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The bugger, bugged

After a chance meeting with a former News of the World executive who told him his phone had been hacked, Hugh Grant couldn’t resist going back to him – with a hidden tape recorder – to find out if there was more to the story. . .

When I broke down in my midlife crisis car in remotest Kent just before Christmas, a battered white van pulled up on the far carriageway. To help, I thought. But when the driver got out he started taking pictures with a long-lens camera. He came closer to get better shots and I swore at him. Then he offered me a lift the last few miles to my destination. I suspected his motives and swore at him some more. (I'm not entirely sympathetic towards paparazzi.) Then I realised I couldn't get a taxi and was late. So I had to accept the lift.

He turned out to be an ex-News of the World investigative journalist and paparazzo, now running a pub in Dover. He still kept his camera in the car's glove box for just this kind of happy accident.

More than that, he was Paul McMullan, one of two ex-NoW hacks who had blown the whistle (in the Guardian and on Channel 4's Dispatches) on the full extent of phone-hacking at the paper, particularly under its former editor Andy Coulson. This was interesting, as I had been a victim - a fact he confirmed as we drove along. He also had an unusual defence of the practice: that phone-hacking was a price you had to pay for living in a free society. I asked how that worked exactly, but we ran out of time, and next thing we had arrived and he was asking me if I would pose for a photo with him, "not for publication, just for the wall of the pub".

I agreed and the picture duly appeared in the Mail on Sunday that weekend with his creative version of the encounter. He had asked me to drop into his pub some time. So when, some months later, Jemima asked me to write a piece for this paper, it occurred to me it might be interesting to take him up on his invitation.

I wanted to hear more about phone-hacking and the whole business of tabloid journalism. It occurred to me just to interview him straight, as he has, after all, been a whistleblower. But then I thought I might possibly get more, and it might be more fun, if I secretly taped him, The bugger bugged, as it were. Here are some excerpts from our conversation.

