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A

Marvellous

Party



Ian Elmslie



Ignite Books

Foreword



On the morning of January 10 2016, as I woke to the shattering news that David Bowie had died, I did what most people in the world did, and posted my feelings on Facebook.


Just the one word. Inconsolable.


But I added something particular to my post, something which always fills me with a heady cocktail of pride, wonder and disbelief every time I look at it: a candid photograph of David Bowie, rock legend, cultural icon and my absolute and ultimate hero... and I am standing beside him.

There are those who say that you should never meet your heroes, for fear of disappointment. I say they are wrong. I met all the heroes and heroines that I have written about in this book, which might prompt some sour-faced meanies to brand me as a groupie, a stalker, a mad fan or – maybe – a bit sad.


I call myself extremely lucky.


Some of the encounters were accidental, some were orchestrated, some were professional, and some were personal. Most of them were brief, all of them were memorable and none of them were remotely disappointing. And after every single one, all I could think was


How the hell did that happen?

Copyright © Ian Elmslie 2017


Ian Elmslie has asserted his right under the Copyright,

Designs and Patents Act to be identified as author

of this work.


All rights reserved.

Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above,

no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in, or

introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any

form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photo-

copying, recording or otherwise) without the prior

written permission of both the copyright owner

and the above publisher of this book.

With love and gratitude to all the guests,

to those who left the party too soon,

and to those who stayed until after the end.


xx

Prologue: when a fairy hits fifty



On July 27 1967 I was five years old, The Beatles were at number one with All You Need Is Love and homosexuality was decriminalised. A big day for all concerned.


Fifty years. A lot has happened since then.


Funny age, fifty. If life begins at forty, what happens when you hit a half-century? Letters start to arrive from insurance companies offering you life insurance policies and inviting you to consider a pension plan. You tend to plump for a package holiday or an all-inclusive cruise rather than going backpacking and sleeping in a beach hut. Any concert, sporting event or occasion that requires you to stand for the entire duration is now not an option.

You grow hair where you don’t want it, lose it where you do, and what were once natural highlights are now resolutely grey.

You cleanse, tone and moisturise yourself into a stupor, and it doesn’t make a buggery bit of difference to anything but your bank balance. An invitation to a party now invariably means a dinner party, with a prompt 7.30 start and carriages at midnight, as opposed to a drunken bop on a crisp-encrusted carpet into the early cold pizza hours of morning.

Parts of your body start to ache and click like chopsticks, the bathroom cabinet is rammed with creams that heat and gels that freeze, and it takes a little longer to get off the sofa.

You now go to bed at the same time you used to go out. The working day dominates the week, the household chores rule the weekend, and the Sunday grumps set in just as Songs of Praise is firing up your inner atheist.

But – in spite of all this inevitable slide into senility – you are now officially entitled to start the majority of your stories with the words I remember...

Just like growing a beard and getting a tattoo, it would appear that it is now essential for every gay man to celebrate hitting his fifties by writing a memoir. A homossential, as ’twere.

We can’t blame this trend on a mid-life crisis because, if we pay heed to the law of averages, mid-life was around ten years ago, and in the gay world, which spins twice as quickly, we’re probably talking the day you hit twenty-five. So, instead, let’s call fifty a time to pause for thought, a stop-gap, a moment to reflect on the ride so far, a chance to acknowledge where we’ve been, what we’ve done and recline in a scented bathtub of our own memories.

We all have stories to share, those well-worn tales we have tried, tested and told over the dinner table to amuse and possibly impress others. And oh, how we love to glean out the good bits, separating the wheat from the chaff, and aim our moment in the candlelight fairly and squarely at the funny bone, with the occasional assault on the tear ducts.


The stories I have chosen to share with you are no more and no less funny, moving, fascinating or unique than your own.

But they are my stories. Stories from my childhood, my teenage years, my professional and personal life, a gay man’s journey from there to here.

Interwoven with these reminiscent observations of places and faces that all became pieces in the puzzle, I wish to pay tribute to the men and women who threw down a trail of breadcrumbs to guide, encourage, and inspire me along the way.


My heroes.


Heroes. We’ve all got them. They might be a much-missed grandparent, who entranced us with stories of air-raids and dripping sandwiches, or parents who loved us absolutely and unconditionally, or an older sibling who let us play, fight, love, loathe and learn from them, or a best friend, the one who, to this day, still calls to see if you are coming out to play. It could be a pop star, one of those smiling or sultry faces we pinned to our walls, wearing out their paper lips as we kissed them goodnight, whose eyes made us swoon or whose bony fingers pointed out through the television screen and summoned us to think outside of our bedrooms and join their gang.

Maybe a sportsman, the captain carried aloft on his team mates’ shoulders, brandishing the cup of victory, the one who ran the fastest or jumped the highest, or a tennis champion, clambering over the seats to embrace their loved one at the moment of triumph. They could be a writer, whose words transported us from our humdrum lives into exciting wonderlands, or a comedian who made us laugh till our stomachs ached and the tears of joy rolled down our faces.

Actors, film stars, artists, poets, politicians, kings, queens…or someone, anyone, a nobody but a somebody who shone a torch to guide you through the darkest hours of self-doubt, loneliness, confusion, grief, and led you to the light.


It’s your call.


As a gay boy – and later, man – born in the Sixties, a teenager in the Seventies, and then released into the working world in the Eighties, I was constantly looking for clues as to who I was, who I could be, where I could go, and what I could do with my life.

