by Caroline Graham / Daily Mail
8th August 2009
His mother and father were drink and drug abusers, given to violent rows. While they disappeared on binges, he was left in the care of an employee.
When his parents’ marriage broke up amid acrimony and accusations, he was packed off to an austere boarding school where his ridiculous name set him apart from his classmates.
And as he tried to make his own way in the world, he first had to step out from the long shadow cast by his rock-legend father.
It is a textbook blueprint for delinquency and dissolution. Had Duncan Jones, son of David and Angie Bowie and formerly named ‘Zowie Bowie’, become a fixture on the gossip pages and regularly been seen falling out of nightclubs, no one would have been surprised.
So the fact that Jones has overcome his troubled childhood to make a brilliant debut film feted by critics and audiences alike, all without trading on the family name, is a triumph.
The Hollywood ‘bible’, Daily Variety, described Moon, directed by Jones, as ‘ ingenious and trailblazing’. When it was shown at the Sundance Film Festival, it sparked a bidding war between studios. It was released to similar acclaim in Britain last month.
The tense science-fiction drama, about a solitary lunar worker who has to face isolation, fear and his own mortality, has even been tipped as a contender for the Best Picture Oscar next year.
But for one woman, Moon has an even greater significance. Angie Bowie, Jones’s estranged mother, watched his haunting film through a veil of tears. In an exclusive interview with The Mail on Sunday she reveals how her serious shortcomings as a parent underline the extent of his achievement.
‘It is a great work of art,’ she says. ‘He deserves an Oscar. What upset me is how powerful and personal it is. It is all about alienation and abandonment, and for the first time I realised how much grief I caused my son by letting him go.’
Angie, 59, has not heard from her 38-year-old son in years. She claims he effectively cut her out of his life when he was 14 – and she places the blame on David Bowie who, she says, ‘poisoned’ her first-born against her and used his vast fortune to alienate her from her son.
Standing outside the cinema after seeing the film, Angie, who still has the peroxide-blonde hair and trim figure that made her an icon in the Seventies, admits her turbulent ten-year marriage to Bowie must have had a lasting impact on Duncan, whom she still calls Zowie.
He ditched the name in favour of the more sedate Duncan when he started his film-making career.
His mother says: ‘When I saw the film I felt only one overriding emotion, and that was grief. My son is messed up. The film is about one man’s isolation and confusion, and I now realise, through Zowie’s art, what a mistake I made leaving him.’
Angie met Bowie in 1969, when she was a 20-year-old student in London. His real name was David Jones, but he had changed it to David Bowie.
Born in 1949 to a US Army colonel based in Cyprus and a ‘traditional’ housewife, Angie rebelled against her privileged life at a Swiss private school. At 18, she was sent to college in America but was expelled for having a lesbian relationship.
So she moved to London to attend art school. When she met Bowie it was, according to Angie, a meeting of souls.
He was the boy from Bromley, Kent, desperate for stardom. She was the pushy American willing to do anything to make it happen.
She says: ‘He was slim, pale-skinned and a little alien-looking. He was a middle-class boy wanting to be a rock star. David had talent but needed focus. He had lots of girlfriends and even some boyfriends at the time. But when I came along, he realised I was someone who could help him reach the next level.
‘It wasn’t a hearts-and-flowers romance. We got married because I was an American who needed to stay in London and he was a weak Brit who needed me to break down doors and turn him into a star.’
They moved into Haddon Hall, a large mansion in Beckenham, Kent, where they enjoyed a Bohemian lifestyle. ‘There were always artists and creative people coming in and out. Marc Bolan, the Stones – they were all visitors,’ says Angie.
‘In the early days I was everything to David. I was his creative partner, his lover, his soul mate.’
Although their son arrived on May 30, 1971, barely a year after their wedding at Bromley Register Office, she says a child was always planned: ‘David longed for a boy.’
When Zowie was born it was, she says ‘the happiest day of both our lives. I remember giving birth in Bromley Hospital annexe. It was painful. Zowie was 8lb 8oz. David was there the whole time. It was the first and only time I saw David cry.’