Me So, how's the whistleblowing going?
Him I'm trying to get a book published. I sent it off to a publisher who immediately accepted it and then it got legal and they said, "This is never going to get published."
Me Why? Because it accuses too many people of crime?
Him Yes, as I said to the parliamentary commission, Coulson knew all about it and regularly ordered it . . . He [Coulson] rose quickly to the top; he wanted to cover his tracks all the time. So he wouldn't just write a story about a celeb who'd done something. He'd want to make sure they could never sue, so he wanted us to hear the celeb like you on tape saying, "Hello, darling, we had lovely sex last night." So that's on tape - OK, we've got that and so we can publish . . . Historically, the way it went was, in the early days of mobiles, we all had analogue mobiles and that was an absolute joy. You know, you just . . . sat outside Buckingham Palace with a £59 scanner you bought at Argos and get Prince Charles and everything he said.
Me Is that how the Squidgy tapes [of Diana's phone conversations] came out? Which was put down to radio hams, but was in fact . . .
Him Paps in the back of a van, yes . . . I mean, politicians were dropping like flies in the Nineties because it was so easy to get stuff on them. And, obviously, less easy to justify is celebrities. But yes.
Me And . . . it wasn't just the News of the World. It was , you know - the Mail?
Him Oh absolutely, yeah. When I went freelance in 2004 the biggest payers - you'd have thought it would be the NoW, but actually it was the Daily Mail. If I take a good picture, the first person I go to is - such as in your case - the Mail on Sunday. Did you see that story? The picture of you, breaking down . . . I ought to thank you for that. I got £3,000. Whooo!
Me But would they [the Mail] buy a phone-hacked story?
Him For about four or five years they've absolutely been cleaner than clean. And before that they weren't. They were as dirty as anyone . . . They had the most money.
Me So everyone knew? I mean, would Rebekah Wade have known all this stuff was going on?
Him Good question. You're not taping, are you?
Me [slightly shrill voice] No.
Him Well, yeah. Clearly she . . . took over the job of [a journalist] who had a scanner who was trying to sell it to members of his own department. But it wasn't a big crime. [NB: Rebekah Brooks has always denied any knowledge of phone-hacking. The current police investigation is into events that took place after her editorship of the News of the World.]
It started off as fun - you know, it wasn't against the law, so why wouldn't you? And it was only because the MPs who were fiddling their expenses and being generally corrupt kept getting caught so much they changed the law in 2001 to make it illegal to buy and sell a digital scanner. So all we were left with was - you know - finding a blag to get your mobile [records] out of someone at Vodafone. Or, when someone's got it, other people swap things for it.
Me So they all knew? Wade probably knew all about it all?
Him [...] Cameron must have known - that's the bigger scandal. He had to jump into bed with Murdoch as everyone had, starting with Thatcher in the Seventies . . . Tony Blair . . . [tape is hard to hear here] Maggie openly courted Murdoch, saying, you know, "Please support me." So when Cameron, when it came his turn to go to Murdoch via Rebekah Wade . . . Cameron went horse riding regularly with Rebekah. I know, because as well as doorstepping celebrities, I've also doorstepped my ex-boss by hiding in the bushes, waiting for her to come past with Cameron on a horse . . . before the election to show that - you know - Murdoch was backing Cameron.
Me What happened to that story?
Him The Guardian paid for me to do it and I stepped in it and missed them, basically. They'd gone past - not as good as having a picture.
Me Do you think Murdoch knew about phone-hacking?
Him Errr, possibly not. He's a funny bloke given that he owns the Sun and the Screws . . . quite puritanical. Sorry to talk about Divine Brown, but when that came out . . . Murdoch was furious: "What are you putting that on our front page for? You're bringing down the tone of our papers." [Indicating himself] That's what we do over here.
Me Well, it's also because it was his film I was about to come out in.
Him Oh. I see.
Me Yeah. It was a Fox film.
[A pause here while we chat to other customers, and then - ]
Him So anyway, let me finish my story.
Me Murdoch, yes . . .
Him So I was sent to do a feature on Moulin Rouge! at Cannes, which was a great send anyway. Basically my brief was to see who Nicole Kidman was shagging - what she was doing, poking through her bins and get some stuff on her. So Murdoch's paying her five million quid to big up the French and at the same time paying me £5.50 to fuck her up . . . So all hail the master. We're just pawns in his game. How perverse is that?
Me Wow. You reckon he never knew about it?
Him [pause] I don't even think he really worried himself too much about it.
Me What's his son called?
Him James. They're all mates together. They all go horse riding. You've got Jeremy Clarkson lives here [in Oxfordshire]. Cameron lives here, and Rebekah Wade is married to Brooks's son [the former racehorse trainer Charlie Brooks]. Cameron gets dressed up as the Stig to go to Clarkson's 50th birthday party [NB: it was actually to record a video message for the party]. Is that demeaning for a prime minister? It should be the other way round, shouldn't it? So basically, Cameron is very much in debt to Rebekah Wade for helping him not quite win the election . . . So that was my submission to parliament - that Cameron's either a liar or an idiot.
Me But don't you think that all these prime ministers deliberately try to get the police to drag their feet about investigating the whole [phone-hacking] thing because they don't want to upset Murdoch?
