Orson Welles once famously said: ‘We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone.’ I’ve always lived by a variation on that: we’re born alone, we die alone — but in between we fool around.
Being good-looking when I was younger was, I have to say, a great advantage. So was being known as ‘busty Dana Gillespie’ though it got a bit tiresome when critics wrote more about my 44 in boobs than my latest single.
It sounds bizarre now, with everyone so uptight and politically correct, but there were no rules back in the 1960s. I was making records before I was old enough to smoke or drink — even singing on David Bowie’s breakthrough Ziggy Stardust album — and as this was the glorious Sixties, making love was all part of the scene.
Back then, the way you met people was that you slept with them. Back then, it wasn’t such a big deal to sleep with someone, and I was lucky to have spent time with Bowie, Bob Dylan and Mick Jagger among others.
I had a lot of fun with rock stars, but I’d never have dreamed of marrying one. When they were touring, they had girls, coke, drink, drugs, adrenaline rushes and more girls, in a different hotel every night — so how could a guy be expected to stay faithful?
These men were my friends first and foremost. But I’m not making excuses for what I got up to as I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s; I lived life to the full, loved every minute of it. I never let myself be exploited, and nobody ever forced me into anything I didn’t want to do.
Singer Dana Gillespie, pictured, seduced Bowie at 15. Now she reveals that the bed-hopping didn’t stop there in this year’s most scandalous memoir…
The #MeToo movement doesn’t mean d*** to me, because I grew up having to deal with guys who used to flash me or grope me and I never took these kinds of things terribly seriously.
I never left a meeting with some over-enthusiastic record producer, thinking that my life was ruined. I just thought: this is what guys do, and you’ve got to get on with it. Sometimes you fought them off; sometimes you didn’t. I wasn’t that bothered.
The first time I met Bowie, I was still a pupil at Francis Holland school in London’s Sloane Square — a short walk from my parents’ five-storey house in South Kensington.
I’d had a privileged childhood: ballet classes, piano and pony-riding lessons, skiing each year at Klosters — later Prince Charles’s favourite resort.
It was in Klosters that I lost my virginity to a ski instructor at 13 — the same year that I also took up water-skiing, and rapidly became the British junior waterski champion, a title I held for four seasons.
My interest in watersports soon fell by the wayside, however, when I discovered the joys of the Marquee Club in Soho — and that meant late nights, great music and boys. Thank God I had parents who were quite open-minded about letting me stay out late.
I was particularly taken by the lead singer in a support act called Davie Jones And The Manish Boys. The most striking thing about him was his hair; it was shoulder-length and lemon-yellow, with a sort of Veronica Lake cut.
When I was 15, one night I was standing at the back of the club brushing my waist-length peroxide-blonde hair when the singer approached me from behind. He took the brush from my hand, started pulling it through my hair, and asked if he could come home with me that night. Of course I said Yes.
That’s how I met Davie Jones, who would later change his name to David Bowie.
We walked to my house, where I smuggled him past my parents’ bedroom and up to the top floor. I did briefly wonder how I was going to explain his presence to my parents in the morning.
We landed up in my single bed, and messed around a bit sexually. In the morning, I had to go to school, so I needed to get him down past my parents’ bedroom and out of the house. My mother and father must have heard us because they both appeared on the landing.
Straight away, I introduced my visitor by saying, ‘This is David’, upon which David shook hands with my father and then trotted off. My father told me afterwards that he thought I’d had a girlfriend with me, because of the long hair.
English pop star David Bowie with singer Dana Gillespie, May 17, 1971. Gillespie met Bowie when she was 15 in a club, when Bowie approached her to brush her hair
It only occurred to me later that David had really just needed somewhere to stay, as it had been too late for him to get home to Bromley in Kent. But from then on, he often used to spend the night with me.
Sometimes, he’d invite me to go to whatever gigs he was doing. Or he’d pick me up from school, which caused a bit of a stir among my friends, and carry my ballet shoes as we walked back to my home.