Zowie was christened Duncan Zowie Haywood Jones. Zowie was a corruption of the girls’ name Zoe, the Greek word for life. His father wrote the song Kooks for him and it appeared on the album Hunky Dory. It contained the line: ‘If you stay with us, you’re gonna be pretty kooky too.’
Angie says: ‘We were messed up as a couple but this little creature came and David was a great dad. But when the baby was around, our lifestyle just didn’t work.’
Zowie ended up being raised mostly by a Scottish nanny, Marion Skene, and moved between London, Berlin and Switzerland. Angie admits: ‘David and I were away doing drugs, at first together and then later apart. Marion effectively became Zowie’s mother.’
By the mid-Seventies, the marriage was a sham. While Bowie launched his Ziggy Stardust character and started making millions, Angie claims his hatred for her intensified.
She says: ‘It was a parallel universe. I’d take Zowie to the circus and then I’d come home and David would tell me what a lousy mother I was. We were drunk. Zowie was crying in the corner as we screamed at each other.’
In 1980, the couple split. Angie descended into a long twilight of drug addiction before her father helped her to beat it. She met another musician, with whom she had a daughter, Stasha, now 29.
Meanwhile, Bowie was granted custody of nine-year-old Zowie, who was sent to Gordonstoun, the harsh Scottish boarding school attended by Prince Charles.
Angie says: ‘I tried calling Zowie. I tried to get a lawyer to fight for me in London and New York but everyone turned me down.’
She says she recalls Zowie saying to her, ‘I am so unhappy, Mummy,’ but concedes she took a £500,000 settlement from Bowie, effectively money in exchange for her son. How on earth, as a mother, could she have done such a thing?
‘You don’t understand,’ she says. ‘David had money. Zowie was with him. I thought Zowie was better off with David than me, initially. I didn’t know what else to do.
‘When I got off drugs Zowie was 13 or 14 and at Gordonstoun and we spoke and he told me he was angry at me. He told me his dad gave him money and stuff I couldn’t. It made me mad.’
Angie now sees she was wrong to cut her son out of her life. After her daughter was born she had a series of relationships before settling with Michael Gassett, an electrical engineer nearly 20 years her junior.
‘Zowie came to see me when he was 14 and I was living on 8th Street in New York, which was a Bohemian neighbourhood,’ she says.
‘Zowie looked around at my place, and said, “This is horrid.” I screamed at him, “Don’t be so bourgeois!” It’s something I regret to this day. He looked at me and said, “I hate you.”‘
Angie did not hear from her son again until six years ago. ‘My daughter Stasha found him on the internet,’ she says. ‘He emailed me and I didn’t know what to say. So I put them together. They corresponded for a bit and then that stopped. He is cold, like his father. David cut me off. Zowie, or Duncan, cut me and Stasha off.’
In the past, David Bowie has said: ‘Living with Angie was like living with a blowtorch. She has as much insight into the human condition as a walnut and a self-interest that would make Narcissus green with envy.’
At times she’s certainly difficult to warm to. Dressed in a tight black top and miniskirt, she is defensive and appears on the verge of tears.
She bristles when questioned about her motives for speaking about her son – she received no payment for this interview. Today, she and Michael live in Tucson, Arizona, in a one-room flat. Angie admits ‘life is hard’.
In Moon, the main character is a mine worker on the Moon. The film focuses on his loneliness and his yearning for his family on Earth. A character, who Angie seems to believe represents her, is killed off, and one gets the feeling she finally might understand the reasons why.
‘When I saw the film I realised how alone Zowie feels,’ she says. ‘It’s painful and heartbreaking. But David used his millions to poison Zowie against me. He bought our son.
‘I now realise I should have put up more of a fight. But I didn’t and that is something I shall have to live with for the rest of my life. Perhaps Zowie, or Duncan, wishes I was dead. After seeing his film I would love him to embrace me and welcome me in after all these years.’
But she adds: ‘He is no longer a child, he is a 38-year-old man. I don’t know if it’s not best to just leave well alone. His film doesn’t have a happy ending and nor does real life.
‘I love my son but I was never there for him, so I understand why he hates me.’