Him Yeah. There's that . . . You also work a lot with policemen as well . . . One of the early stories was [and here he names a much-loved TV actress in her sixties] used to be a street walker - whether or not she was, but that's the tip.
Me and Chum MLTVA?!
Me I can't believe it. Oh no!
Chum Really??
Him Yeah. Well, not now . . .
Chum Oh, it'd be so much better if it was now.
Him So I asked a copper to get his hands on the phone files, but because it's only a caution it's not there any more. So that's the tip . . . it's a policeman ringing up a tabloid reporter and asking him for ten grand because this girl had been cautioned right at the start of his career. And then I ask another policemen to go and check the records . . . So that's happening regularly. So the police don't particularly want to investigate.
Me But do you think they're going to have to now?
Him I mean - 20 per cent of the Met has taken backhanders from tabloid hacks. So why would they want to open up that can of worms? . . . And what's wrong with that, anyway? It doesn't hurt anyone particularly. I mean, it could hurt someone's career - but isn't that the dance with the devil you have to play?
Me Well, I suppose the fact that they're dragging their feet while investigating a mass of phone-hacking - which is a crime - some people would think is a bit depressing about the police.
Him But then - should it be a crime? I mean, scanning never used to be a crime. Why should it be? You're transmitting your thoughts and your voice over the airwaves. How can you not expect someone to just stick up an aerial and listen in?
Me So if someone was on a landline and you had a way of tapping in . . .
Him Much harder to do.
Me But if you could, would you think that was illegal? Do you think that should be illegal?
Him I'd have to say quite possibly, yeah. I'd say that should be illegal.
Me But a mobile phone - a digital phone . . . you'd say it'd be all right to tap that?
Him I'm not sure about that. So we went from a point where anyone could listen in to anything. Like you, me, journalists could listen in to corrupt politicians, and this is why we have a reasonably fair society and a not particularly corrupt or criminal prime minister, whereas other countries have Gaddafi. Do you think it's right the only person with a decent digital scanner these days is the government? Whereas 20 years ago we all had a go? Are you comfortable that the only people who can listen in to you now are - is it MI5 or MI6?
Me I'd rather no one listened in, to be honest. And I might not be alone there. You probably wouldn't want people listening to your conversations.
Him I'm not interesting enough for anyone to want to listen in.
Me Ah . . . I think that was one of the questions asked last week at one of the parliamentary committees. They asked Yates [John Yates, acting deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan Police] if it was true that he thought that the NoW had been hacking the phones of friends and family of those girls who were murdered . . . the Soham murder and the Milly girl [Milly Dowler].
Him Yeah. Yeah. It's more than likely. Yeah . . . It was quite routine. Yeah - friends and family is something that's not as easy to justify as the other things.
Me But celebrities you would justify because they're rich?
Him Yeah. I mean, if you don't like it, you've just got to get off the stage. It'll do wonders.
Me So I should have given up acting?
Him If you live off your image, you can't really complain about someone . . .
Me I live off my acting. Which is different to living off your image.
Him Yeah, but you're still presenting yourself to the public. And if the public didn't know you -
Me They don't give a shit. I got arrested with a hooker and they still came to my films. They don't give a fuck about your public image. They just care about whether you're in an entertaining film or not.
Him That's true . . . I have terrible difficulty with him [points to pap shot of Johnny Depp]. He's really difficult. You know, I was in Venice and he was a nightmare to do because he walks around looking like Michael Jackson. And the punchline was . . . after leading everyone a merry dance the film was shot on an open balcony - I mean, it was like - he was standing there in public.
Me And you don't see the difference between the two situations?
Chum He was actually working at this time? As opposed to having his own private time?
Him You can't hide all the time.
Me So you're saying, if you're Johnny Depp or me, you don't deserve to have a private life?
Him You make so much more money. You know, most people in Dover take home about £200 and struggle.
Me So how much do you think the families of the Milly and Soham girls make?
Him OK, so there are examples that are poor and you can't justify - and that's clearly one of them.
Me I tell you the thing I still don't get - if you think it was all right to do all that stuff, why blow the whistle on it?
Him Errm . . . Right. That's interesting. I actually blew the whistle when a friend of mine at the Guardian kept hassling me for an interview. I said, "Well if you put the name of the Castle [his pub] on the front page of the Guardian, I'll do anything you like." So that's how it started.
Me So, have you been leant on by the NoW, News International, since you blew the whistle?
Him No, they've kept their distance. I mean, there's people who have much better records - my records are non-existent. There are people who actually have tapes and transcripts they did for Andy Coulson.
Me And where are these tapes and transcripts? Do you think they've been destroyed?
Him No, I'm sure they're saving them till they retire.
Me So did you personally ever listen to my voice messages?
Him No, I didn't personally ever listen to your voice messages. I did quite a lot of stories on you, though. You were a very good earner at times.

