David Bowie travelled from London to Whitehaven in Cumbria on 2 January 1968, ahead of his appearance in Lindsay Kemp’s mime production Pierrot In Turquoise.
Travelling with Bowie and Kemp were the play’s third performer, Jack Birkett (a blind performer also known as the Great Orlando), costume designer Natasha Kornilof, pianist Michael Garrett, and stage director Craig San Roque and his wife. Kornilof, the only licence-holder, drove the rented Transit van for the 270-mile journey.
The musical had opened at Oxford’s New Theatre on 28 December 1967, and on 3 January 1968 began the first of three consecutive nights at the Rosehill Theatre in Moresby near Whitehaven, Cumbria.
There were just three performers in Pierrot In Turquoise: Kemp in the title role, Bowie as Cloud, and Birkett as Harlequin.
The costumes were designed by Natasha Kornilof, who would work with Bowie on several occasions throughout the 1970s. Bowie became the lover of both Kemp and Kornilof during his time working on Pierrot In Turquoise, a situation which threatened to derail the entire production. The off-stage drama began after the troupe arrived at their sparse lodgings.
After covering the last part of the journey to Whitehaven on roads deep in snow, the entire company was lodged in a freezing cold farmhouse with uneven floorboards and thin plaster walls. David spent the early part of their first night there with Kemp, who had a four-poster bed. Then he slipped away.
‘I remember that he said, “I won’t be long”,’ Kemp recalls. ‘I nodded off and then I heard voices, what shall I say, noises, coming through that old farmhouse wall. When I went out, Natasha’s room was across the way, and his shoes were lying on the floor outside her door. It’s horrible to wake up when you expect someone to be there and they’re not, they’re wrapped up in bed with some woman, and then you hear the music coming through the wall.’
Peter and Leni Gillman
Also on this day...
- 1974: Recording: The Astronettes
- 1966: Live: David Bowie and the Lower Third, Golf-Drouot, Paris, France
Want more? Visit the David Bowie history section.