I found the answers in music, in films, in books, in theatres and on television, and steadily pieced together an outfit that has clothed, defined and protected me ever since. And, by beautiful and occasionally surreal twists of fate, I have been lucky enough to have usually brief but close encounters with many of the men and women who fired my imagination, opened the doors, shone the light and gave me permission to follow a dream and live my life. Many of these encounters occurred during the Nineties, when I was one half of a cabaret act called Katrina and the Boy, and it is recollections from those years that form the centrepiece of this book.

We were regular performers on the largely unknown gay cabaret circuit, a grubby and glitzy world of home-sewn glamour and bawdy gags, of sky-scraping wigs and wicked wit, of foul-mouthed drag queens, baby-oiled strippers, leathered and laced disco divas and anyone else who had the guts to get up in front of the toughest audience in the world. Because let’s face it, when you’re working in front of a crowd of queens, half of them are thinking It should be me up there.

The Nineties were a pivotal era in the history of the gay community. While we should have been celebrating a new and welcome visibility in the outside world, far removed from the archaic ignorance and bigotry of the not-too-distant past, we found ourself not only fighting for our rights, but also for our lives. Our increasingly liberated lifestyle was under attack from government policies, which threatened to drive us back down and underground. We were also battling a disease that was running rampant, with no treatments and no cure, and which was killing our friends on a weekly basis.


But, when the going gets tough, the tough get singing, dancing, marching, shouting, fighting, crying when we must, and laughing when we choose.


From my vantage point on various stages up, down, and across the country, I observed and hopefully entertained my community during these challenging yet glorious years, and I remain honoured and proud to have been right at the centre of both the celebration and the fight for survival.


My book is about my journey, and the people I found by chance and whom I chose to help me along the way. Some are famous, some are very famous, some are still alive, some have passed, and there are some – like me – who you will never have heard of before.

It is not a strictly chronological autobiography, and I beg your indulgence and forgiveness as I flit from thought to thought. Random recollections, it’s a fifty thing. Kinda like CD shuffle.

As I finished writing and considered a title, I realised that my life has felt like being a guest at a marvellous party. I was never the host, and only occasionally, by virtue of a spotlight, the centre of attention.

Indeed, I have spent most of the time willingly standing in the shadows, watching and wondering how the hell was I blessed with the good fortune to be sharing a moment in such stellar company, and to have the opportunity to thank them for that handful of breadcrumbs.

They were private moments, not played out on stages or screens, but backstage, in dressing rooms, at parties, where there were no cameras and when the sometimes unforgiving glare of the spotlight was turned off, and I was allowed to share a few precious minutes with the private person behind the public image.


I am delighted to report that I was never once disappointed. Indeed, I was always touched by their bemused humility that someone should think so much of them.

We never know how many lives we touch until we are lucky enough to be told.

If my ramblings amuse you, I hope that you are encouraged to recall and tell your stories, share them with friends and with the world, acknowledge your heroes, and realise that, maybe, to someone…


You are a hero.


Young love

The day I met

Donny Osmond

Young love, first love



His dark brown eyes look directly into mine, his face sympathetic, without that famous trademark smile, and his voice is quiet and genuinely concerned.

Those same eyes that once stared out from every inch of my bedroom wall, the same face that was featured on the sleeve of the very first record I ever bought, and that same voice, the one that had sung the songs that taught me about love. Young love, first love.

It wasn’t the first time we had met, but we weren’t what anyone could call friends. I was maybe more than ‘just another fan’, probably because I am a man – and a male Donny Osmond fan will always be as rare as a vegetarian in a steak house.

But – whether fan or friend – here I am, almost thirty years after three minutes of pop changed my life, being comforted by my pre-teen idol over the loss of my father.


And they called it puppy love…


I wonder…when and how do we learn about love?


When I was five, my down-the-road ‘girlfriend’ Jacqueline had given me a book called What Colour is Love? about flowers of different colours and animals of different breeds who live side by side and get along with each other, and how people, sometimes, manage to do the same. Quite radical and right-on for a five-year-old girl from Surrey.

But love was just a word that I put at the bottom of a thank you letter to a kindly aunt or grandmother, written the day after my birthday or on Boxing Day. I had certainly seen pieces of theatre and film where love was an element, but it was usually between some Aristocats or a prince and a princess, so it meant next to nothing to me. I wasn’t repulsed by it. I certainly didn’t find it yukky. I just didn’t understand it.

My parents were not the most demonstrative of people when it came to displays of affection, either with each other or with their children. My Dad was often away on business for days at a time, and Mum ran the household to a strict timetable. There was an overriding atmosphere of formality, and it saddens me that I cannot remember many moments of shared laughter, or being lost in the warmth of a cuddle. Something was missing. I just didn’t know what.


I wonder…how does a young gay boy learn about love?


We are given no clues, no guidance, no indication about how to deal with the feelings that are steadily rising within us, which – we are simultaneously being informed by our peers, our teachers and parents, and maybe even by our own young minds – are not only wrong, and disgusting, but also a one-way ticket to eternal damnation and hell.

Where do we look? Who do we turn to?


Someone help me, help me, help me please...


During the school holidays, I was sent for tennis and swimming lessons, as both a physical and a social exercise. My swimming teacher looked like George Best, which was considered pretty damn handsome at the time. Even though I had no interest in football, I knew all about E for B and Georgie B. Everyone knew George Best.


My teacher was dark, handsome and as hairy as a bear, and with a physique that befitted his profession. One day, a fellow pupil decided to push me into the deep end of the pool, which prompted my teacher to swim over and save one very distressed but barely drowning little lad.

As he pulled me up from the water, I threw my arms around his neck and nestled my face into his chest, gasping for air, crying, and scared to death. I felt his fur against my cheek, and his muscled arm around me, and he let me stay there until I was calm and comforted.