Those are the highlights. As I drove home past the white cliffs, I thought it was interesting - apart from the fact that Paul hates people like me, and I hate people like him, we got on quite well. And, absurdly, I felt a bit guilty for recording him.

And he does have a very nice pub. The Castle Inn, Dover, for the record. There are rooms available, too. He asked me if I'd like to sample the honeymoon suite some time: "I can guarantee your privacy."

-- Listen to the audio now --

This article first appeared in the 11 April 2011 issue of the New Statesman, Jemima Khan guest edit

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Jon Bon Jovi on Trump, Bono, Bieber — and the agony of his split with Richie Sambora

"I should have cancelled but there was not a chance in hell. The shit I went through on that last tour. I have earned this grey hair."

 

 

It’s something unheard of in the modern PR junket, but Jon Bon Jovi interviews are running early. Breaks have been built into his day but he doesn’t want them. He’s somewhere in this suite at the Savoy Hotel in central London: remnants of black tea steam in a delicate china cup next to a recently vacated chair. Soon his compact frontman’s frame appears in the doorway, stomach flat as an ironing board – and to my dismay it becomes apparent that this will be a sunglasses interview. They’re removed just once, 30 minutes in, for a weary pinch of the nose.

It’s been a terrible three years. “Turmoil”, as he put it, to Jo Whiley the previous afternoon during a three-minute chat at an album launch. He didn’t get time to say why but everyone knows. His compadre Richie Sambora – partner for 30 years, co-writer of their four No 1s, fellow New Jersey boy and guitarist in one of the biggest bands in the world – is gone: he stopped showing up for work in 2013 and now tours the world with his girlfriend in an act he describes as “Sonny and Cher on steroids”. Jon, who has played to 32 million people, launched a new album cautiously with a string of gigs that could be described as boutique. Neither mentions the other on stage.

Other things went wrong for Jon Bon Jovi. The band fell out with their record label. And two years back, he tried and failed to buy the American football team the Buffalo Bills. He already had one team – and when it was rumoured he would move the Bills from Buffalo to Ontario, Canada, there was uproar. Whole areas of the struggling city declared themselves “Bon-Jovi Free Zones”. His music was banned from bars and strip clubs. It must have been painful for the man who’s spent 30 years, like a kind of blockbuster Springsteen, reflecting the blue-collar worker in the American musical psyche. He and Richie’s biggest hit, “Livin’ on a Prayer”, followed the fortunes of a young couple during the union strikes of the Reagan era. Fans debated whether the song’s fictional Tommy was a strike-breaker. “No, no, Christ no. He just lost his job – it wasn’t that he crossed the picket line!” said an anxious Jon in 2009.

In discos, dives and weddings across the planet, floors still fill to his anthems’ opening bars. From the philanthropy career (he builds homes for low-income families) to his campaign work for Al Gore, John Kerry, Obama and both Clintons, Jon Bon Jovi has been a model citizen. He spent two years on the White House Council for Community Solutions, which, he assures me, actually “meant we had to show up for meetings and do things”. He has said, however, that he’d never go into politics full time “because 50 people hate you before you’ve even walked out the door”. He called it a “shit job”.

“No,” he qualifies. “They asked me who had the better job, me or Bill Clinton. I said me, because I get to keep the house and the plane.” So he’ll never run for office. What about Springsteen?

“Bruce isn’t a politician,” he says. “Bono is more of a politician than Bruce.”

He stands up and moves across the room, throwing open the floor-length windows that look out over the Thames. Tour boats are moving up and down the river, and he’s been bugged by a particular one all morning – someone is singing through a Tannoy in a high, male voice. “Did you hear that? At first I thought it was someone falling off the bridge. I thought it was someone jumping. Heh heh.” His gloominess is strangely performative.

“Here’s my take on Trump,” he says, getting back to work. “The one demographic he’s currently leading in is the white, older, somewhat educated male. That demographic are coming from a place of disappointment and fear. Fear because they don’t know where their pot of gold went. Disappointment because they have now realised the American dream isn’t going to happen.

“Hillary has to embrace the voices of the Sanders millennials who are resolved to the fact that they are not going to own a home or have two cars, but are very concerned about the environment and their own futures. The Trump demographic, they’re probably non-believers in global warming because they’re uneducated and they’re not paying attention. With regard to the Republican candidate, I wish there were a better mouthpiece to speak up on behalf of those people.”

When Jon Bon Jovi was 26, he was hurt by a review that made fun of his inspirational music, which celebrated the simple values of loyalty and friendship and, as the writer put it, appeared to believe in Rocky Balboa running up the steps in Philadelphia. Then Jon had a realisation: “I live that life,” he said. “If I went to Washington tomorrow I could probably meet the president. I was Rocky.” The American dream happened for him.

Rock’n’roll was not an impossible fantasy for the son of two ex-marines growing up in Sayreville, New Jersey. “Thirty miles south from where I lived is this beach town [Asbury Park] that Bruce was able to make famous – the biggest places he could play at that time were literally a 3,000 seat theatre. He made the unattainable accessible.”