Often, we’d meet in the Gioconda Cafe in Denmark Street, where all the publishing companies were. At that time, neither of us really saw ourselves as performers; what we both wanted was to have our songs published.
Once, David asked me to his home in Bromley, where he lived with his parents. It was a small terraced house, and I’d never been anywhere like it before. I was amazed at how small their living-room was. It had three armchairs in it, all facing the TV, with little bits of material on the back to soak up the Brylcreem his father put on his hair.
After offering me tuna sandwiches, David’s parents just sat there in silence, looking rather miserable. David told me later that — whatever happened — he was going to leave that life behind.
My own parents never objected to me bringing a boy home. They more or less let me do anything I liked; I was treated like an adult and trusted to do the right thing.
Dadster, as I called my father, was a radiologist and freemason, but he wasn’t exactly conventional. When he acquired a 21-year-old mistress — Lorna, the granddaughter of the Earl of Buccleuch — he suggested to my mother that Lorna move in with them.
It may sound an odd arrangement, but it worked. He and Lorna had the bottom half of the house, while my mother — who soon married again — moved into the top half with her new husband, the Hon. Thomas Hazlerigg.
As for me, I shifted to the basement, which I decorated in orange and black, with Oriental hangings, red lights and permanently burning incense. There was a sofa bed where friends could crash and a bathroom with a big sofa where they sat chatting while I bathed.
One of the best things about the house was that it was within three minutes’ walk of two really good music clubs, so it became a popular meeting place for musicians, including Ronnie Wood and members of the Kinks.
Pictured: Lionel Bart, Dana Gillespie and Keith Moon ‘Who’s Who’ exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, August 1, 1978
Meanwhile, I’d met Donovan, who played guitar for me on my first recording — a folk song called Donna Donna. I sang it on the pop programme Ready Steady Goes Live in 1965, a month after my 16th birthday.
Soon after that, I supported The Hollies, then riding high in the charts, on some of their concerts in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk. I had a bit of a fling with Hollies guitarist Tony Hicks (and an even shorter one with singer Graham Nash).
Another lover was the Who drummer Keith Moon. After appearing in an unmemorable film together, we went to a hotel room where we had something of a horizontal marathon over the next couple of days. Typically, Keith managed to consume a great deal of speed.
He was the nicest sort of lunatic, a genuinely wild eccentric. When he was a bit the worse for drink, he’d bang on my front door, demanding to be let in. Sometimes, he’d just pass out; other times, we landed up in bed.
In April 1965, Bob Dylan embarked on his first concert tour of England. He was 23 and still performing folk songs at the time.
I’d just turned 16, and met him by sneaking into a press reception for CBS artists where we ended up chatting for about 20 minutes. There was definitely a spark between us, so I decided to gate-crash a reception for him at the Dorchester Hotel.
Unfortunately, two bouncers noticed me and their expressions suggested they were planning to throw me out. But just before they could do anything, Dylan spotted me and said: ‘Let her through — she’s with me.’
The next day, when I came home from school, my mother said somebody called Bob Dylan was on the telephone. I dropped everything and ran straight off to his hotel.
And there I stayed for the next few days. In the early hours, I’d slip out of Dylan’s bed and sneak back home before my parents woke up.
It wasn’t what you’d call a proper love affair, and I understood I might never see him again. But when he came back to London again, in 1966, he called me.
Star appeal: Dana with actor Dudley Moore, the entertainer, in 1980
Again, we spent a lot of time together, often just chatting for hours. There were nights when The Beatles or the Stones would drop into his hotel, mostly just to hang out, smoke cannabis and play their newest tracks.
Once, The Beatles brought their ladies with them: Cynthia Lennon, Jane Asher, Maureen Starkey and Pattie Boyd. The boys went into Dylan’s bedroom, where they had quite a party, drinking wine and smoking dope. The girls sat quietly outside, obviously thinking, ‘What the f*** are our men doing?’ They weren’t invited in to share a joint.
On Dylan’s final night in London, an impromptu departure party landed up in my basement. It was packed with rockers, among whom was Rolling Stone Brian Jones and his girlfriend Anita Pallenberg.