And I thought…I am very happy here.

I dreamt about him that night.

And that’s when I knew. For sure. I knew.


But I still needed a clue as how to put this feeling into words. And then, one afternoon, I heard it. I was watching television. I cannot remember the programme, the day of the week, or any other detail. But I do remember a field of daffodils, with a dark haired boy, in a floral-patterned shirt, seated and almost lost amongst the flowers.


And they called it puppy love...


The song was a broken-hearted ballad, richly orchestrated, punctuated with repeated and impassioned pleas for help and prayers for someone to be back in my arms once again…

I had no idea what puppy love was, I wasn’t in my teens and the concept of loving her was already a distinct impossibility. This song should have had no effect on me at all, but…


Someone help me, help me,

help me please...


This song was about love. Love that you couldn’t have, but love that you wanted so badly. Love that others didn’t understand. Love that caused you pain and almost unbearable heartache. Love that seemed hopeless. But love you believed would someday happen, and love that would last forever.


The singer of this song was Donny Osmond.


For my birthday, I received my very own transistor radio, and the whole world of pop music opened up. From the moment I woke up, my radio was on, tuned to Radio One, and I soaked up all the songs of the day, listening out for another play of something by Donny Osmond.

My patience was rewarded by the release of Too Young which was even better than Puppy Love. My mother, smugly, told me that it was a song popular in her day, but that didn't matter. It was all new to me.


In the August holiday of that year, with my father driving over the Pyrenees, I sat in the back seat, singing Puppy Love on an endless loop and driving everyone to the point of stopping the car and hurling me down the mountainside.

As if announcing my dream of being a ballet dancer to my playground peers wasn’t reckless enough, I compounded the deal by declaring my admiration for Donny Osmond, once again ensuring a flurry of well-aimed blows and juvenile insinuations about my masculinity.

It was so clear to every other lad on the playground what you should do, what you should say and what you should like.

Boys read Shoot, girls read Bunty. Boys watched The Tomorrow People, girls watched Follyfoot. Boys liked The Sweet, Slade, Alice Cooper and Gary Glitter. Girls liked Donny Osmond.


So, it’s official. Elmslie’s a girl.

I’m not sure how I coped with it, but cope with it I did.


Christmas 1972, and amongst the traditional presents were two seven-inch singles, Ben by Michael Jackson, and Why by Donny Osmond, the latter wrapped in a sleeve of blue and yellow, with a lion’s head and the grand lettering of MGM emblazoned upon it.

If this wasn’t enough, as I sat on a carpet of wrapping paper, digesting the seasonal blowout and waiting for the compulsory viewing of The Queen’s Speech, there he was on Top Of The Pops singing my Christmas present, just for me.


Purple shirt, white waistcoat, shiny dark brown hair, gleaming white teeth, and brown eyes framed by long lashes…


And here I have to state categorically, that I never, ever ever, fancied Donny Osmond. Ever. He was undeniably attractive, but in a pop world starred by Gilbert O’Sullivan and Peter Skellern, the competition – with the possible exception of the feather-haired and undeniably pretty David Cassidy – was not too fierce. No, it was the music and only the music for me. The songs weren’t about sex, they were about love. There were no gutsy guitars, no pounding drums, no screaming vocals.

Maybe it was merely a tentative step up from the ballet scores and musicals that I knew so well and loved so much. Maybe it was the strings, and the honey-sweet harmonies which created this warm cloud of lovely feelings that I could not articulate, but that I knew that I liked.


Why? Because I love you.


Owning a 7-inch single was like eating one Pringle. It was never going to be enough. My brother and I never received pocket money, but we did receive a pound every year on our birthdays and at Christmas. The money was banked with Dad and the amount was noted inside the accompanying card. Even though it was my money, I always felt very awkward about asking to make a withdrawal, and no more so than when I had the following conversation…


Dad, may I have £2.10 out of my Christmas money?

Why?

I want to buy a record.

What record?

A Donny Osmond record.

Why do you want it?

Because I really like it.

Are you sure you want it?


By this time, we were one cushion away from Monty Python and the Spanish Inquisition, but I held my nerve, got my money, and joined my mother on her next visit to neighbouring Reigate and steered her into Rhythm, the local record shop.

Rhythm was very respectable, predominantly stocking classical collections, the easy listening of James Last and Bert Kaempfert, albums by the Wakiki Beach Boys and Nana Mouskouri for the package-holiday jet-setters, Val Doonican for the grans, and the tight-trousered Tom Jones for the ever-so-slightly desperate housewives. There was a cursory section holding the best-selling rock and pop records, and buried between Pink Floyd and Black Sabbath was the object of my desire.


Portrait of Donny. Two pounds and ten pence.

I lifted it out and beckoned my mother over to the till.


But, like every over-cautious parent, she wanted me to be sure that this was the one that I wanted and that I really wanted it. Could you please read out the songs? she asked the assistant, in her very best dinner party voice.

The lady behind the counter looked over her half-glasses, took a deep breath, and read out the tracks as if she were introducing debutantes at a coming-out ball. Puppy Love…Hey Girl…Going Going Gone…I’ve Got Plans For You…

I was squirming in my shoes and glowing with embarrassment as she read down the cover, until I blurted out


Yes, that’s the one. That’s it. Yes.


I duly handed over my money and headed home, vowing never to go record shopping with my Mum ever again. But it didn’t matter now. The treasure had been found. I had my first album.


As I hit double figures, I steadily and surely retreated into my secret world. Doors that were usually left open were now firmly closed, and any intrusion into my space was an un-welcome disturbance.

