embarrassed to make the purchase himself. But before leaving, the manager phoned down to reception in their five-star hotel, whose staff were made of sterner stuff. Without batting an eyelid, the servile concierge entered the celeb’s bedchamber bearing a silver platter on which a selection of small foil packets were arranged tastefully and asked if madam would care to make her selection.

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