In 1973 the state of New Jersey lowered the drinking age from 21 to 18, largely to allow soldiers returning from Vietnam the right to purchase alcohol. He says the new drinking age helped him break into the music scene. “At 16 or 17 I could get into bars and play.” His parents were supportive, he explains: “They said, if you’re going to be in a bar until three in the morning, at least we know where you are.” Like most of his peer group he had no college aspirations. His cousin Tony ran a recording studio in Manhattan where – sweeping floors, like a hair-metal Kris Kristofferson – Jon was able to cut some demos. He got a record deal at 20: “Then it got a little bigger, and a little bigger until it got to the place where I am, and no one had dreamed of that.”

Like any good Italian boy, when he started making money, he tried to put a bit back. He bought expensive things for the family – such as holidays and cars. He warned them about a trip to Italy a year in advance so they could plan time off work. How long did it take his family to get used to their son having more money than them?

“They didn’t get used to it,” he says grumpily. “They still aren’t happy with it. They’re still resentful of it sometimes. They were like, of course I want it – then they got it and they were like, I hate this f***ing house. Really? You don’t have to stay here. . .” At several points in our conversation, he slips into imaginary dialogues.

“We weren’t the first and we’re not the last. Elvis did it 50 years ago and I’m sure that Harry Styles did it two years ago. It’s a confusing time when you become that guy and have the ability to share with your family the fruits of your labour. People think that money makes you smart. It doesn’t. It makes you rich.”

His cousin Tony sued the band, claiming he’d had a part in developing their sound. His brother – another Tony – worked within the touring entourage in the early days. “Two of my brothers, actually,” he corrects. Are they still employees?

“Yes and no . . . Sorta . . . Anyway."

***

It’s not fashionable in the UK to talk about your rock band as a business. Sambora once explained that Bon Jovi “created 42 markets” by touring 42 countries. “I think you’d be hard pressed to get someone to even f***ing name 42 countries,” he added. In 1989, they were guests of honour in Gorbachev’s Russia. I ask Jon to recall his experiences of this historic moment. I can see his eyes through his shades and he’s staring into the middle distance.

“Records were still on the black market – even having a list of the records you owned could get you put away. The hotel rooms were definitely bugged. The bottled water was very salty and the meats were dried.”

He is starting to enjoy this. “The entire Aeroflot fleet had glass noses so they could be converted at any moment into military aircraft. And they didn’t have brooms. They’re trying to sweep out the stadium on the first night, and it was a bunch of sticks tied together. I’ve not been back since.”

Jon Bon Jovi sees himself – as his bandname would suggest – as “the CEO of a major corporation”.

The group is not, and has never been, a democracy. Once, the band’s curly-haired keyboard player, Dave Bryan, was asked whether this bothered him and he said, “I’m semi-bothered about it but not enough to ruin my life. You can’t fight City Hall.”

Jon says it’s the Henry Ford theory of management: someone’s name has to be at the top of the paper. However, the group’s appeal was always a double act – that brittle romance between lead singer and guitarist that lies at the heart of many classic rock bands, from Mick and Keith, to Steve Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith, who may grow to loathe each other but stay together for the sake of the songs. Sambora – multi-instrumentalist and a flamboyant guitar hero – explained his role in the band like this, in 2009:

“I’ve always had it in my head that the success of our band was going to be our leader being very, very happy – and I tried always to be there for him as a friend, and from a musical level, and from a business standpoint. If I can help Jon be in a great mood as much as possible, I’m going to do it and that’s what I’ve put on myself as a responsibility.”

Jon, who is clean-living, and Richie, who is not, kept it going for a long time. In the early 1990s, Bon Jovi nearly split but were saved by group therapy at the hands of the psychologist Dr Lou Cox, who runs a company called EgoMechanics in New York.


Brittle romance: Richie Sambora with Jon Bon Jovi

“It was fabulous,”says Jon. “We got the idea from Aerosmith. He wasn’t like Brian Wilson’s guy [the svengali Eugene Landy]. He got his hourly fee and he left.”