As I locked myself away, with only my records for company, I began my studies in earnest. I listened to and learned every word, every note, every beat. I already had a rudimentary understanding of chords and melody lines from my weekly piano lessons, but here was a whole world of new fascinations.

I began to learn about arrangements, how strings can be used to great effect, when a song should lift with a crescendo and a key change.

I experienced a physical and emotional thrill when voices harmonised, and there was no-one who created that warm wall of sound better than The Osmonds. Oh yes, The Osmonds, as in the group.


Up to this point, it had been Donny all the way. But a trip to the local newsagents, and the surrender of the princely sum of 15p, had furnished me with a glossy magazine, published by the Daily Mirror, called The Fantastic Osmonds, crammed with pictures, biographies, likes and dislikes, images of the entire family posing down London’s Carnaby Street, on holiday in Hawaii, and at home in this place called Utah.

Even better, the magazine had a section devoted to a review of a concert, complete with a whole host of shots of the band, resplendent in fringed and studded white suits, open at the chest, with huge belt buckles and shiny white ankle boots, dancing themselves into a sweaty mess in front of rows of rows of girls.

Now these girls were not sitting down, quietly watching and politely applauding after each song. They were on their feet, reaching their arms out, screaming and weeping.

I was used to going to the theatre, and sitting in still silence, but the wild excitement generated by the performance and captured in these photographs fascinated me and I wanted to be part of it. All of it.

Two Donny albums down, and I was ready for the hard stuff.


I bought a copy of Crazy Horses.

It was certainly louder than a Donny album. At times it sounded not dissimilar to the bands that my brother admired, with guitar riffs, punchy drums and top of the register vocals. The title track had been a big hit, and the whinnying keyboard hook gave the haters something to latch onto and mock.

Some songs took a while to like, but that was the advantage of twelve-inch vinyl. The needle went down, and you worked your way through each track, so that even ones that were initially challenging became familiar, then favourites. You never skipped a song. You were in for the duration, and it paid off.

Swimming rewards at Morden Baths had always been in the shape of ballet records. Now – as I breathlessly completed my first ever length – I was straight out of the pool and practically driving my Dad to the record store to pick up a copy of The Osmonds Live, an album which captured that insane outpouring of screamed adoration that I had only seen in pictures.


I was no longer just interested. I was obsessed.


If my friends had elder sisters, I begged them for any Osmond posters from their teen magazines, which I then Blu-Tacked to the wall, turning my once respectable bedroom into something more like a dental surgery. Teeth, teeth, and more teeth.

The whole world of pop music opened up for me, and every possible minute of every day was spent falling deeper into my new love. But being in a gang of one is a lonely place to be. I wanted, even needed to be with others who felt like me.

On the back of an album sleeve, I found the address for the Osmonds Fan Club.


I sent off my SAE and was duly rewarded with an invitation from Maureen, the secretary, to join the club. Once more unto my birthday account I went, withdrew the necessary £1.20, bought a postal order and sent it off, and waited by the window every morning, willing the postman’s van to pull into our drive.

After what seemed like a lifetime, my envelope arrived, and what treasures it held! A plastic wallet, with the Osmond logo on the front, my membership card and number, a badge informing the world that I was now an official member of the fan club, a small book containing a brief history and a discog-raphy, a list of merchandise, a four-page printed newsletter, with three printed stickers to use for subsequent newsletters. Not bad for just over a quid!

But, excuse me, what is a Mormon?

And how do I become one?

The celestial checklist demanded no artificial stimulants, no smoking, no alcohol, no drugs and no pre-marital sex, with the promised reward of your own planet for eternity after a mere lifetime of abstinence.

I didn’t drink tea and coffee. I hated Coca Cola. Cigarettes stank. I had tried a sip of my Dad’s Guinness, which tasted like a burnt toast milkshake. Sex, pre-marital or otherwise, was not on the cards, drugs were not a consideration, and who wouldn’t want their own planet?


So, count me in, I’m a Mormon!


If you were a fan, a real fan, you had to sign up for the whole deal. You swore your allegiance and wore your colours with pride. For Donny, everything had to be purple. Shirts, socks, right down to your towel and toothbrush. I never owned a Donny pillowcase, but if I could have done, I would have done.

As my mother branded my growing obsession a waste of time and money, pulling out the old chestnut of You’ll grow out of it, my father appeared to be quietly bemused. After all, he had been a member of the George Formby Appreciation Society in his youth. I wonder if he got a little stick of Blackpool rock and a complimentary ukulele when he signed up.


When the time came for me to own my very own record player to house in my bedroom, we headed off to the local Comet, and an Alba stereo system was duly purchased. I had never owned anything so big or so expensive, and I was both awestruck and enormously grateful. Having wired the plug and attached the speakers, it was time to try it out and – at my father’s request – the first song played was Puppy Love.

I can still see him, standing in the doorway, watching me, gently smiling.

The new releases kept on coming, the publicity machine kept on rolling and my bank account took a hammering, but my addiction had to be regularly fed.

Look-In was ditched for Music Star, filled with pictures and hilariously fictitious stories with eye-grabbing titles: The Day Donny Came To Tea! I even splashed the princely sum of £2 on a red velvet Donny cap, though I am not certain that I ever plucked up the courage to wear it out of the house.

Not that I was going out much at all. Wherever I went, I just wanted to get back to my little corner of the world.

A friend’s birthday trip to the cinema was merely interruption to my music time, and I even threw away a tennis match in a local competition because I knew there was a TV show where Donny would be singing The Twelfth Of Never, with his new deeper voice, while wearing a really unfortunate custard-yellow polo-neck jumper.


