bowie wasn’t just a musical genius, he challenged convention on every level
Princess Julia recalls the very moment that Ziggy Stardust changed her life and changed the world…
My moment of revelation happened at the tender age of 13 in 1972, watching TV. The vision on my black and white screen was that of Ziggy Stardust. Neither man or woman, the astounding androgyny before me caught my attention immediately; ginger mullet, bright blue guitar, those feline features and green and red catsuit; a wave of fascination washed over me and finally I knew where I might fit in. I don't think I was alone in that moment of epiphany. Most people of my generation who are at all interested in expressing themselves via make-up or art or performance, would recognise that moment, where they too saw a whole new world of possibility.
Before then, I didn't know why but I just knew that I wasn't like the other kids at school. I grew up in North London and I knew I didn't fit in, I wasn't like everyone else. I didn't seem to think like them, and I didn't want to dress like them and I didn't want to be a housewife and, if I was lucky, a secretary in between then and leaving school.
That moment in 1972 opened my eyes to the world I wanted to live in. The androgyny of Ziggy Stardust was so important to all us teenagers. At that age you're becoming very aware of your own sexuality and your place in the world; you're either aware of it or you're finding ways to be aware of it.
For me, the early 70s was the era of glam rock, and the beginning of my obsession with piling on make-up and constantly reinventing myself - I really strongly identified with his twisted glamour that crossed gender and sexuality. Bowie was integral to everyone of my generation, we all cite him and the character of Ziggy Stardust as the axis off of which we all spun. There he was, this glorious vision, glittering and confrontational with an aura so glamorous and intriguing, Ziggy was the magnetic pull, the passport to discovering my true self, a story of reinvention, flamboyance and self expression. I went off to work at Crimpers in Montpellier Street and my life really begun. Finally I was around people like me; outsiders.
In 2015, I decided to create my own show, tracing my personal counter cultural story of London life. It was a response to the question, 'What was it like then compared to now?' It was plainly obvious my journey should begin in the early 70s with that pivotal Ziggy Stardust moment, the character David Bowie gave himself and the one that affected my generation so profoundly. Never before had a 'pop star' created such an ambiguous and sexualised image with which to catch our attention. Bowie fascinated us and intrigued us, a man in carefully considered make-up, a wardrobe that inspired us and music with such emotive lyrical content that it resounds as loudly now as it did then, through every generation that have since discovered the magic of his music, and created a Bowie in their own image.
Somehow Bowie has transcended time, he's never disappeared from our collective consciousness. Which Bowie are you? This decade we paid homage to the Thin White Duke with an exhibition that gave physical testament to his legacy. But it's the stories from fans and friends alike, people who have encountered the man himself in their travels that give us such an insight into Bowie's continued - and prolific - explorations. He wasn't just a pop star, he never was. To our young eyes, he emerged as a beacon of hope. He encapsulated a sense freedom, sexual freedom, style freedom and an engagement in all areas of expression with music at its core. It was as apparent then as it is now that Bowie's creative tentacles were far reaching and included (but aren't limited to)…
Permission to explore sexuality
Bowie came out as bisexual at one point early on in his career. Perhaps it was a ruse designed to capture people's attention and shock them, but to be honest we didn't care. In the mainstream those days it might have been considered career suicide - to us it was a passport to gay liberation. Teenage school children everywhere began to spring out of their closets and even straight ones with an ounce of imagination embraced their own flamboyance, happy to be associated with Ziggy Stardust and his feminine side.
Dressing up as a way of life
If you wanted to escape the dreariness of mainstream fashion, then Bowie was your man. On stage and in film Bowie took his theatrical pose very seriously, his shows gave him license to use props and concepts to his heart's content. In his various acting roles, he threw himself into the part. Off stage he lived the dream with looks to die for. Family portraits and candid shots show him nonchalantly posing in daylight hours. Night time arrives and we see Bowie clubbing fiercely with his mates. Cross dressing drag, mime, Pierrot clowns, Bowie's done it, a true style icon. I used to say 'dress fancy not fancy dress' but I've changed my mind about fancy dress. I accept it now. Whatever way you want to present yourself, for whatever reason. Not everyone has the privilege of being able to do it every day. Bowie was one of those people, and thank goodness he did it in the way he did.
Turning lyrics upside down and inside out
In the revealing documentary Cracked Actor first shown on TV in 1975, Bowie explained how he went about writing a song. One of his techniques was to splice up his original text and rearrange the lines, handwritten on bits of paper. He came up with alternative word play which made his songs all the more fascinating.
Ensuring life will never be quite the same
Bowie continued to be prolific with his self expressive outlets. He remained enthused in embracing everything around him. His life is like a glossary of how to keep inspired and in turn be inspiring. I am a fan, I always have been, I always will be… David Bowie, the one who changed everything and the one who changed me.
Text Princess Julia
Video still from Life On Mars?