By Ray Connolly
19th July 2008
He's a collision of contradictions. The most outrageous, sexually
ambiguous, tantalising rock singer ever who has spent 45 years
consorting with a gang of druggie musical outlaws and pursuing
legions of beautiful, rich girls, is also a keen cricket fan who runs
his business with a penetrating grip on finance and his band's tours
with a rod of iron.
And, though once considered an anti-Establishment rock 'n' roll
pariah, he's now a knight of the realm, an occasional film producer,
and a keep-fit fanatic.
He is, of course, Mick Jagger, the leader and de facto manager of the
most famous surviving rock group in the world, the Rolling Stones.
Next Saturday, the street-fighting man who was once a spokesman for
rebellious youth will be 65 - an old-age pensioner.
So what's he really like, this father of seven and grandfather of
three who is believed to be worth more than £225million?
Well, he's certainly conservative when it comes to the upbringing,
education and christening of his children.
He's also world renowned as a freespirited lothario, whose long
innings of beautiful conquests includes Carla Bruni, now the wife of
the President of France, Marianne Faithfull, Carly Simon, Chrissie
Shrimpton, Marsha Hunt, Anita Pallenberg, Bebe Buell, Luciana Morad -
not to mention ex-wives Bianca Jagger and long-suffering Jerry Hall,
and latest lover, model L'Wren Scott. And countless others.
In many senses Mick is a self-creation who always appeared to see
future trends before everyone else, whether it be the commercial
potential of R'n'B music, free love (he was always good at that - but
then he did practice a lot), student revolution, or, later, the
pioneering of massive global rock tours.
He never had the best voice in the world, indeed the beginning, he
and other members of the Stones wondered whether it was strong enough
for a front man. But what Mick did with his voice was extraordinary
A clever mimic in conversation, he began copying American blues
singers and then added a kind of faux, mocking Cockney dialect -
quite different from the understated middle-class accent he'd grown
up with at his grammar school in Dartford, Kent.
The welding of the two was inspired. It gave all those brilliant
Rolling Stones records, that whole generations still love to dance
to, an insolent edge.
I first became aware of Jagger - though I didn't properly meet him
until later - in the spring of 1963 when we were both students at the
London School of Economics.
In those days it was pretty well unthinkable for a university student
to be in a group, rock music being generally associated in academic
circles with those of distinctly lower intelligence.
So when this slight, pale, ordinary-looking bloke with a fringe was
pointed out to me as being in a band who played in a club in
Richmond, two things struck me.
One: he didn't look anything like a rock star. Two: he obviously
didn't care what anyone thought of him.
History would prove he didn't have to care what anyone thought of
him, because soon they would begin to think like him. As for his
looks, they would eventually define the appearance of all rock stars.
The world was changing with incredible speed and Jagger was already
ahead of it. As I graduated that year, he dropped out. In those days,
that was brave, a real risk to any hopes of a career. But within six
months the Stones had their first record, the Chuck Berry song Come
On, in the charts.
Arriving in the public eye on the coattails of the then goody-goody
Beatles, the Rolling Stones, guided by their first manager Andrew
Loog Oldham, courted controversy.
Outraging conventional opinion sold records and tickets, Oldham
explained, as he carefully manufactured the group's wickedly mutinous image.
It was a lesson Jagger would never forget. More than that, it
provided a persona he would grow into, as he targeted the
increasingly turbulent Sixties generation to which the Stones
appealed. When the group first appeared on television, the station
received hundreds of complaints, thanks to their wild performance.
Soon restaurants refused to serve them because of their
well-publicised bad behaviour, and when the band toured the world,
allegations and exaggerations about Jagger's act became international
Whether it was his deliberately provocative burlesque performances,
the cheekily explicit lyrics to some of the Stones' early hits, such
as Satisfaction and Let's Spend The Night Together, or the nationally
rumoured and merrily denied, positioning of a certain Mars Bar, his
name quickly became a synonym for everything louche and decadent
among the young.