He was number one in the charts and everybody likes to back a winner, which may explain my last ditch attempt at being one of the lads. Leeds United were the hottest team in the land, and I decided that it would do no harm to pretend to be a supporter. I even had a mug embossed with their emblem for my morning milk. But this time, maybe for the last time, my mother was right. I did grow out of it in all of three weeks, and happily conceded that one of the lads I will never be.

Being a fan, whether it be of a pop star or football team, is rooted in the same soil. It’s all about belief in something or someone, and belonging to a gang of people who feel the same.

Fan hysteria, whether it be screamed at a concert or at a football match, has been likened to a religious experience, that moment when an ecstasy takes over your entire being and you surrender to the overwhelming power of the source and object of your adoration.

You will your idols to succeed, whether it is up the charts or towards the goalposts, you defend them to your last breath, and you convince yourself that, as long as you believe, they will never let you down. And when you are part of a crowd, sharing that experience and that belief, there is a unique feeling of unity and strength. A kind of love.

You have found a family.


Only I was too young to be allowed to meet them.


I could only watch in envy as a news broadcast showed scenes of mass meltdown outside the Rainbow Theatre, when all two thousand tickets to an Osmond concert sold out in minutes, leaving eighteen thousand unlucky girls, all of whom had camped out overnight to secure a seat, sobbing unconsolably on the pavements of Finsbury Park.

I jealously read an article in the morning paper, telling the tale of twelve thousand screaming teens who descended on Heathrow airport to watch their favourite family get off a plane, wave and get into a waiting car, and who were in such a frenzy that they pushed and shoved until a wall collapsed, raining masonry and metal on the unfortunate souls below. The accompanying photographs captured the aftermath, of girls bloodied and weeping, being carried in the arms of policeman over the rubble of bricks.


God, I so wished I had been there.


Being an Osmond fan took guts, especially after the release of the truly execrable Long-Haired Lover From Liverpool, which gave the playground tormentors an arsenal of ammunition to hurl in my direction, but stubborn as I was and loyal as I am, I held my head high and learned to fight my corner with my tongue rather than my fists.

On a family holiday to Jersey in the August of 1974, my mettle was truly put to the test. Yes, for one week the BBC turned over an evening hour to the Osmond family, to do with as they wished.


Brilliant!


But, not so brilliant when you are staying in a hotel, where there is only one television for the guests in the entire building, and The Osmonds early evening programme coincided with Crossroads, the popular early evening soap opera on ITV, set in a shaky walled motel and remembered for some of the most dismal acting in the history of television. Many of we children of the Seventies are still haunted by Benny and his beanie and his unrequited love for Miss Diane.

Whatever its failings – and there were many – it had a fiercely devoted audience of ladies in their 60s, who were determined not to miss an episode. However, they had not figured on going to battle with an eleven-year-old Osmond fan.

The rule of the room was whoever got there first got to choose the channel. And these old girls learned pretty damn quickly that you have to get up pretty damn early to catch me napping. For five days, I held my ground, and sat in the front row, hearing and feeling the verbal knives being hurled into my young whippersnapper of a back.

What did I care?


Donny was singing Are you lonesome tonight? while being swung on a cherry picker over the heads of the adoring, scarf-waving, seat-wetting masses. He had also teamed up with Marie, which meant even more albums for me to buy. Love Me For A Reason was Number One in the charts, and all was right with the world.


My team were still Top Of The Pops.

Where did all the good times go?

.


It wasn’t easy being twelve.


There were The Wombles, for starters. A furry pack of ecologically aware rodents who made the Teletubbies look like the anti-Christ.

But even worse than The Wombles were the Bay City Rollers, who were consistently hitting the Number One spot and the screams that were once exclusively saved for the Osmonds were getting stolen and thus decidedly softer.

As my idols slowly crumbled, so did the protection of my bedroom, and reality began to invade my four-walled world.

My parents decided that I should get used to being away from home, in preparation for my forthcoming five year sentence at a public school in Cheltenham, and I became a weekly boarder at my preparatory school.

Radios were strictly banned and I suffered severe musical withdrawal symptoms. I had become so accustomed to the sanctuary of my own space and the constant company of my record collection that five whole days and nights of strict school regulations and being forced to sleep in an eight bed dormitory were not a recipe for happiness.

To add to my woes, the day of judgement in the shape of the Common Entrance exam was looming, and the word on the report was that my prospects were not looking good.

The weekends at home became a hotbed of tension. The dreaded mark card, delivered on Friday and collating five days of test grades into one damning percentage, only served to underline that my academic achievements were on the baseline. Less than 75% meant no television, less than 65% meant a beating.


I lived in absolute fear of Fridays.


Tutors were employed to coach me through the mysteries of Maths and French, and I was ordered to spend most of the day face down over my school books, with no music. Many a cross word was said, and I was left in no doubt that failure to pass the entrance exam would be a matter of huge embarrassment for the family and a personal sentence to life as a dustman. Anything that I enjoyed was seen as a distraction, and right at the top of the hit list was The Osmonds.


I was never a naughty child. I was never rude to my teachers. I did well in the subjects that I was interested in, and tried my best in the subjects that I either didn’t like or couldn’t understand. No child responds well to threats and punishment, and schoolwork became a source of absolute fear of failure.

All the shouting and all the smacking was not going to make a blind bit of difference to my comprehension of Maths or Science, and being away from home at school – no matter how hateful it was – became a strange respite from a rapidly disintegrating relationship between myself and my parents.

