What really happened? Why is Boy George singing along to an old Beatles single? Why has “horny” Nick Kamen joined Bananarama? What have the very dubious Sun “news”paper got to do with all of this? And who is Stephanie Lawrence??…
The Bizarre office inside The Sun building at Wapping is the place where a group of “journalists” sit around day in day out cobbling together a mixture of scandal and rumours for The Sun’s daily “pop” column. It isn’t exactly the first place you’d expect to find charitable thoughts of any kind. Over the years they’ve fought hard to earn a reputation for printing the most unscrupulous, unfactual and often hurtful pop music stories in Britain but on the afternoon of March 11 they had an idea that, for once, might do much more good than bad.
The previous Friday night, the ferry Herald Of Free Enterprise, leaving Zeebrugge port in Belgium, had overturned, killing nearly 200 people. Some of those were people taking advantage of a special offer in The Sun allowing them to make the crossing for just £1. Why not, suggested one journalist, organise a benefit record? Another—
The only problem here was that The Sun aren’t exactly on the best of terms with many pop stars. “By Thursday night,” whispered one of those involved, “they hadn’t got anything together. They were hopeless. They had Chas And Dave and a couple of other people. They said to me ‘we can definitely guarantee Stephanie Lawrence’. Who is Stephanie Lawrence?”
Exactly. Luckily a few other people chipped in. Boy George was persuaded through his brother David, a Fleet Street photographer. The producers got people like Bananarama and Mel & Kim, while Music Box, the European Cable TV station joined forces and roped in most of the other big stars who eventually turned up.
More and more people gradually agreed to get involved, even though it proved a bad move printing a phone number for celebrities to phone in and announce their participation. Within hours they’d had “Eddie” Bon Jovi phoning reverse charge from Southend and someone with a Brummie accent saying they were “Prince”.
On Saturday morning its all quiet outside PWL Studios in South London. The one smart fib in The Sun reports over the last couple of days had been to suggest that all the recording would happen that Sunday. Consequently there’s only a couple of fans hanging about as most of the main stars come and go. Level 42’s Mark King is first, shooting over to thwack his bass and sing a bit directly after Saturday Superstore, before most people are even out of their slippers. He’s supposed to be followed by Boy George but, as usual, he’s late. Or, fret all the people from The Sun starting to look a bit despondent, maybe he’s not coming at all. Instead Mike Peters from The Alarm arrives, followed by Keren and Sarah from Bananarama (Siobhan is in Japan with Dave Stewart), and then Taffy and Nick Kamen. But still no George…
Finally he swans in at around three o’clock, to massive sighs of relief. “I was sleeping,” he laughs, “and anyway I didn’t think I was supposed to be here until three.” He smiles cheerily when it’s pointed out that people have been nagging him on the phone all day.
Quite. While he “readies” himself Nick Kamen is nominated as the third member of Bananarama and they swoop in to sing their bit. “It was really strange,” observes Sarah, “because we’ve never sung with a bloke before. He’s really pleasant though and we all had the same uniform on—
Nick Kamen meanwhile scrounges a toffee off someone (who then proceeds to swoon around delighted at the thought that she’d selflessly given her “last toffee to Nick Kamen”) and only looks slightly embarrassed when reminded that Boy George keeps going on about how “horny” he is. “Why not?” Nick smiles. “We’re good friends. I’ve known George for a long time.”
By now George is in the studio singing a huge long chunk of the first verse (he’s actually singing along to Paul McCartney’s original version—
I attempt to ask him a question but it all goes horribly wrong. “What, pray, does he think of the song?” is what I ask, but somehow he thinks I’ve said “what do you think of The Sun?”—
“I thought you said The Sun,” he cackles. “I wrap my fish and chips in The Sun! The song is really nice. I like Aretha Franklin’s version best. I was trying to put a bit more dirt into it than The Beatles version.”
And with that he goes downstairs and does an interview with Music Box in which he says what he really thinks about the “news”paper who announced about six months ago that he had eight weeks to live.
“Even this week,” he explains, “they did a story on me four times saying ‘back from the dead’ which just made me so upset. I was horrified. They can’t help themselves… they’re just nasty about everybody. Even when I’d come out of the house feeling really good they’d say ‘George is looking haggard and ill’. You can’t win.”
