Daily Mirror - Saturday 29th June 2002


By Richard Wallace

DAVID BOWIE has been the foremost pop chronicler of an apocalyptic future for 30 years. So when the two jet airliners scythed into the Twin Towers six blocks from his New York apartment on September 11, the carnage which ensued had a particular resonance for the rock superstar.

As this unreal horror unfolded, Bowie was in upstate New York, putting the finishing touches to his new album.

But his supermodel wife Iman - clutching the couple's baby daughter Lexie - was at home, watching with incredulity from their living-room window as the World Trade Center burned.

"I was up the road in Woodstock while Iman and Lexie were at home," recalls Bowie. "It was incredibly traumatic, one of the nastiest days of my life - especially for the family. I think everyone thought the world had just gone mad. As soon as it happened, my wife and I were on the phone to each other. I saw what was happening on the news and I immediately phoned her and said: 'My God.'

"She said she was standing at the window, feeding the baby, saying: 'I can't believe what happened.' She didn't see the first plane go in but was watching the aftermath. The Twin Towers were right in front of our apartment.

"While we were talking on the phone, the second one went in and she said: 'Oh my God, another one has gone.' I said: 'You are under attack get the f**k out of there.'

"It was so obvious what was happening. She ran around the house putting important stuff into the baby's pram and then legged it up the road for about 20 blocks.

"Iman is a very fit woman - she does aerobics and all that - and she ran straight uptown as far away as she could and got to a friend of hers.

"But the worst thing was the phones went down and we lost contact. The police put barricades round the city. Nobody could get in or out, and it was just a horrendous feeling of being cut off.

"I didn't speak to her until the night-time. I was in a right state. I just had no idea if she and Lexie had got out. It was so, so horrifying."

LIKE all New Yorkers, Bowie is jittery about the almost daily warnings of fresh terror attacks.

"It will be interesting to see if the city clears out on July 4, which is being touted as a date for another attack," he says. "I've told my lot to get out and go the country. It's not good."

Bowie, 55, is in Britain for his first live show in two years after a stately five-day voyage from New York aboard the QE2 (he hates flying and welcomed the chance to watch a pile of obscure black-and-white European and Japanese movies on DVD).

Whip-thin, easygoing and with a firm handshake, he bounces into the room on the balls of his feet, like a boxer entering the ring. "Is this real coffee?" he asks, throwing off the jacket of his brick-brown linen suit and sniffing the tray of hotel silverware suspiciously.

His dander is up. The new album Heathen is a hit, his Meltdown arts festival on London's South Bank has won rave reviews and he's excited about playing in front of a home crowd at the Royal Festival Hall tonight.

Heathen's subject matter echoes the chaos and anxieties in the aftermath of 9/11. "It's the beginning of an end, and nothing has changed. Everything has changed" is the opening line, but Bowie is quick to point out that the songs were written before that fateful day.

"I've also written about fear, anxiety, isolation and abandonment, but I do see an extraordinary synchronicity between some of the lyrics and what happened, which I think was the culmination of things that have been happening for a long time," he says. "That general anxiety that people feel these days.

"The album's more about a common feeling of spiritual loneliness, I guess - a certain time of isolation that we tend to feel in these times.

"We see now that the chance of something really catastrophic happening has become more and more possible. The odds have lessened. The world has always had the ability to cull itself, mainly by war. Now we have the means to kill vast numbers of people in one go - and that's a terrifying situation.

"There's nothing to learn from history. As we've repeatedly shown. We're not willing to learn. We've slipped straight back into what we usually do - we've fallen for a religious war."

So are we all doomed? "Oh no," he laughs. "I'm not a nihilist, it's just more positive to live each day as it comes along."

The focus of that process is clearly his wife and daughter. His son Duncan - famously born Zowie Bowie - is now a 30-year-old London-based film-maker whom he brought up single-handedly from the age of six. Or tried to. "It was so difficult for him," Bowie says.

"He had a young man with ambition as a father, which was really, really tough on him. I was just never off the road, so it was hard for him not having a dad around. I want Lexie to be my priority, to spend as much time as possible with her. I turned down a world tour this year because of her.