No matter how many prizes I won for music or poetry, no matter how many pieces of art were displayed at school exhibitions, no matter how well I did in the school play, I was made to feel like a disappointment.

And by now I knew for a fact that I was gay, which I was painfully aware would be the final straw.


This was not going to end well.


But, I still had Donny. I still had The Osmonds. I still had something to believe in, something to cling to that was mine, for which I would have laid down and died.

Then something horrible happened.

Donny brought out a single, and I didn’t really like it.

It was short. It was repetitive. It was a bit dull. Actually, it was very dull. It didn’t do much in the charts. Well, at least we now had something in common. We were both failures.


Where did all the good times go?


Somehow, I passed my exam.


My parents were more relieved than proud. The family honour had been preserved. The line of Elmslies at Cheltenham College, begun over a century ago, would be unbroken. My Dad had throughly enjoyed his time there, and enjoyed all the benefits of success within that system. My brother was already there, and loving every minute of it.

Now it was my turn.

The message delivered by my father on that September night before the beginning of this new chapter was clear and cold. Whatever mess I had made of my education at prep school was not going to happen again.


If I thought being an out Osmond fan at preparatory school was a challenge, I learned that at public school it was tantamount to a death sentence. The corridors of the house where I was imprisoned thrummed to the sound of Led Zeppelin, Genesis, Yes, Supertramp, Deep Purple, and if I was to survive, I was going to have to take a vow of absolute silence, and keep my musical closet door firmly closed.

All through that first year, I held my tongue and kept my head down. Any magazines I bought were kept strictly out of sight, and I saved my record buying for the holidays.

But it seemed that everything was changing with my favourite group, and not for the better. One mediocre group effort was followed by Donny’s dismal attempt at disco, which in turn led to a Christmas collection so saccharine that it should have come with a government health warning.

Donny and his sister Marie now had their own variety show on TV, which was toe-curlingly awful, with dreadful kooky comedy routines and a syrupy selection of songs that were way too country and nowhere near rock’n’roll. No thirteen-year-old, no matter how brave, wants to sing along to


A my name is Alice and my boyfriend’s name is Andy,

we come from Alabama and we like apples.


Wham bam, no thank you ma’am.

It was now worse than feeling embarrassed by my heroes. I felt betrayed.


Time takes a cigarette


Having seen a picture of David Bowie in 1976, scarecrow-thin, with slicked back hair and a packet of Gitanes tucked stylishly in his waistcoat pocket, I decided my next footstep on the rite of teenage passage should be to start smoking.

I bought a packet of 20, for the outrageous price of 75 pence, and sat on the floor of a nearby park bandstand, which afforded a good vantage point for eagle-eyed teachers and butt-kissing prefects. I struck a match, lit the cigarette and inhaled, choking as the black tobacco burned a pathway down through my virgin lungs, making my head spin and my stomach lurch.

I’d never felt so cool in my life.


To add further insult to injury of my internal organs, the object of my unrequited love, while treating me to a very risky Sunday afternoon visit to a pub, sneaked a shot of vodka into my traditional orange juice. He could have handed me a glass of hemlock and I would have happily drunk it just to die in his arms, but the vodka was tasty enough to secure my one way ticket out of an eternity on my own personal planet.


1977. Punk was in its infancy and I was right there at the birth. I spiked my hair, wore my tie skinny side out and pinned a picture of the Sex Pistols on my study wall. Rebellion was stirring in my soul and spinning on my turntable.

I escaped from the confines of College whenever the opportunity arose, walking around the town, hanging out in Driftin, the one store which stocked and played a wide selection of punk and new wave records, and owned by the charismatic Roger, the saxophonist of The Fabulous Poodles. I spent hours in that shop, thumbing through racks of sleeves, listening to the exciting sounds coming out of the speakers. Dark sounds, dirty sounds, angry sounds. No harmonies here.


One afternoon in 1978, I was in one of the many newsagents that sold records. You could get records in the most unlikely shops in the late Seventies, pretty much anywhere that wasn’t a shoe shop or a bank.

I found myself in the Osmonds section, and picked up a copy of a new Donny and Marie album, with the unfortunate title of Goin’ Coconuts. I flipped it over, read down the tracks, looked at the cover, and put it back in the rack.

And we’re done.


The love affair is over.


On the shelf



When love dies, there must be a period of separation. A time to rage and repair, to mourn and move on. Out with the old and in with the new.


And so it is with your first pop idol.


Their picture is eventually ripped from the bedroom wall and becomes the faded photograph that you destroy, the former favourite outfit that you clear out of your wardrobe and send to a charity shop, and the once best-beloved song that now makes you shudder and turn off the radio.

They become the boyfriend you are embarrassed to admit that you ever loved, the infatuation that you label as a mere folly of youth, the person you swear that you never ever want to see again as long as you live.

And then, after a while, maybe you can bear to face each other again and acknowledge that, for better or for worse, you will always be a part of each other’s history.


In the Spring of 1987, I was in my final year at drama school. It had been an extraordinary, informative, rewarding and mostly happy time, but something had just gone terribly wrong.

I had learned a lot about life, and a hell of a lot about love. I’d learned how to kiss. How to sleep alongside someone. How stubble rash is not only painful, but also a ‘dead giveaway’. How to count the hours until you see him. How to be too happy. How to forgive him when he cheats on you. How to let him back in. How to have to let him go. And I learned all that from one man.

I was heartbroken, lonely, and disillusioned.


Someone help me, help me,

help me please.


One early evening, I was alone, feeling particularly miserable, sitting in the living room of the house that I shared with three other students, watching the television and waiting for a music programme.

