Monday, 26 December 2016

RIP GEORGIOS KYRIACOS PANAYIOTOU



Another one bites the dust. Time - 2016 - is, of course, to blame. Get real. George was always the first to say that timing is everything. The suggestion that he may have taken his own life on Christmas Day, as some are saying, is therefore not so far-fetched. George was a control freak, a planner, an obsessive. The significance of Christmas Day will not have been lost on him. He created 'Last Christmas', one of the great modern Yuletide classics, to link his name indelibly with the season. Every year, for as long as we care, we will now remember George on Christmas Day. The arrogance, though breathtaking, should be forgiven.
I spent time with George and Andrew Ridgeley in the Eighties. We worked together. His former manager, Simon Napier-Bell, and his Sony publicist Jonathan Morrish, remain my friends. I have other close pals who went to school with George in North London. On a number of occasions, I got to glimpse the real Yog. He was a tormented soul who lived a lie. He never came out to his family while his mother was still alive. He felt compelled to wait until she died to be honest about his orientation.
The self-deception of his youth was a cancer. The damage would not be repaired. George admitted to a void, created by his distance from his parents and wider family, which generated unbearable deprivation. He acknowledged that he sought adoration from complete strangers, in order to fill that void. The harder he tried, the less he was able to compensate. He craved peace. He accepted that his need to become an artist was a cry for help. He agreed that he was desperately insecure, and that he was addicted to applause. He fell in love with Elton John at a very young age. Performing his Elton favourite, 'Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me' on stage with his idol was, he said, the pinnacle of his career. The pair later fell out, made up, fell out, made up, in that intensely emotional manner that tends to be the downfall of superstars.
George pressed the self-destruct button years ago. He gave in to his desires, and did time for them. He lost out in love, giving away his heart and having it returned to him in bits. Few can recover from that, least of all those whose every nerve ending is exposed to and raked over by millions of fans, dependent on his music and demanding, always demanding, answers about love and the meaning of life that he was not equipped to give.
This is how I will remember him: at Live Aid, 13th July 1985. George was twenty two, in his  prime, proud to be part of the greatest show on earth, and lapping up every blink of it. I watched him from the wings that day, getting everything he needed in the giving. If only in the moment. At least he had that. 


Sunday, 18 December 2016

BE IT HEAVEN OR HELL



Twenty-four years ago tonight, our lives fell to pieces when my father Ken Jones fell under a train. He was the Independent’s chief sportswriter at the time, and was making his way home from the office Christmas party. He’d done the sensible thing: he’d left the car at home, and was taking the train. A few had been cancelled. There was a platform-change announcement at London Bridge. A stampede up the stairs, over the bridge and down the other side. My father, a compact Welshman, was swept up in the maelstrom and hurled down onto the rails, just as the train was pulling in. It took them more than four hours to cut him from the wreckage. What was left of his right arm, and his writing hand, was left behind.
He still hears the voice of the nameless paramedic who talked him into holding on, into clinging to life. To this day, he suffers searing phantom pain in the arm that isn't there. He has lived for almost a quarter of a century one-armed. He continued to travel the world well into his seventies, covering  prize fights, football matches, summer and winter Olympic Games. He only retired when they made him. He could still kick them senseless for that.
Ken is eighty-five years old, scythe-sharp, and bored, much of the time. On a cocktail of prescription drugs, he phases in and out of the moment. He spends half the day on an oxygen generator for emphysema. We still have fierce bouts over politics and sport. He never has fewer than five books on the go, everything from Ancient Rome and Shakespeare to contemporary biographies, and ever the poetry of Dylan Thomas.
He lost a part of himself, that bitter night. But he became somehow more himself because of it. In many ways, random and brutal though such accidents are, it was the making of him. I've been looking at that raw, tragic stump for two and a half decades, now. It still shocks me to recall what happened, longer ago than the births of my children. It breaks my heart. But then I remember, he's still a whole dad. No less of a complete, confounding jigsaw puzzle of a man for want of a single absent piece.
Hallelujah, Noel, be it heaven or hell. Go easy out there, this coming week. Hang back from the edge. Stay behind the yellow line. Keep off the roads, if you can. Run for the shadows, but not for the train. Never, ever, run for the train. There will always be another. You might not be as lucky as Dad. Which is the way he sees it. Always has. It must be what saved him.