I called Cox at home: he was a kind, avuncular voice on the end of the phone. He told me he made Bon Jovi act out their feelings for one another: “I would have them be angry at each other in a kind of role play, just to find out they could do it safely and not kill each other.” He talks about family dynamics being laid down early – certain prohibitions against “speaking up”. And about the honeymoon phase in the life of a major rock band “when they are literally in love with each other . . . Then you have your first fight and the air goes out of the balloon. How do you manage, going forward, when it isn’t all wonderful feelings?”

Cox describes the relationship between Bon Jovi and Sambora as “such a strong bond, and such a painful one in the unravelling of it”.

They have not spoken in three years. On 3 April 2013, Sambora failed to turn up to a concert in Calgary because of alcohol problems. Jon donated £100,000 to Calgary’s homeless to atone for his partner’s behaviour. Richie was told, sources claimed, to clean up or get out (he was also told, in the source’s words, to lose his “stream of Hollywood bimbos”). So he got out. And the turmoil began.

“Would you like a cup of tea or a glass of water?” he says. He stalks out of the suite and returns with a cup of green tea and a cup of black tea in two more fine china cups. Then, standing above me, he executes a strange stretch, arms above his head, and says, a deep yawn in his voice, “I’m sorry. You were saying. Turmoil and stuff...”

The cover of his new album, This House Is Not for Sale, the first he’s ever recorded without Sambora, depicts a striking black-and-white photo of a gothic house with colossal roots going deep into the soil.

“The house is a metaphor for my band and my life. This big, proud, rock of a stone house with deep roots that’s in disarray. It’s tired, it’s beat up – this was symbolically me. Milk and sugar?”

Did he think, when Richie left, that Bon Jovi would end?

“Absolutely not. In all deference, God bless my friend Richie, there was never a question. No. No. We wrote some great songs together, and I love the guy, and our voices together were absolutely magic. But there is a very definitive line between wanting somebody in the band and needing somebody in the band.” Ouch.

What about the mechanics of physically writing songs without him?

“It’s of no consequence to me. I have either written or co-written every song we have ever done. There’s never been a question of: am I able. I’ve written No 1 songs on my own [the theme from Young Guns II]. I know how to do this. There is no question that I know how to write a song.”

It is part of the business plan of all the biggest rock bands to stay together –

“–I know.”

– no matter what –

“– I know. And you know something? It is beautiful to be in a band when you are a young man. But when the day comes that you choose not to share your art any longer, then, amen! I’m OK with it!”

But he’s not finished.

“The circumstance was what jarred. The WAY that he did it. Nobody saw ANYTHING coming – unfortunately for us, we had to play that night. He COULDN'T show up. The guy that filled in the last time Richie was in the rehab, I called him up and I said, do you still have that notebook with all the chord changes in? He’s been there ever since.”

In his younger years, he tells me, optimism was a “cloak I felt comfortable wearing”. He’d be so pumped with adrenalin, he once said the reason he couldn’t stand still on stage was that if he did, he’d soil himself. Does he still benefit from that kind of stage fright?

“I’m not scaaaaaaared . . .” he muses. “I’ve never been scared. I was so über-focused on wanting to be 101 per cent that you could probably drive yourself mad. But never fear. Life for me was never ever motivated by fear.”

What was the motivation?

Long pause. “The exuberance of youth gave me blinders,” he says. “But that exuberance could be perceived as cockiness, when it’s really just confidence. Not cockiness.”

Does he still have it?

“I don’t lack for confidence . . . No, wait. [Really long pause.] Maybe I do lack a little of my old cockiness. I should get a little more of that swagger back. I’m a little different now than I used to be.”

Shortly after Sambora’s departure, his drummer, Tico Torres, needed an emergency appendectomy before a gig in Mexico (“No big deal. I mean, we’ve got 100-plus people on the crew who had to be sent home for a couple of weeks but fine . . .”). The rescheduled date came around – and Torres had a gallbladder attack on the way to the airport.

“Imagine what was going through MY f***ing head,” he breathes. “Richie doesn’t show up, and then I turn around and there’s no drummer either? And it’s just me and Dave? I feel like I’m the monkey and he’s the organ grinder. God. F***!”

He sighs deeply. Then pushes on.