That's pretty well how it stayed, as comedians began to mimic him -
Freddie Starr most brilliantly - cartoonists charted his every new
controversy, and young men and other stars were jealous of both his
appeal to women and his mesmeric, overtly sexual presence.
Every year through the rest of the Sixties, Jagger upped the ante of
suggestiveness, until by 1969 he was stripping to the waist, pulling
off his studded belt and lashing the floor like some crazed S&M
fetishist as he sang Midnight Rambler. Audiences went wild.
'They say he wears a codpiece under his pants on stage,' John Lennon
told me at the time, giggling. Lennon, who was just as much an
exhibitionist in his own way, would never have stooped to what he
probably considered pantomime antics, but Jagger amused him. Perhaps
Lennon envied Jagger's unembarrassed sex appeal, too.
What the Stones were developing was a different kind of rock 'n'
roll. Built around the fey, ever running, dancing, prowling,
extraordinarily physical Jagger, the whole lighting and staging of
rock concerts began to change.
With his exaggerated make-up and pouting, Jagger was into glam rock
before David Bowie even started.
Interestingly, although The Beatles and Stones would often meet in
nightatclubs throughout the Sixties, their social circles were quite different.
While the Beatles proclaimed their Northern working-class backgrounds
(Lennon exaggerating his), Mick Jagger became a social climber.
Soon, dressed like a Regency buck, with Marianne Faithfull looking
like a pre-Raphaelite wraith at his side, he moved into what could
best be described as hippy aristocrat territory.
His father, Joe, had been a PT instructor who'd used the teenage Mick
(called Mike then) in promotional films for television, demonstrating
rock climbing and canoeing. 'I was thinking I was a star already,'
Jagger would say later. 'Never mind the bloody canoe, how does my hair look?'
But now Jagger was hanging out with millionaire socialites such as
Princess Lee Radziwill, Jacqueline Kennedy's sister.
Then there was the gang around Lord Harlech's groovy, fashionable
children, the Ormsby-Gores. Soon Jagger was developing a taste for
grand, old houses, living in early 18th century Cheyne Walk in
Chelsea for a while, making an album in a French chateau.
Although he was making a lot of new money, old money and
international celebrities attracted him and were attracted to him.
And when he married Bianca, in St Tropez in 1970, the bride was
escorted down the aisle by Lord Lichfield.
I was there for the carefully stage-managed occasion, as reporters
and TV crews waited around the swimming pool in the same hotel for
several days, wondering why the wedding kept being postponed.
What we didn't know was that the steel Jagger had shown three years
earlier, with the sudden ousting of the hopelessly druggy guitarist
Brian Jones from the Rolling Stones, had re-emerged as he insisted on
a prenuptial arrangement with his bride.
He was always canny with money.
As the music scene changed in the Seventies, few groups from the
previous decade survived. Not so the Rolling Stones.
Although guitarist Keith Richards and Jagger, old friends,
songwriters and co-partners in the running of the group, would always
teasingly bitch about each other - they still do - the band didn't
break up, it just changed some of its members now and then. And with
the absence of The Beatles, the Stones got bigger than ever.
Already in charge of their own destinies - their last manager, Allen
Klein, having been sacked, and now guided by Prince Rupert
Loewenstein, a City financier - they set about re-inventing
themselves with their own label, Rolling Stones Records.
Now they were even more outrageous, with the cover of their album
Sticky Fingers, designed by Andy Warhol, showing a zip-fly on a pair
of jeans, presumably supposed to be Jagger's. The logo for their new
company was a lascivious tongue hanging out of plump Jagger-type lips.
Sex and rock 'n' roll was the message they were selling, and Brown
Sugar, the album's best track, was the anthem.
But while Keith Richards seemed happy with his guitar and other
pastimes, and neither Bill Wyman nor Charlie Watts had much say in
things, Jagger was at the centre of all decisions. In the first
decade of the Stones' careers, they felt they'd never earned as much
as they should have, early record deals not being overgenerous.
But ironically, after the hits began to dry up in the Seventies and
Eighties, the millions they made from touring never ceased to
multiply. Fans, now older and richer, may not care to buy their new
records, but everyone wants to see a Rolling Stones concert.
