Evening Standard - 20th November 2003

I've beaten vices thanks to my daughter

He is free from fags, booze and drugs. But clean-living David Bowie admits that staying that way will still be hard work in 30 years' time

Scene and Heard

By Tim Cooper

In a very small, very hot and incredibly tidy dressing room in the bowels of Le Dome in Marseille, the rock star who pioneered internet technology by establishing his own service provider is having a spot of bother with his computer. "I think the server's gone down," mutters David Bowie gloomily. "I can't even send an email."

He has just been trying to contact his wife and child in New York using some kind of high-tech camera-operated device called I-chat and it's all gone pear-shaped. Quite unlike Bowie himself, who looks implausibly trim, fit and healthy at the age of 56, despite having just missed a show in Toulouse due to throat trouble.

Dressed in his clean-cut, college-kid, offstage uniform of white T-shirt and blue jeans, he pours himself a cup of tea and stretches out on a sofa beneath a window with a picture-postcard view of Marseille's old port. In fact it is a picture postcard: an illuminated photograph behind an artificial window frame. "Ridiculous, isn't it!" laughs Bowie.

He's in great humour, and even better voice when he takes the stage an hour later to play a magical two-hour set; perhaps as a result of giving up his last vice two years ago. Alcohol free for more than 15 years, drug-free for even longer, he finally kicked his 60-a-day cigarette habit after the birth of his three-year-old daughter, Lexi.

"It's hard," he grimaces. "And it's still going to be hard in 10 years." A self-confessed "addictive personality", he is now hooked instead on tea-tree flavoured toothpicks. He says he tries not to lecture others about their habit, though he recently took Kate Moss to task. "She's so young and smokes like a chimney," he protests. "And she's got such a gorgeous little body! It needs protecting."

Assuming his days of wild bisexual experimentation have gone the same way as the fags, booze and white powders, it's perhaps no surprise that Bowie should call his latest tour, and album, Reality. Although intended as an ironic, questioning comment on the uncertain state of the world today, it's also an appropriate description of his current clarity after 35 years of constantly shifting personas.

The latest incarnation seems to have lifted the naturally gloomy temperament that Bowie says is reflected in many of his lyrics. "I can be fairly gloomy, but as a parent, it's not something I can wallow in. Maybe in the past I allowed myself to get gloomier than I needed to be, and it did turn out to be good fodder for writing. I'm not too much like that any more. But yeah, gloom is my default attitude I suppose.

"I have to make a conscious effort sometimes to lift myself out of it. Which I do, successfully." He laughs self-consciously. "So I don't really believe it can be termed any kind of medical problem."

Yet his happiness is tainted by the absence of his nearest and dearest while on tour. "I miss my family tremendously," he admits. Back at home in downtown New York - his only home, contrary to some reports - he has a strict routine, rising around dawn and attending to his correspondence before a vigorous sparring session in the boxing ring.

It's a fitness regime he keeps up on tour with his personal trainer. "I'm a fairly disciplined man," he says. "I don't cut corners. And I can see that it really pays dividends to have put in a fair amount of training before going on tour." The laughter lines appear around his eyes. "I mean, at 56 it's not as easy as when you're twenty-something."

His home life, too, is a far cry from those distant days of excess. Away from the tour circuit, Bowie describes himself as a homebody. Rather than go out to restaurants, he likes to eat meals cooked by his wife Iman while Lexi watches Disney videos or plays with daddy David. It's a routine that includes a traditional English fry-up every Sunday morning - a "little bit of England," he says.

A former model from Somalia, Iman has a $1 million contract as the face of diamond company De Beers and runs her own cosmetics company with a team that includes Zulekha, her 25-year-old daughter from a previous relationship with American basketball player Spencer Haywood (Bowie has a 32-year-old son, Duncan, ne Zowie, from his 1970 marriage to American actress Angie Barnett).

About once a month the Bowies host a dinner party: not a society affair, but a private gathering of around 20 friends, followed by a "screening" - usually a documentary or a comedy like The Office. "Hosting a dinner party is almost a profession in New York," Bowie observes disapprovingly. "We just do it for our really close friends."

That circle of close friends includes near neighbour Lou Reed, whom he has known since the start of his career, as well as another neighbour, Moby, of whom he is famously fond. "But there are very few musicians among my friends," he adds. Most, in fact, are people he has only met since setting up home with Iman, whom he married in 1992.

It must be hard, one imagines, to make new friends - real friends - when you are an internationally famous superstar surrounded by sycophants. Not least because there must be an ever-present fear that any new friendship might be exploited or betrayed for gain by selling stories to the press. Bowie insists he is not concerned by such thoughts.

"I'm not a terribly suspicious person," he insists. "But it's funny you should say that because I've recently got friendly with a father and his little boy I met in the park with my daughter. He's there every single weekend and we really buddied up to each other. But we've only talked about music twice in all that time."

Yet their initial encounter demonstrated the gulf that fame can create when it comes to forming new relationships with "ordinary" people. "The first time we started talking, he said: 'I would never have thought I'd find you in a park.' And it kind of upset me: why wouldn't you believe that I would take my own daughter out? But," Bowie sighs wearily, "I suppose that's the impression that one has of celebrity.

"It's about how you want to live your life, isn't it? I certainly don't want to live it in the full glare and I want to be able to go where I want to go in an anonymous fashion. Which is where my baseball cap comes in. I've found that, if I hide the hair under a cap I somehow become almost invisible. I blend in so much with the rest of humanity it makes me feel almost normal!"