❚ “I WAS AT THAT TAPING,” said Wendy Kirby on Facebook earlier today. “But I never got to see the video,” she told Shapersofthe80s by phone later. She was talking about the longlost recording of David Bowie singing Jean Genie on Top of the Pops in 1973 — 38 years “Missing Believed Wiped” — and due to be screened tonight on BBC2 for the first time since.
Wendy was one of a posse of Bowie’s friends he’d asked to accompany him to BBC TV Centre because, she says, he was feeling nervous — “If you can believe that! He comes across as very confident, but he was always very shy and didn’t really want to go on Top of the Pops. Angie was the one with all the energy.”
When we spoke today Wendy was mildly surprised at all the fuss over the video she’s never seen, but then, even as a 14-year-old schoolgirl she was a regular in the audience for Top of the Pops so had grown pretty blasé.
About five years later she’d become one of Bowie’s “piss-elegant champagne-drinking” entourage after meeting David and Angie at the Sombrero disco (strictly speaking, called Yours or Mine, beneath the restaurant El Sombrero in Kensington High Street) during the Hunky Dory period when he was wearing the Mr Fish man-dress and had long cascades of blond hair. All that was lopped and dyed red by Suzi Fussey for the Ziggy persona which made him a star. On Jan 3 1973, Wendy donned a black fishtail dress “with an exceedingly low back” plus a long blonde mermaid wig, and stepped into Studio 8 and onto the dancefloor for Top of the Pops in company with her flatmate Freddi Burretti (Bowie’s costume designer for whom Moonage Daydream was written), Angie Bowie and panda-eyed Daniella Parmar whose constantly changing hair colour had convinced Bowie “of the importance of a synthetic hair colour for Ziggy”.
Wendy said: “We were the ‘young dudes’ who shaved off our eyebrows just for camp, because you could paint them on higher up — that gave us a strange unearthly look which David adopted. He was always open to suggestions and went through our wardrobes like a magpie!”
Bowie name-checked his friends in the lyrics of the glam-rock anthem All the Young Dudes in 1972: Wendy’s stealing clothes/ from Marks and Sparks/ And Freddi’s got spots/ from ripping off the stars from his face/. When David told her, she replied: “You could at least have made it Harrods!”
She added: “Thing is, the fame happened seemingly overnight. People had thought of David as a one-hit wonder with Space Oddity, then suddenly in 1972 Starman was a hit and everything went from ordinary to unreal. Nothing was the same again.”
Wendy had no idea whether the cameras had caught them dancing in the Jean Genie video newly discovered and due for broadcast tonight. “Pan’s People had done their dance number and were heading out of the studio when David went onstage. They all stopped to watch his act and were mightily impressed. I remember a couple of them were wearing red fox-fur coats…”
❏ Update at 8pm: “Yes, that’s me between David and Mick, the girl with a ton of make-up, huge eyelashes and the red flower in the hair — we piled on tons of everything then. That’s Daniella dancing next to me. Amazing to see myself on Top of the Pops after all this time! I’ve never seen this before. And I haven’t seen David perform live since… Those were great days and I was too young to appreciate them.”
Of Bowie’s Sombrero posse, today Wendy lives in West London and Daniella in Worthing. Freddi Burretti (born 1951, raised as Frederick Burrett in Hackney) was also aka Rudi Valentino while fronting Bowie’s 1971 phantom band, the specially created Arnold Corns. His talents were better expressed as Freddi Burretti, making Ziggy Stardust’s outfits from the first quilted jumpsuit onward. He died while living in Paris in May 2001. The male escort Micky King recorded the Bowie song How Lucky You Are, among others, and according to Bowie was gruesomely murdered by a client some years later.