Mick Jagger’s 80th: why The Stones inhabit my heart and soul and always have done

Mick Jagger at Hyde Park last year (pic by Phil Hewitt)Mick Jagger at Hyde Park last year (pic by Phil Hewitt)
Mick Jagger at Hyde Park last year (pic by Phil Hewitt)

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It’s pretty much impossible to put into words what The Rolling Stones mean to me, but maybe one gruesome moment gets closer than any other to summing up just how much they inhabit my heart and soul and always have done.

Weird things go through your mind when you think you’ll be dead in a couple of minutes – things that sum you up completely. I was stabbed, beaten and kicked in a vicious mugging in South Africa seven years ago. You can read about it in my book Outrunning The Demons (available here). As I lay on a Cape Town pavement, watching the blood pool around me (there was a lot of it), fighting the urge to shut my eyes, I found myself thinking “So that’s that, then.” And with that thought came the consolation: “At least I am wearing my favourite Rolling Stones T-shirt.”

It mattered in that moment – just as the Stones have mattered all my life and mattered hugely. Thank goodness, I survived. I was rescued by a pizza delivery driver and whisked to hospital. And that T-shirt, a present from my daughter Laura, has been my protection ever since. I mean, you’d have to be seriously unlucky to get stabbed twice while wearing exactly the same T-shirt, wouldn’t you?

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And naturally I am wearing it today – in celebration of Mick Jagger’s 80th birthday. And of the fact that I am still here quietly to enjoy it. What a man, What a performer. What a superstar. And I wore it just over a year ago, amidst tens of thousands of people, when I stood utterly transfixed in Hyde Park staring at a tiny dot in the distance – a dot fizzing with such energy that you could barely keep track of it as it beckoned, swayed, cajoled, gyrated, entranced and hypnotised.

That dot of course was Mick Jagger, forever prancing, dancing, goading, weaving and enticing – a performer of immense power who knows precisely how to use it. I remember thinking at the time “Wow, he’s nearly 79”. My knees were aching from too much running; and I was wearing a very pirate-like eye patch applied in A&E the day before after I tumbled into a prickly bush during a bit of misjudged pruning. I was a wreck. I felt 80. No, nearer 90. But Jagger was a shooting star on that stage, whizzing this way and that, the ultimate mesmeriser, the ultimate showman. It was as if he held every single one of us in his hand.

Of course, there were the big screens either side of the stage if you wanted the full detail of the performance, but it was the buzzing dot on the horizon that held us captivated. And what songs Mick and the band sang on a poignant day, their first London gig without long-time drummer Charlie. But it was light-hearted too. With Macca playing Glastonbury that weekend, with Elton John on stage nearby and with the Stones themselves reigning supreme in Hyde Park, Jagger joked from the stage that this was a great weekend for the young hopes in the music biz – those dreaming of bright careers ahead of them. It was a lovely moment, lovelier by the second as Mick, Keef and Ronnie then showed us quite why, even after 60 years, absolutely no one can hold a candle to the Stones at their best. And boy, they really were at their best on this blissful night in Hyde Park, a venue so rich in resonance for them down the decades in a city which has always been absolutely their own.

I first saw the Stones 40 years before to the very day at Wembley on their 20th anniversary tour – and it felt uncharted territory even then. No band had been going at that level for 20 years back then. And blimey, we were watching men in their late 30s rocking their socks off. I was convinced I was watching them for the very last time at my first very possible opportunity. How fabulous to be so outrageously wrong. Fast forward exactly four decades, and wow. Just wow – seeing them for the tenth time. The years have enhanced their standing, but most amazingly of all, the years have left them totally, utterly undimmed in their power and glory – as they showed at Hyde Park last year.

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It was over in a flash. A Jumping Jack Flash. But what a memory – just as fabulous as the first time I saw them, Friday, June 25 1982, one of those days that, even as I lived it, I knew I would remember in glowing, radiant detail for the rest of my life. It was the last day of my A-levels, and my brother, then a medical student in London, had managed to get us tickets to see The Stones at the old Wembley stadium. Barely had I added the final Punkt to my German translation than I was on the train to London, ready to be enveloped by the weirdest, most heart-warming experience. This was 1982, remember. The Stones weren’t the national treasures they are today, our country’s favourite grandfathers. Back then, you were met with scorn and sympathy (For The Devil?) if you dared confess to liking them.

But as my brother and I hared it towards Wembley, the crowds grew thicker with every step, Jagger look-alikes and wannabe-Keefs everywhere around us. Ensconced in the stadium, Mick, Keith, Ronnie, Bill and Charlie were like the world’s most powerful magnet drawing their people, Stones people, towards them. A magnet indeed. And it was sheer magnetism we got. Jagger is an astonishing performer, electrifying, dazzling, intoxicating, capable of thrilling to the bone 80,000 people while making each and every one of us think that this is for me and me alone. Happy Birthday, Mick! Satisfaction doesn’t even begin to describe what you have given us all.