I’ve never had much ambition in life other than to be happy, try not to cause upset or pain to others, be a good socialist and never sell myself short – all 5ft 7in of me.
That’s probably why the head of our communication studies course at Edinburgh’s Napier College (now university) one day announced to the whole class that I would never get a job because my appearance made me terminally unemployable.
I seem to recall I was wearing a striped suit I’d made myself, modelled on one David Bowie had once worn – the flared trousers perched at half-mast around my pale legs and the jacket hanging over my skinny frame like Chanel had come to Tollcross via Remnant Kings.
I was a bit of a sight but of course I also had an innate belief in my own fabulousness and was Teflon-coated enough to ignore the ridicule. The wonderful delusions and conceit of youth!
At the time I didn’t care about college much – I was more worried about The Tube TV show coming to Edinburgh to film some clothes I’d made, while fretting about whether I could afford another Nice ‘n Easy hair colour from Boots before Jools Holland and his camera crew set foot on Scottish soil.
My mother was ultimately so horrified by my TV debut that she taped a horror film over the VHS tape of it.
Back then a career could wait for adulthood or maturity, whichever came first. And it did wait – a long, lean time – until 1985, when I fell into a job in the music industry the way a drunk falls into a ditch, happy to have found a bed for the night. I’m still there 36 years later.
I think the minute you stop pushing and pulling to get something in life is when things fall into place.
Happenstance is a great thing, although of course that’s easy to say at the age of 61 when many of my major choices in life have been made and proven to be just fine.
To say I believe in fate is an understatement – that’s why I’m amazed I’ve run a successful business for 10 years; gross margins and dividends don’t really respond to fatalism and tarot cards.
Despite having no ambition my career soared – or at least it didn’t often drop from the fluffy white clouds of success.
I met some amazing people and travelled the world. I ate a lot and was permanently drunk or hungover to the extent that it seemed like a normal life.
PR – my business – is predicated on getting on with people, and food and booze were a fast track to friendship and mutually beneficial working relationships.
Many a feature on an upcoming pop group was nailed over that fifth bottle of wine in my office at EMI’s legendary Manchester Square (the building where the Beatles AND the Sex Pistols were photographed).
My office was the late night bacchanalian after-party venue after a nice expense-account dinner at a local Marylebone restaurant, and if the booze in my fridge ran out at 1am then time differences and deadlines meant that EMI’s international department would always be open late for business and partying two floors above.
At 3am we’d roll into one of the fleet of taxis waiting outside, having done our jobs, helped to make money and had fun. I remember once attending a book launch for Scottish polymath and Skids frontman Richard Jobson, whose publication was called 16 Years of Alcohol, thinking then that 16 years on booze was a very scary idea.
The music industry was to teach me that a 16-year drinking span was actually for lightweights, and just part of the sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle that became the norm.
Food played its part in the life of a busy PR in that it served as a beacon of coolness (London was booming in the “greed is good” 1980s and your choice of restaurant venue said as much about you as the pockets of your trousers and your expense account).
Food was often a diversion from the wine and the banter, an expression of how au courant you were and also necessary fuel for roaring engines fired up by the thrills and spills of the fast lane.
Yet it was travel abroad that changed my view on food. I’d never been on a plane until I got my job at EMI – the furthest our family went on holiday was to Butlins in Ayr.
Abroad was both another country and something others did. I was so naive that the first time I flew with a journalist he had to show me how to fasten the seatbelt. I was 25.
After this shaky start I learned quickly – greatly helped by EMI’s very generous travel policy. I might not discover the joys of business class for a few years but I didn’t care about that when I was still excited that you could eat, drink and watch a film on a plane and no one could get to you or stop you.
Very soon the joys of sushi in Japan or salt beef in New York suddenly became as normal as going to the gym with Morrissey or having a curry with Yoko Ono.
A lot of my favourite meals during my career were with artists who I became friendly with and remain so today. Some lunches and dinners are more discreet than others, held at restaurants far from the media glare and the paparazzi lenses.
That they inevitably make me pinch myself afterwards – I basically get to eat, drink, chat and be a quietly respectful fanboy with someone I adore – is a feeling I hope never to lose.
Pet Shop Boys
Some of my favourite experiences have been with Pet Shop Boys who, as you might imagine, are incredibly entertaining and stimulating dining companions. Despite many memorable meals with Neil and Chris in Hong Kong, Los Angeles, London and Prague, my favourite memory is when we went to a place called the Applejack Diner in New York.
This is where Neil Tennant met the legendary producer Bobby O which, in some ways, could be seen as a pivotal episode in the history of the duo, given that Bobby Orlando then agreed to produce their first single.
Returning with PSB to this unassuming Broadway diner many years later proved both poignant and fascinating, especially when we saw that the diner had placed a commemorative photo of the duo on their wall. I can’t wait to return there in safer and happier times.
Another favourite meal was when Yoko Ono took a few of her gang to her favourite sushi restaurant in Tokyo and it was there I had some of the best sushi of my life.
We all asked Yoko to order for us and a succession of dishes arrived which really redefined Japanese food for me. Much of it was unknown and I do remember that some dishes were more challenging than others; I have a great photo of Yoko’s lawyer turning to me when an unidentifiable fish was brought to the counter and the look of abject terror mixed with bemusement on his face still makes me smile today.
Other fantastic meals with Yoko have included the brilliant homemade noodles in New York’s Honmura-An (sadly now closed, and still much-missed).
I would never have discovered this amazing, discreet place were it not for Yoko, who obviously knew New York and Japanese food inside out and thus was the perfect restaurant companion.
Some meals stick in the memory less positively and they tended to be ones where I was just part of a large group of people entertaining a musician visiting London from abroad.
While many of these were riotously enjoyable – I mean, how often do you get near enough to Tina Turner to pass the salt to her? – and some less so.
On those occasions the idea of dinner as a form of pleasure would dissipate slowly as the hours ticked interminably by and you longed to be at home with a microwave meal and a can of warm lager, willing that paint to dry.
The worst of these was with someone who I won’t name but suffice to say that this person just didn’t want to be in London, she didn’t want to meet the media and she definitely didn’t want to bother being friendly to her record company.
Nevertheless we all gamely grouped together one night to celebrate the release of her record, at the end of a day when I’d had to take every journalist aside before meeting this woman to warn them: “Don’t attempt to be her friend, don’t attempt any jokes and get your important questions in quickly because she will get bored quicker than a cat in a cat box.”
That the first journalist – my friend Nina Myskow, who gets on with EVERYONE – attempted a joke within seconds says as much for Nina’s optimism as it does for her bravery.
If ever a celebratory dinner could feel like living in an icebox I have to say that many decades later I’m not sure I have ever truly thawed.