I had assumed the responsibility of making our own in-house MTV, never missing any of the Saturday morning kids shows, Top Of The Pops and The Chart Show, and recording anything and everything onto a composite video that would provide an opportunity not only to keep us up to date with what was happening musically, but also to save we poor pasta-eating students some money into the bargain.

There was a tape set in the machine, ready to roll if something caught my eye and ear.

Terry Wogan was introducing his nightly chat show, and he announced the guests who would be joining him that evening… and singing his new single, Donny Osmond.


I had not heard hide nor hair of Donny Osmond for about a decade. I had not played an Osmond record for years. except for maybe the opening track off that Christmas album to get me in the mood for the festive season.


Ah well, let’s push the record button, for old times’ sake.


The song was called I’m In It For Love. And it wasn’t bad. It wasn’t bad at all. Actually, it was quite good. Very good. In fact, I loved it.

He hadn’t changed much. The face was the same. The hair was a long and softly curled mullet. When he cracked a smile, those pearly whites were still gleaming away. He answered the questions with a guarded maturity, and when he spoke of the past, he sounded slightly wistful, his memories tempered with an engaging humility. When Wogan asked if he regretted anything from his life, he said Look, what kid wouldn’t want to experience what I went through?


And, as he talked, the women in the audience – now in their thirties, maybe married, maybe mothers – were still screaming and sighing at their teenage idol.

When Wogan picked up on this reaction and reminded Donny of his Puppy Love days, his response was both honest, poignant and generous. He admitted that it had held him back professionally in a business that does not readily accept change, or allow a child star to grow up, and that he had hated that song for a while, and all that it represented.

But then, as he acknowledged, it had been such an important moment not only in his life, but in the lives of his fans, and to damn the song was to deny them their memories.


And I realised that I was now old enough to have some memories.


Everything we experience contributes to the person we become, for better or for worse, and we should never be ashamed of our past, because it has brought us to the present.


I went out the next day and bought the 12-inch single of I’m In It For Love, and I played it to death. I dug out and dusted off my old Osmond records, and made a compilation cassette of my favourite songs, which now had an entirely new meaning for me.

There were certainly some smiles of nostalgia for the more well-known tracks, those singles that reminded me of listening to Radio Luxembourg under the blankets after lights out, that I had willed up the charts and noted with pride in my notebooks.

There were songs that reminded me of those hours, days, months spent locked away in my bedroom, wearing out the needle of my record player as I pored over my collection of magazines and books.

And there were songs that now had a particular and peculiar resonance to my current state of rejection by the man I loved, as I walked around the lake beside my college, tearfully resigned to the fact that there would never be A Time for Us.


Maybe, if I’d thrown myself in, my old swimming teacher would have been there to save me.


I wonder what happened to him?


Any dream will do



We all need something to call our own, no matter how peculiar others may find it. It’s fun to find something that the rest of the world doesn't fully comprehend, and may greet with snide derision, and, let’s face it, if we all liked the same things, what a dull world the place would be.


While it is fun to self-indulge ourselves in what is now lamely termed our guilty pleasure, sometimes we need to gather with others who share our particular peculiarities, to share our best kept secret and maybe to feel like we are not the only odd one out.

The very-importantly-titled Donny Osmond International Network, with whom I forged a link after another chance sighting on the back of an album sleeve, announced the date for a fan club get-together.


It was just too camp to resist.


I had never been to any kind of convention before, but I had seen pictures of Trekkies and Star Wars fans, all done up to the nines and brandishing their light sabres.

But what would one wear to an Osmond convention? My treasured red velvet Donny cap, purchased when I was nine, wouldn’t cover half my head and – gay as I may be – I’m not wearing a rosette for anybody’s money. But an effort to dress for the occasion should and must be made.


My local newsagents offered a T-shirt printing service which offered the perfect solution. I bought a second-hand copy of The Plan album from a vendor in Greenwich Market, cut out the group picture on the cover, photocopied my old fan club badge, which I still had (and have), and had the pictures burned onto a white polo shirt.


Thus, dressed to impress, I was on my way to Wem-ber-ley!!!


As I walked into the room, I scanned the already healthy number of women, all avidly poring over the welcoming stalls of merchandise and memorabilia. All of a certain age, all casually dressed, and all slightly shyly looking at each other, as if they’d had to pluck up the courage to attend this meeting of Osmond Fans Anonymous.

It is one thing to sit in your living room, in your slacks and slippers, eating cold rice pudding out of the tin and singing away to your scratchy copy of Alone Together, but quite another to enter a room and meet others who very possibly do exactly the same.

It was slightly reminiscent of the Stepford Wives, if the Stepford Wives bought their clothes in Evans and weren’t strangers to a home-perm.


There have been other times in my life when I was more than aware that I was in the minority, and not because I am gay, but because I am a man.

One was a Barry Manilow concert, and another was a k.d lang concert. You can actually see the tumbleweed blowing around the gentleman’s toilets on those evenings.


There was not another man in the place and I swiftly became an object of whispered interest. Was I a security guard? Was I some long-suffering husband who had been dragged along as the designated driver? Or was I someone who had been strolling along the corridors, found out what was going on and had just bust into the room to take the piss?

Some of the conventionalists were looking at me as if I had walked into a steam room on a women only day, and kept eyeing me with a nervous suspicion. There was an almost audible sigh of relief when I removed my jacket to reveal my polo shirt, emblazoned with those five smiling faces.


It’s alright, girls, he’s one of us. And where did he get that shirt??