“Think of the backbone it took for me to play 12 stadiums like that. We were in Rio – and I was one night, and Bruce was the next night. But I was like, yeah, let’s f***ing go. I ain’t afraid of any band. And we went out there with a drummer from a cover band, and a guitar player that I barely knew, and I said, ‘Let’s f***ing go, 80,000 people!’ That takes backbone. I should have cancelled. But there was not a chance in hell. The shit that I had to go through on that last tour. I have earned this grey hair.”

The Jon Bon Jovi/Richie Sambora dynamic was extremely physical. They would occasionally kiss on stage. Jon spent three decades with an arm draped around Richie’s neck. He drapes his arm around the neck of the new guy now, but it doesn’t look right. He struts and whirls a bit less, seems more aware of himself. How did it feel to look up and see that Richie was no longer there?

“It sucked.”

Did you miss him?

“Yeah. I swear on my career, and on my children, there was no fight. He has [he waves an imaginary bottle] issues and he can’t deal with them. There’s obligations. You’re not 20. You have to show up. Get help, OK? I’m here to help. You don’t want the help? I can’t force anybody to make lifestyle choices.”

Increasingly, pop stars pull out of gigs for reasons of personal chaos. Last month Justin Bieber walked off stage because fans were annoying him. Zayn Malik cancelled shows due to anxiety issues.

“There is a generation of anxious young men and women who are being diagnosed for the first time – and maybe it was always there,” Bon Jovi begins. “I get it. But let me give you a little education, motherf***er. Jane just saved up for three months to buy that ticket. She travelled on a train to get there. And she is not going to be able to get a refund for her hotel room, or her travel, or the day she took off from work, or the babysitter she paid for. And the 120 families that are affected when they didn’t get their pay cheque at the end of the week because you didn’t show up for the f***ing show . . .”

***

A few weeks later, on the other side of town, Richie shows up for his own gig at the O2 Arena, as part of the BluesFest weekend. The performance is spontaneous, to say the least. He stops to tie his shoelaces, swigs from a mug and switches his famous hats at random. He brings on Bruce Springsteen’s guitarist Steve Van Zandt for “Livin’ on a Prayer” and they screw it up. (This is downtime for Steve: Springsteen, at 67, has recently started doing four-hour shows.)

Richie’s hair is wild like a bird’s nest. His girlfriend, the guitarist Orianthi – who was booked to play on Michael Jackson’s doomed final tour – is a strange figure under a red hat, polished but remote. There are 26 years between them: whether it’s a full-on Sid and Nancy affair or a business arrangement, no one quite knows. Sambora roars out blues standards he learned as a boy. “Steve is playing again afterwards! Come! I’ll chip in for tickets! I’m playing too by the way!”

There is a certain chaotic freedom in it. He kicked off this tour by saying he intended to go without underwear. “Richie is pushing the need to be his own separate self,” the psychologist told me. The band came back to him for help again when the “Richie thing” got to a certain level. “We had meetings and tried to work that through . . .” They went as far as they could. Perhaps, when your therapy and your rehab all comes as part of the package offered by the company you work for, the only way of changing your life is by becoming unfit for service.

For Jon Bon Jovi it all seems to have come a bit too soon. The future feels uncertain. There is always politics, if he can get his head around not being liked. I ask him whether he will get a role in Hillary’s council. He has appeared at half a dozen campaign events with her and is currently on the cover of Billboard magazine with Bill.

“I will be the secretary of entertainment,” he predicts ironically. “I’ve been blessed to know them for 20 years now. I call her Mrs C out of respect. I would never dare call her Hillary and him Bill.”

Do they call you Mr B?

“No.”

I ask him if he knows Trump personally.

“I’ve met him a number of times,” he says. “He’s always been like that. He has played this like an episode of The Apprentice. All he had to do was get rid of the other contestants, and like the host of any TV show he doesn’t have to know a lot.”

“This is my fear,” he says, standing up and addressing me with great focus, as though preparing to drop the mic. “My president, Al Gore, was SO much smarter than George W, but everyone walked away and said I’d rather have a beer with that guy. Holy f***. If that happens on Tuesday morning, it’s the end of the world.” 

“This House Is Not For Sale” is out on Friday

Kate Mossman is the New Statesman's arts editor and pop critic.

This article first appeared in the 03 November 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The closing of the liberal mind