Eight years later, I was booked to sing in New York and went to the venue to do an afternoon soundcheck. There, I saw what looked like the back view of a tramp who was buying a ticket for that evening’s show. When he turned round, I realised it was Dylan.
We arranged to meet after my performance, and Dylan turned up outside my dressing room, saying: ‘Can you tell Dana that Robert Zimmerman is here to see her?’
The guy at the door clearly didn’t recognise him. ‘I don’t care if you’re Bob f***ing Dylan, you can f*** off,’ he said.
And that was that until 1997, when Dylan asked for me to be the opening act on his British tour. Two days before it started, I found him standing on my doorstep.
We spent the next four hours together, Dylan lying on my sofa drinking fennel tea while we swapped stories and reminisced about the old days. I asked how many children he had and he said he wasn’t sure, but he thought seven or eight.
When I asked why he’d contacted me after all these years, he said it was because he’d seen a good review of one of my blues albums, and this had jogged his memory. It had reminded him how nice I was, he said.
Most of my relationships in those days were a case of ‘mates with benefits’. One lover was Bowie’s guitarist Mick Ronson; another was Jimmy Page, a session musician on one of my albums who later became the guitarist in Led Zeppelin.
I also had an interesting interlude with an actor following a party in Mayfair. At some point during the party, the doorbell rang. Standing there was Michael Caine, who gave me a passionate kiss and said: ‘Let’s get out of here.’
Michael Caine, with whom Gillespie had a passionate ‘interlude’ following a Mayfair party
He took me to a flat in Grosvenor Square, and we remained horizontal for 48 hours. What can I say? He used to be known, accurately, as the Mr Stud of London.
Then there was Sean Connery, who I met through my gay friend Lionel Bart. The Canary, as Lionel called him, would often come round to my basement to borrow books. Of course, once Sean got there, he didn’t just look at books — but at least he was between wives at the time. We remained friends for years; he’d meet me in London occasionally when he was on his way to Spain or Hollywood.
In the early 1970s, David Bowie would often come by to tell me about his latest conquests or newest ideas for songs. He also introduced me to the American woman who became his first wife.
I instantly hit it off with Angie, who was sassy, loud, feisty and funny. All three of us jumped into bed together, which may sound pretty outrageous but that’s how it was then. There was nothing serious about it; it just felt like a good way to break the ice.
Angie and I had many adventures together, some of which she graphically described in her autobiography. Her recollection isn’t quite the same as mine — for instance, contrary to what she says, we weren’t lesbian lovers.
OK, we did end up in bed together more than once, but it was always when David was there as he was the kingpin. We all ended up living together in New York in 1974, in a huge suite at the Sherry-Netherland Hotel. Angie never minded if I slept in David’s bed because we were best friends — ‘so what’s mine is yours’.
Mick Jagger would often come over when he was in town and then duet with me on the piano till dawn while David played his guitar. I may have had a bit of a fling with Mick — but who didn’t sleep with him back then? Unlike Angie, though, I don’t believe that Mick ever had sex with David.
In the early 1980s, my life changed after I read a book about an Indian guru called Sathya Sai Baba. Until he died in 2011, I regularly travelled to his ashram in India.
As one of the main sayings at the ashram is ‘Love all, serve all’, I became a volunteer at the Royal Marsden Hospital, around the corner from where I lived. I also learned enough Sanskrit to record several albums of Bhajan [devotional] music. It was time to move on to higher things. Yes, I enjoyed partying when the London scene was at its wildest — but I now feel much more fulfilled.
At 71, I’m still recording, still doing gigs, still getting a buzz out of it all. I’m also quite happy sitting quietly, sewing a tapestry and knowing that I have lived an amazing, charmed life.
n Adapted by Corinna Honan from Weren’t Born A Man by Dana Gillespie, published by Hawksmoor on January 18 at £24.99. © Dana Gillespie 2021. To pre-order a copy for £21.99 (offer valid to December 6, 2020, free UK P&P), go to mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3308 9193.