Two of the organisers came over and introduced themselves. Carolyn and Maggie, jolly Northerners both, and clearly up for a giggle. Once we had established that I was a genuine fan, we relaxed and chatted away, acknowledging both how special and how silly this day could and should be, and how we were going to do our damnedest to make it a little bit of both.

As we strolled around the stands covered with pictures, badges, scarves, and records, some of which I didn’t know existed, I quickly got used to being told that meeting a male Osmond fan was as rare as finding that infamous hen’s tooth. As we chatted, I couldn’t help but like these women, who had run away from their families for a few hours to remember a more innocent time and to revisit their youth.

There was a big screen, showing films from the Seventies that I knew, and stuff from the Eighties that I didn’t. I felt almost ashamed that I had taken a decade-long sabbatical, whereas a lot of these women had remained fiercely loyal. Some sat, gazing at the screen, silently mouthing along with the words, or giggling and nudging their neighbour if their particular favourite Osmond was strutting his stuff on the stage. I became quickly aware that some of these women had known each other for years, and that this wasn’t just a convention, this was a reunion of old and true friends.


I’d walked into a family reunion.


The air was filled with shrieks of laughter, that particular sound you hear when a group of women get together, without the dampener of some damn man to dull the fun.

By the end of the day, I found myself adopted by a gang of women who were clearly up for a laugh, and we labelled ourselves the naughty girls, after the ones who used to sit on the back row of the bus, passing loud comments on the other passengers and writing obscene messages in the condensation to torture the driver in the van behind.

We all openly acknowledged that, although we were all bona fide Osmond fans, today was all about having a giggle with like-minded souls, singing along with the songs we loved and escaping from our everyday lives, and turning back the clock to that age of innocence, and falling happily backwards into our first, last, and forever puppy love.

I was one of the boys who’s one of the girls, and happy to be so.


But wait! Hold the front page! Big news!!


Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber announced that he was going to celebrate his 50th birthday in style at the Royal Albert Hall.

Among the impressive roster of guests, singing two songs from his successful appearance as Joseph in the Technicolour Dreamcoat show…Donny Osmond.


There was no power on God’s good earth, no wind, no rain, no winters cold, no mountain high enough nor valley low enough that was going to stop me from seeing this show.

At 8am I was sat on the steps outside the Hall, waiting for the box office to open, just like those girls outside the Rainbow in 1972. The ticket price of £85 was the highest I had ever paid for a night of anything, but – two hours later – I held that precious piece of paper in my hand.

I was going to see Donny Osmond.


As if this wasn’t exciting enough, I made my now daily call to a fan club phone line, and heard the recorded message that Donny was going to combine his visit to London with a get-together at a London hotel. He would answer questions, sing some songs, and then... gasp... meet and have a photograph taken with every attendee.


I duly submitted my name, and my place was confirmed.


Not only was I going to see Donny Osmond…


I was going to meet Donny Osmond.


This is the moment



What do you wear to meet your idol?


Definitely not the velvet cap, not the polo shirt, and never the rosette. I plumped for something formal. A black velvet jacket, blue velvet waistcoat, crisp white shirt, tie, black trousers and boots. If this moment was going to be captured in a photograph, I wanted to look as presentable as possible. No spots, thank God, haircut looking good, teeth up to Osmond standard.

Good to go, and ready for my close-up.


As I sat on the train, heading into town, my heart was pounding. This was ridiculous! The whole situation was ridiculous! But fabulously ridiculous. What am I going to do when I meet him? What am I going to say? What is he going to do and say to me? This is madness!

I arrived at the hotel that would house the meeting. I was stupidly early, and wandered aimlessly around the streets as London awoke and started to hum with the sound of traffic. I had all these songs careering round my mind, a collage of pictures, snatches of videos, a kaleidoscope of memories that had been collected over a quarter of a century, and all connected to a man I was just about to meet.


Cometh the hour, cometh the man.


As I entered the hotel, the foyer was full of women, many of whom I recognised from the convention, and all of whom were done in up their best outfits. I sat on a sofa with a small group of pals, and admitted that I was stupidly over-excited.

One of them put her arm around me, and asked – in a voice not dissimilar to a nurse wheeling a patient towards the operating theatre – Is this your first time? It had been a long time since anyone had asked me that, but, in this case, it was absolutely true.

Most of them had already met Donny, and were sharing stories and comparing notes, just as soldiers share old war tales and compare medals. Everyone assured me that Donny was really lovely, and they seemed to get a certain thrill out of seeing someone about to experience what they had been through many times.


I felt like the last virgin behind the bike sheds.


The doors opened to the room and we entered, in strictly numbered order. Whoever had left their name first on the phone line got a seat nearer to the front. I found myself in the third row, once again the only man in the entire room, and looking at a small empty stage with an upright piano, as the buzz of excited conversation rose and anticipation filled the room. It wasn’t the Rainbow, it wasn’t Earls Court…but any minute now…

Julie, the network creator, stood in front of the stage, and said, softly and simply Ladies and gentleman…(that was just for me!)…Donny Osmond.


And there he was.


Black leather jacket, black roll-neck jumper, black trousers, black shoes, suspiciously dark to the roots brown hair…Donny bloody Osmond.


An instant standing ovation, cheering, applause… and no screaming!

He took a microphone and started to speak. He spoke about why he had been away from England for so long, about being in Joseph, about his family, about taking classes in church, about the Donny and Marie show, about anything and everything that anyone asked and wanted to know. He answered each question in a serious and considered way, but was never too far away from finding humour in both the past and the present. He clearly knew a lot of the women in the audience, and smiled warmly at them, as if greeting an old friend.


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