by Alison Bishoff / Daily Mail
27th February 2010
The speech was as heartfelt as the man delivering it was unheralded. As he reached the Bafta podium last Sunday, where he was awarded the prize for best debut by a British writer, director or producer, Duncan Jones was overcome.
He gave an introductory ‘Um…er…wow’, and from that moment he was choking back tears.
‘Thank you so much,’ he said, in a voice cracking with emotion. ‘I didn’t actually realise how much this meant to me.’ He added, with tears in his eyes: ‘It’s taken me an awfully long time to know what I wanted to do with my life and finally I have found what I love doing.’
What many in the watching audience did not know was that this bearded, well-built 38-year-old man was the child formerly known as Zowie Bowie.
Yes, the son of David and Angie Bowie, born into an unimaginably dysfunctional family, with both parents addicted to drugs and practising a bizarre sexual free-for-all – Angie described their pairing as rather like a couple of bisexual alleycats.
Their marriage ended in suicide bids, recriminations and a financial pay off.
When he was just a little tot, the boy who was born Duncan Zowie Hayward Jones (Jones is David Bowie’s real surname) came on a particularly raucous tour to Japan with his mum and dad – there are pictures of an angelic blond boy sandwiched between his two parents, both with razor cheekbones and rooster hair.
For years, when his father was hopelessly addicted to cocaine, and then alcohol, he was raised by a nanny.
The nanny, Marion Skene, was both his mother and father figure. Angie left the family when he was four and David wasn’t capable of taking more than an occasional role.
‘For the first six or seven years of his life I was around so infrequently I can’t imagine what an abyss that has caused,’ David has admitted.
Home was a rock star mansion in Switzerland and they would holiday on Mustique with Mick Jagger.
David, who lives in New York with his second wife Iman, is proud of his son. He was the first person Duncan called when he stepped off the stage – and I’m told you could hear David’s hollers of delight when he heard the news.
So how did Duncan Jones mature from his confused years to become the Bafta award-winning director and writer he is today?
Today Duncan shares a flat with some male friends in Chelsea and has a girlfriend – whom he refuses to name publicly, such is his experience of the limelight.
This week he is in Canada preparing to make a major £30million picture starring the Oscar-nominated Jake Gyllenhaal.
His friend and mentor Trevor Beattie – the advertising guru – tells me: ‘Duncan is the most talked about director in Hollywood.’
The story begins in 1969 when David Bowie met the wild-child daughter of a U.S. army colonel, Mary Angela Barnett, known as Angie.
David drawled in an interview: ‘We were both f*****g the same bloke.’
She was an art student who wanted to act, with a talent for outrage and a taste for casual sex.
‘I was wild and David needed me to help him be wild,’ she said. ‘I chopped his hair off and dyed it and put him in a dress. I gave him notoriety. He gave me fame.’
It seems to have been an entirely pragmatic pairing – Angie needed a visa to remain in the UK. And it was certainly an open marriage.
They had a threesome with an actress on the eve of their wedding in 1970 and David once asked Angie: ‘Can you deal with the fact that I’m not in love with you?’
Angie clearly could. She once declared: ‘Free love was natural and simply what one did.’
Their home was the mansion Haddon Hall in Beckenham, just outside London, where they enjoyed a Bohemian lifestyle. Everyone came to stay and make music – Marc Bolan, the Rolling Stones, Marianne Faithfull.
Zowie was born a year after the wedding. Angie says that he was her gift to David and that his birth, on May 30, 1971, was the happiest day of both their lives, and the first and only time she saw David cry.
‘He just loved that little boy. I cuddled him and said: “Welcome to the world, Zowie.” David stood there with tears in his eyes.’
The name was Angie’s idea, a variation on Zoe, which means life in Greek; David had favoured the name Duncan.
Angie had trouble relating to her son from the start. ‘Poor little thing, he cried all the time. I had difficulty bonding. You feel your freedom has been taken from you, totally and utterly.
‘It’s a frightening thing to adjust to. One has such deep doubts about one’s ability to act as a good parent.’
Soon after she came out of hospital, Angie fled to Italy for an orgiastic holiday with a bisexual girlfriend.
The tiny baby was dumped with his father. ‘I don’t know if David ever forgave me,’ Angie later said. ‘It’s one of those things where you look back and think: “Oops, maybe that was it.”‘
As the Seventies progressed, it became clear the marriage was a sham. Bowie launched his Ziggy Stardust alter-ego and spent months on the road.
He made millions and his cocaine habit took off at a frightening rate.
By 1974, he was pasty, emaciated and hardly able to speak.
‘Emotionally and physically I was an absolute shell,’ David admitted.
Angie was annoyed when David started openly maintaining various mistresses.
She didn’t mind what he did when they were apart, but was furious when she found him with groupies when she was home.
She even said that one morning she walked in to find David naked and asleep in bed with Mick Jagger.
David has always denied any sexual liaison with the Rolling Stone and calls his ex-wife ‘delusional’.
David began to regard Angie with contempt, saying that she had ‘as much insight into the human condition as a walnut and a self-interest that would make Narcissus green with envy’.
The daily business of raising a small child was too much for either of them. In 1975, they separated, with Duncan going to live in Switzerland with his father.
Marion Skene, their Scottish nanny, effectively became Duncan’s mother. He said: ‘I’ve always considered her as my mum, so I never felt I was missing out in any way.’
In 1979, David asked for a divorce and Angie granted him custody of Duncan. She says she knew she would not have been awarded custody as David had pictures of her making love with a woman.
She took a £500,000 payout and signed a ten-year gagging contract. She made at least two suicide bids – but David remained unmoved.
He had other things on his mind – by now he had moved to Berlin and was collaborating with Iggy Pop, and was still battling with his cocaine addiction.