"I have a degree of protectiveness that may not have been there in quite such an acute way before the events of last September.

"I think you're always hoping, in the back of your mind, that a new child is not going to face something really catastrophic."

He's also conscious of growing older and being around for his daughter.

"How long have I got left?" he wonders. "That's the saddest thing in the world, because you have this realisation that everything you love you're going to let go of and give up.

"I look at Lexie and think there's going to be a point when I'm no around for her. The thought of that is truly heartbreaking. It makes me fearful for the future."

ALL Bowie's addictions are now long gone - apart from coffee. He has even quit his legendary 60-a-day ciggie habit. He spars three times a week at his local gym to keep in shape. "Smoking was just something I did all the time and I got really fed up with it controlling my life," he says.

"I probably wouldn't have made a conscious effort to live more healthily until Lexie came along. I wanted to be there for her - to be able to run out in the garden with her." So is he going to be the stern, Edwardian-style father?

"Yes, pretty much. I don't like lethargy and slothfulness. I get really pissed off when people don't know what to do with themselves. There's always a book, there's always something to do. I want to instil a sense of curiosity.

"My wife and I take turns playing with her. I read aloud to her a lot, we're very hands-on. "Lexie has enormous energy. She's an absolutely extraordinarily vital child. And incredibly social."

Bowie's marriage to Iman has been instrumental in keeping him "very even-keeled and quite buoyant as a person these days."

He still remembers the date of their first meeting - October 14 1990 - and apart from a few spats in their first year he insists he can't recall them ever having a row. He cites falling in love with her as one of the three key moments in his life (the other two were joining Lindsay Kemp's dance troupe, where he discovered his talent for theatricality, and the day he decided to quit drink and drugs).

Iman has also helped him cope with a lifelong battle with depression, an illness which has blighted the lives of some of his closest family.

He says quietly: "The emphasis on instability which has dogged my life and my own personal feelings of instability make me focus more than the average on looking for some sense in all this.

"I'd love to believe in something. But I can't. I won't. Really, we're just animals. Very few people can say: 'I love humankind.' You have a possibility of loving your immediate family and maybe widen that to a few friends, but that's it. I certainly had a personality crisis because of the catastrophe of drugs addiction and its aftermath.

"I used to slip easily into deep, deep depressions, really manically depressed. I'd then swing the other way and become incredibly euphoric. I wasn't in control of it at all.

I OFTEN get pangs of isolation and all that, particularly in the very early morning, but it doesn't haunt me as such any more."

Until he met Iman he suffered from terrible shyness from childhood. "I was a kid that loved being in my room reading books and entertaining ideas," he recalls. "I lived a lot in my imagination. It was a real effort to become a social animal.

"That's why I loved drugs so much. On drugs, once you started talking you never stopped - whether there was anybody with you or not! And you'd wake up with a very sore jaw.

"Now I don't have a problem going to dinner with people. I always refused before, because I didn't know what to say and I didn't think I was terribly interesting."

Although he hasn't lived full-time in Britain for nearly 30 years, Bowie is still very English. The South London accent betraying his Brixton birthplace still very much intact.

"I get back here a few times a year," he says. "I miss my friends here and it's nice to catch up with gossip - the Americans just don't have gossip like we do. But I've never wanted to become an American. Nearly everything I buy or wear is European.

"Yes, I've been quietly domesticated, which is quite a major change for me. I used to like living in different countries. But I enjoy our life together so much now that it doesn't really matter. New York's fine."

He's quietly amused that his friend Mick Jagger has been knighted. What about Sir Dave? Bowie chokes with laughter.

"I think they'd be better off giving it to somebody who would look after it more," he grins. "I might tend to give it away to somebody who really wanted it. I don't think I'm a very good choice.

"But do you know what? I'm not sure what on earth it would add to my life that I haven't already got.

"I have no regrets about anything. You can't. All you can do is improve the life you're living right now."

- David Bowie plays Lancashire County Cricket ground, Manchester, on July 10.