Virgin on the ridiculous…
PICTURE IT, 50 years hence… “Tell us what you did on that maiden voyage again, Gran… you know, how you met Grandad in the galley after your fourth bottle of free bubbly, joined the Mile High Club and helped them use 50 per cent more fuel ‘cos everyone kept agitating the plane…”
Well, not my grandchildren, of course, but could I tell a few tales. So the Branson Binge is already the stuff of legend: oh, what a circus. The maiden voyage of Virgin Atlantic Airways was a media megalig, the first non-stop 7½ hour transatlantic champagne party, divine decadence at 35,000 feet.
Following the disappointing noshow of Boy George (Tokyo bound), anxious hacks pondered the possible guest list and vile rumours circulated about them only managing one Flying Picket and a box of used Human League records. Then someone spotted ex-Thunderbirds puppet Gary Numan, heralding well-worn ‘hope he’s not flying the plane’ jokes. Then they wheeled the VIPs out onto the tarmac: David Frost (he wasn’t flying), Clement Freud, and the rentaface crowd: Suzanne Danielle, Bonnie Langford, Una Stubbs, Christopher Biggins and Katy Rabett. Then along ambled a flatcapped, bemused Holly Johnson, the sight of whom prompted the Fleet St corner to pose the question “Who’s that bloke in the mac?”
Aboard the tasteful red grey and white 747, the pop latecomers piled on: Steve Strange and Jenny Belle Star, Phil Lynott, Sandie Shaw, Kate Garner and Paul Caplin.
Switching into the entertainments channel through elegant Walkman style headphones, our very own Gal Crowley could be heard a-spinning a selection of his current faves. Music videos got screened for anyone who could still see, and the movie (ho ho) was ‘Airplane II’.
Drunken cheers rent the cabin as the plane touched down in Newark and Steve Strange had already made plans for clubbing it till dawn. Phil Lynott had lost his passport for the third time, and ex Miss World Mary Stavin was seen running around looking for a man (not George Best, presumably). Holly and his friend looked wide-eyed and as excited as little boys at Butlins.
On the bus, Holly cheered and admitted to being scared. He calmed down when he saw a few boys in shorts but wouldn’t put his hand out of the window ‘in case somebody chops it off or shoots it’.
Much later, Steve got his opportunity to show off his clubcrashing technique at the pretentious Limelight club, a converted church at which one must be hand-picked to enter.
There we bumped into Stray Cat Brian Setzer and his new wife, a blonde Barbie doll in a stetson.
Saturday, and Holly troops off with the Haysi crowd for a bit of sightseeing. Steve sleeps it off but the whole crew musters itself in the evening for the next Virgin freebie; a big meal at the Cafe Americain. Katy Rabett posed girlishly with Holly and Steve; Fleet St hacks started cutting each others ties off; you know the sort of thing.
Thence en masse to The Area, where tonight’s human tableau is a man behind a glass screen contemplating a large blank red jigsaw. A midget Santa offers plastic rings to the ladies. The VIP crew roll in fresh from a Keith Haring party; Holly was still trying to find somebody (anybody) who has met Lou Reed. He’s desperate to meet Uncle Lou. But he had to make do with the charming August Darnell, and Yello’s Dieter Meier. Phil Lynott and Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickenson searched in vain for a safety pin… (heavy metal!)
There were two places Holly was determined to visit when in NY: The Saint (legendary gay club) and Paradise Garage (legendary hip hop hangout). At the former, not even Steve Strange’s gift of the gab could persuade the bunch of misogynists to let in Jenny BS and legendary NY nightpersons Anita Sarko and Diane Brill. “Women can’t come in wearing skirts and high heels,” the clones chorused. Holly retired, hurt and disgusted.
Braving hordes of black jive-talkers outside the Garage, us honkies attempted a guest list blag but failed miserably, rushing for the sanctuary of the Danceteria. Here, Holly at least got an introduction to Suicide’s Alan Vega before he and Steve disappeared into a dubious section of the club called ‘The Pigpen’.
If it’s Sunday, there must be another Branson Beano. And yes, t’was on an antique ferryboat moored off Edgwater, New Jersey, where more conspicuous consumption took place and Jenny Belle Star had the pleasure of seeing Sandie Shaw’s bare feet at first hand. Somehow everyone got back to the airport and only the hardy perennials could bear the thought of yet more free bubbly, which there undoubtedly was. And yes, the plane did get struck by lightning. It was terrifying. Perhaps it was the wrath of God, reminding us what happened to the Romans when they started fiddling…
Betty Page (H.I.C.)