by Alun Palmer / The Mirror
26th October 2003
THE slightest hint of a flush has just appeared on David Bowie’s face. The Thin White Duke – once a true rock ‘n’ roll hedonist has suddenly become bashful and shy when the subject of wooing his supermodel wife Iman comes up.
“Am I a romantic?” he laughs with a touch of embarrassment. “I guess I am. I’m a flower-sender and I remember anniversaries. I am quite good on that score. I have to be.”
His coyness is quite fetching. But it is clear that the former wild man of rock has finally found the peace he has been seeking most of his life.
In his younger days, it was drink and drugs punctuated with bouts of depression. Now happiness is his New York home, his wife and their three-year-old daughter Alexandria – Lexi for short.
At the age of 56, Bowie is back on tour and it is clear that age has not dimmed his energy, enthusiasm and sheer star presence. But the attractions of the road no longer hold the allure they once did.
“I have no temptations whatsoever. I have so been there and done that,” he says, letting out a dirty, Sid James-like cackle. “I cannot tell you what I’ve done. You cannot show me anything new.
“None of it holds water for me anymore. There are no temptations… coffee, maybe.
“We work hard keeping the relationship alive. We talk to each other continuously. We have absolute, complete and absolute faith and trust in each other.
“We are incredibly close. I think it’s unlucky to talk about it, but it’s going really well.
“She was over the other day when I was performing in Holland. It was the 14th of the month and it was the 14th of October 1990 when we met. So I had a lot of presents sent over to our hotel, lots of silly things. Well, it keeps things alive.”
The couple met just as Bowie was coming out of a decade of depression – something that has plagued his family. And it was with her help that he finally managed to conquer the illness.
“The 80s were very strange for me. I lost all interest in what I was doing,” he says, the laughter gone for a moment.
“I was doing exceptionally well commercially but I didn’t understand why I was enjoying none of it. I hated every minute of it and I lost every ounce of energy and enthusiasm for the deal.
“There were several times when I was really going to throw the towel in and give it up.
“Maybe I was in recovery from all the drugs and booze that I had done. I was in a very bad psychological state and as near to defeat as at any time in my life – and there I was, having really big albums and tours.
“I felt all so empty and none of it meant anything to me. It was depression – it is not unknown to my family.”
By 1989, however, he managed to pull himself out of his trough.
“I didn’t have any therapy. I have always run scared from that. I’m not into it at all,” he says.
I JUST white-knuckle it through every situation. Of course, it’s terrible and not the modern way to do things.
“I found a kind of sanity in the 90s and it became easier for me to open up to other people.
“I felt I was in a good position to take on the responsibility of a marriage and all that, because I started feeling good about myself.
“Now that sounds like therapy talk – and that is the nearest I will get to it, believe me.”
At that moment, Iman walked into his life. The Somali-born model immediately captured his heart.
“We met, ludicrously enough, at the birthday party of our hairdresser,” he cackles again. “And we started seeing each other immediately after that.
“She is my soulmate. I can’t believe that a relationship like this has been so smooth sailing. There really have been no difficulties. We don’t try to put up hurdles for each other.
“Both of us have lived through success and all those pitfalls, and we have had all our calamities, too, in our lives. She’s 48 and we are both in a position where we have done a lot of what we wanted to do.
“All we have left is to try and look for some kind of fulfilment in our lives. “It was so lucky that we were to meet each other at that time in our lives when we were both yearning for each other. She is an incredibly beautiful woman, but that’s just one thing. It is what’s in there that’s important.
“She is an excellent person and a wonderful mother and she has such a wonderful, well-grounded sense of independence about the way things are, about her career and what she wants to do.”
He is happier than at any time in his life. And that joy was made complete when, after two years of trying, his wife gave birth to Lexi.
For most rock stars, early-morning feeds would be a problem, but since he gave up drink and drugs Bowie now wakes at 5am and so is always there to do breakfast duty. Still rake-thin and dressed casually in simple white T-shirt and jeans in a quiet corner of his French hotel, he grins from ear to ear. “I am a dad again now,” he says. “I love it – it’s the best.
“She has changed my life. I give far more over to her than before. So it takes a wedge out of what I would have been throwing into my work. But it doesn’t seem to have caused me many problems.
“I am still getting a huge amount accomplished. But I give over a much larger proportion of my day to her. I go out for walks and I am there in the mornings for breakfast.
“I tend to go out to the studio most days – a bit like a nine-to-five day in a way – and when I come home she is there to play with. I have a time at bedtime with her, when I read. I enjoy every second of it – it’s great. We thought very seriously about it before it happened. We knew there were things that we would have to give up – mainly our personal time.”
Fatherhood, however, is not a new experience. The singer already has a son from his first marriage to Angie Barnett. Christened Zowie Bowie, he changed his name first to Joe Jones and then Duncan. Now 32 and with a PhD, he has a close bond with his father.
But the mistakes Bowie made first time around are ones he is determined not to repeat.
“I had many regrets about my son,” he says. “I have had them all through my life. I just thank my good fortune that we get on so well now. Any bridges that had been broken – and I don’t think too many had been – are mended
“I took custody of him from when he was around six, and before then, frankly, his nanny was his parent. I was not completely clean then.
WE have worked things out with each other and we get on famously. He is enjoying what he is doing in his life and I am really enjoying seeing him being fulfilled.
“The big difference then was I was working and on tour an awful lot. I don’t think that’s good in any kid’s life. It’s easier when they are very young. And, of course, I talk to Lexi on a daily basis.”
Bowie is happy, relaxed and at the top of his game. The previous night, he wowed 15,000 ecstatic French fans as part of his world tour, which reaches Britain next month.
Today his voice is a little husky after performing 25 numbers, both old and new. His past two albums – the Mercury- nominated Heathen and the newly released Reality – have impressed his diehard fans and critics alike and gained him a new audience. “Physically I am in pretty good nick,” he says, his accent betraying his South London roots despite his years in New York. “My voice is a bit throaty and I’m worried about tonight’s show.
“I have done a lot of things in the past to my body.
“But I haven’t done those things to myself for many, many years, so I have to say I am in fairly good shape.
“The only thing that really worries me is getting plagued by colds. I am very susceptible to colds, so when I hear someone sniffling I run away.”
Bowie credits his wife, daughter and New York home with giving him the stability he needed after fighting depression.
But the terrorist attacks of September 11 changed things in his life. After nearly a decade of vowing never to leave New York, now there is an element of doubt.
Bowie, who rarely flies, says: “After the 2001 affair, everything changed in terms of our lives. We started being a little cautious about making any firm decisions.
“We have thrown in our lot with New York. But every now and then you start thinking: ‘When is the next one going to happen?’
“You still feel it on a daily basis. Surely there has got to be a follow-up to all this.
“And you kind of presume that it will be more like the IRA kind of campaign. It will be restaurants and pubs. I think something on such a gigantic scale as that probably won’t be happening again. They will be smaller affairs.”
Still, a return to Britain seems unlikely just yet. “We are seeing how it goes,” he says. “We have put down such solid roots that it is going to take an awful lot to rip us out from there. Where would we go, Canada?”
He cackles, before heading off to perform once again.
Reality is out now. Bowie’s British tour kicks off on November 17 in Manchester and visits Birmingham, Dublin, London and Glasgow.