George obviously isn’t alone in feeling this way about The Sun. Everyone has been persuaded to go round wearing badges with ‘FERRY AID—
The last person to turn up tonight is Ben from Curiosity Killed The Cat. After complaining that the song is “too high—
Sunday morning and the crowds are out in force. Most of them are there for Boy George—
Soul singer Edwin Starr turns up to whoop and holler over one of Ben’s lines. Pepsi And Shirlie sing over some of what Andy Bell’s just sung while Jaki Graham bubbles round doing her bit, calling everyone “baby” all the time and making dreadful jokes with the cameraman as she sips her cuppa: “‘Let It Tea‘ ha ha ha”.
Soon there’s a motley crew of people who’ve arrived early for the six o’clock chorus and The Christians utterly ruin their “sour” reputation by leading people like Ruby Turner, Julie Roberts (from Working Week), Hazel O’Connor, “Drum” Theatre and so on through gospel singalong versions of “Lean On Me” and “Let It Be”.
From here on, it’s complete and utter chaos. Not only do most of the main stars reappear (Boy George is standing outside the men’s toilet being interviewed by Simon Bates and explaining that he exercises by “jogging round my gold discs”) but there’s an almost unbelievably “odd” selection of people—
Eventually the downstairs basement is ready and everyone is led in and positioned on a platform just as if it was a school photograph being taken.
Suddenly they’re off and running through chorus after chorus conducted by producer Pete Waterman. Doubtless because he’s the most famous person there, the moving film camera above their heads keeps swooping in on Boy George, to his obvious annoyance. A couple of times he gestures very rudely indeed in its direction—
Everyone runs through their parts a few more times, the B-side is made up on the spot thanks to some improvised “gospel” singing, and then the producers decide to call a halt to what has been a very long day.
Arriving back in the studios on Monday afternoon everything is quiet again. Gone are the crowds of minor celebrities, the sandwiches and bagels, the empty beer cans and cigarettes, the singing in the corridors. Continue »
Indeed, everyone seems much fonder of the squealiness which Gary Moore has just dribbled all over the song. There’s only three more singers to come now. Paul King is coming this evening and will, rather unfortunately, cover up half of Boy George’s part. Mel & Kim are just about to whip up a few harmonies but first in is Kate Bush.
Everyone had given up hope that she’d ever appear but she phoned that morning and explained the only reason she hadn’t been there earlier was because she’d been ill over the weekend. It’s obviously rather an ordeal for someone like her—
Later that afternoon everyone sits round in the TV room discussing what to do with the record. No one from The Sun is there and consequently they come in for quite a lot of stick. The sleeve, for one thing, has been announced in The Sun as a picture of the overturned Ferry with The Sun Zeebrugge Fund written in huge letters beneath and its with great relief that everyone now hears that the producers have persuaded them to change it. “Next week,” says one of them, “now The Sun has shot its bolt, it won’t be The Sun‘s Ferry Aid—
And so, over the next few days, it slowly turns out.
The finished version is played on Tuesday. The video, including Paul McCartney’s contribution which he filmed on his own £30,000 camera at home, is finished by Saturday and by Monday the records are in the shops. The next Tuesday “Let It Be” by Ferry Aid enters the charts at Number One.
Mark O’Toole (Frankie Goes To Hollywood):
“It’s important because it could have been anybody’s friends on the ferry. We’ve just finished a tour and all our crew have come across on the ferry so it’s close at heart. The only reason ‘Let It Be’ is a good song is because everyone knows it and everybody will buy it. And because it’s the only song I can play on the piano. I don’t think it says much about what went on though.”
“I think the record can raise a lot of money but it’s not going to bring anyone back. I do half the solo—
Mel & Kim:
“We cancelled a TV show in Frankfurt to be here. It’s a tragedy and the least people could do with is a bit of support to get back on their feet financial-wise. The song’s the perfect song—
“I flew back from Stockholm last night to be here. This can’t make up for what happened but if we can raise money then at least that might do something for the people involved. Singing with Bananarama? It was nice.”
Ben (Curiosity Killed The Cat):
“I think it’s worth doing the record if it’s going to make anybody more alert in their jobs and not be so blasé, do you know what I mean? It might be boring closing the doors as they leave port—
Pepsi & Shirlie:Continue »
Pepsi: “We heard about it while we were on holiday together in Marbella—
Shirlie: “I suppose it’ll give some compensation and I hope the people affected will feel some warmth from it, from the fact that all these people are helping them. Money can be very cold at times.”
“I watched the disaster on Breakfast Time—
“I think everyone feels they could have been on the ferry—
“I didn’t think, when I heard, that this was a good thing to do. Making a record wasn’t the first thing that sprang to mind. I was very upset by what happened and I didn’t think it was appropriate to sing about it. I’m doing it because I’ve been told the families need the money but I feel very strange about it.”