In the depths of his battle for survival, David says, he would look at his young son and think: ‘Well, this is worth living for.’ But his drug abuse was so extreme that he said he once blew his nose ‘and half my brains came out’.
He’s been left with a wonky right nostril and huge gaps in his memory as a result.
Despite the trauma his parents were inflicting on each other and their young son, the seeds of Duncan’s eventual career had already been sown.
He remembers playing with his father at making stop motion films with an 8mm camera and his collection of Smurf toys.
He would flip between being tutored privately and going to school. ‘It was a bit all over the place,’ Duncan said in an interview, ‘but if you’re brought up that way it feels very natural.’
He would go on tour with his father and the roadies would play games with him backstage. School holidays were spent in Mustique.
‘I’d go to Basil’s Bar, eat some banana bread, eat some lobster, read books, watch films, have a swim. The whole Jagger clan would be down there.’
Until this point, Duncan had visited his mother twice a year. But by 1984, the 13-year-old had lost patience with her and told her that he didn’t want to see her again.
At the time she was struggling to get clean from drugs and living in New York’s trendy Greenwich Village. They had an argument which escalated and she accused her son of being ‘bourgeois’. They haven’t spoke since.
As a teenager, Duncan boarded at Prince Charles’s alma mater, Gordonstoun. Now, he says drily that he could have done with a more nurturing environment.
He got seven O-levels, but he was asked to leave when he was 18 for falling asleep during his A-level English exam.
David, by now teetotal and fitness conscious, was furious. But Duncan had no idea what he wanted to do, and was struggling with his father’s fame and the constraints of a very traditional boarding school.
There was no question of his following his father into music – friends say that Duncan cannot play any instrument and is not even vaguely musical. His father tried him out on saxophone, piano, drums and guitar and failed to raise even a glimmer of interest.
Duncan said: ‘I was a grumpy, surly, upset, confused person, and of course I had the burden of a lot of people’s preconceptions about who I was.’
This was apparent in his change of name – rather confusingly, he had voluntarily gone from Zowie to Joe at the age of 13. But at 18, he decided he wanted to go back to his birth name, Duncan.
With few qualifications, the confused Duncan moved to London to ‘find himself’ and spent six months working at the legendary Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, creators of Kermit the Frog.
This lucky break was down to contacts he made while hanging around on the set of his father’s 1986 film Labyrinth.
But desperate for anonymity, Duncan returned to Switzerland to work with children with learning disabilities. On a teacher’s advice, he took U.S. college entrance exams and won a scholarship to the College of Wooster, in rural Ohio, about as far from the celebrity circuit he had grown up in as it was possible to be.
Three years later, he graduated with a philosophy degree, having managed to keep his identity secret from most of his classmates.
It was rather a juggling act – during one holiday, he was best man at his father’s New York wedding to Iman. The witnesses were Bono and Yoko Ono.
Still pursuing his dream of regular life, he followed his then girlfriend, Jennifer Ichida, to Nashville to do a PhD at Vanderbilt University. It was a disaster. ‘The relationship didn’t work out and I was stuck in Nashville. I think my dad was most confused by it all. He was concerned why I would put myself through that.’
One holiday, David Bowie suggested his son join him on the set of The Hunger, a TV series he was starring in. Tony Scott was the director and he allowed Duncan to roam the set with his own camera.
At last, the lost boy had found his vocation. He successfully applied to London Film School as plain Duncan Jones. Again, he tried hard to stay anonymous, living in a rented flat in Clerkenwell.
Eventually, he made a showreel, which was passed to advertising chief Trevor Beattie.
He offered Duncan a job and they worked together for more than two years. ‘He was quite intrigued to work in an office,’ says Beattie. ‘Then one day he came in with a screenplay for me to read. It was brilliant and I said to him: “What do you want me to do?”
The screenplay was for Moon, Duncan’s award-winning sci-fi film about an astronaut who is the only inhabitant of a space station and nearing the end of a three-year tour of duty.
It was shot in Pinewood Studios on a modest £2.5 million budget, which Beattie and Sting’s wife Trudie Styler – both executive producers – helped to raise.
The Hollywood ‘bible’, Daily Variety, described Moon as ‘ingenious and trailblazing’. The New York Times hailed it as ‘extraordinary’.
‘He is a genius in my view, a major talent,’ Beattie tells me. ‘He is very shy, very courteous and very gentlemanly. You could not meet anyone more polite or with more beautiful manners.
‘He is what you would call a very well-brought-up young man. I know that David is very proud of him.’
His former girlfriend Jennifer says: ‘He is a fantastic, special person. I was supremely happy all of the time I was with him. He has lots of great friends, is very outgoing and is close to his father. They have a good relationship.’
Angie Bowie, who lives in Arizona with her boyfriend, says that she is also ‘thrilled and happy’ that her son has won a Bafta for his film Moon, but there is a sting in the tail.
‘I am delighted to see his career bloom into flower. I wonder whose creative talents he has inherited?’ she tells me.
She adds: ‘I went to see the film in Los Angeles last year and I cried. The theme is anger and abandonment and it made me question our relationship. I haven’t seen my son since he was a child. I have tried to reach out to him over the years, but for whatever reason he does not want to be in contact.’
Angie says she feels that Duncan is ‘messed up’ by her abandoning him. She believes the film is about her. But Duncan’s friends deny this.
‘Angie would say that it was about herself, wouldn’t she?’ says Trevor Beattie. ‘It is categorically not about her and nothing to do with her, but you will notice that whenever he has some success she likes to pop up and claim it for herself.
‘He is his own man, and proud to be his own man, and he has achieved his success on his own terms. I have news for Angie which is simply this: “It’s not about you, love.”‘