As always Jagger has been the prime mover behind them. A talented
guitarist Keith Richards might be, but the notion that the Stones
could have survived without Jagger at the helm, overseeing every
aspect of their franchise, every part of those vast, extravagant
arena stages, with the exploding blizzards of glitter and firework
displays, is unthinkable.
Quite whether there will be any more tours, following Ronnie Wood's
recent fall from grace back into the bottle and teenage Russian
Lolitas, might now be uncertain.
For sure, Jagger won't be happy. People with a lot of self-discipline
- before every tour he runs miles each day in order to get fit -
rarely look kindly on those with less.
Indeed, the story goes, despite the Stones' reputation for illegal
substances, any member of the road crew found taking drugs while on
tour faces instant dismissal.
The Stones always looked to many like a band of gipsies - and as
their fame grew that's pretty well what some of them became. Leaving
Britain for tax purposes, they seemed to be forever moving countries.
This was particularly true of Jagger. According to his younger
brother, Chris, he had always wanted to be rich, and gradually Mick
became a serious property owner, buying a chateau in France, with
homes in New York, Mustique, Long Island and Los Angeles.
For the years he lived with, and then married Jerry Hall, he had a
huge family house in Richmond, just outside London, where Jerry and
their children still live. He now flits peripatetically between an
apartment in London and his other homes.
Years ago he was offered £2million by a publisher to write his
autobiography - but returned the advance when he realised he couldn't
remember a lot of what had happened.
Possibly with time on his hands, as he reaches pensioner status,
still the intelligent, articulate, tongue-in-cheek, well-read
sophisticate he's always been behind the bohemian mask of rock 'n'
roll, he'll have time to refresh that memory and savour some of the
peaks of his career.
The free concert in Hyde Park in 1968, for instance, just after the
death of Brian Jones, when, wearing what looked like a little dress,
Jagger read a poem by Shelley and released thousands of butterflies
as, his two current lovers, Marsha Hunt and Marianne Faithfull,
watched each other from the side of the stage and 250,000 fans
applauded wildly. That was some day.
Or the Prague concert in 2003 when the former president of the Czech
Republic, poet and hero of the Velvet Revolution, Vaclav Havel,
introduced the Stones saying how under communism they had been 'the
messengers of freedom', as he and other young people had found ways
to get their banned records.
It can't be bad to able to think of yourself as someone drew back the
Iron Curtain a little.
We all have an opinion of Jagger. Stones' drummer Charlie Watts once
told me he thought Jagger was the most interesting person he'd ever
known. I can believe that.
Considering Jagger's track record with women - there was always
something cheekily misogynist about him as evidenced in the lyrics to
Under My Thumb - many a mother may be grateful that her daughter
didn't marry a Rolling Stone. Certainly not that one, anyway.
Like Paul McCartney, he's a man who always has to be busy. Recently
he moved into film-making, being a co-producer of the movie Enigma,
based on the Robert Harris thriller.
He would, he says, like to do more intelligent British films, but
whether he'll be able to stifle his ego enough to be a team player,
as most film producers are, on a long-term basis will have to be seen.
Altogether he's a kaleidoscope of a man who found fame at exactly the
right moment and knew how to stretch it out and enjoy it.
If he hadn't dropped out of the LSE in 1963 he'd have been retiring
this year, perhaps as a professor of economic history. Certainly it
was a surprise when it became known that he was keen to become Sir
Mick Jagger, and when he did become a Sir he had to live with any
amount of ribald mockery from Keith Richards, not to mention shocked
fans and amused newspaper columnists.
Recently a friend of mine, Christopher Matthew, bumped into him at a
cricket match and reminded him of the time they'd met in 1964 when
the Stones were fledgling stars appearing at the Montreux Music
Festival. 'Did you know that in those days Montreux was reckoned to
be the gay capital of Europe?' Christopher asked him.
At which Jagger smiled rakishly and replied. 'Not on my watch, it wasn't.'