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Inside the rise of Ziggy Stardust

How a hairdresser from Beckenham entered the court of David Bowie.

By Suzanne Moore

The Ziggy Stardust haircut, the red spiky mullet that really could only ever look good on David Bowie, was created by a young hairdresser from Beckenham, Suzi Ronson (then Suzanne Fussey). Ronson had left school at 15 with few options.

 One day in 1971, a Mrs Jones comes into the salon and Suzi finds her way into another world. Mrs Jones is Bowie’s mother, and Suzi ends up also doing Angie Bowie’s hair. Angie, who had married David in 1970, is tall, skinny, unafraid and unlike anyone Suzi has ever met before. One senses Suzi had been waiting for something to happen. We all had.

She had seen the impossibly exotic couple walking down Beckenham High Street, pushing a pram with long-haired David in a flowing gold midi dress. Soon, because of her hairdressing skills, she is taken into the Bowies’ inner circle at their Victorian villa Haddon Hall. This is another world of art, of books, cool people, exhibitionist sex, open marriages. She takes it all in and by 1972 is hired to go on the road with them on the Ziggy tour.

Ronson is the only working woman on the tour and she takes care of more and more stuff for David. From costumes to hair to getting the girls and boys he wants to sleep with to his hotel room. Or the back of a car.

Part of the reason she was hired is surely evident in this memoir: she is smart but discreet. Ronson observes the outrageous behaviour around her but does not judge it, merely noting how different this all is from her previously dull working-class existence. Part of the reason anyone wants to read this book, though, is the hope that she will no longer be discreet. What was it like up close and personal with Bowie at the time when he was becoming hugely famous? When he killed off Ziggy live on stage?

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In many ways this book is the opposite to most Bowie literature, which is an insistent analysis of what he meant, the lyrics, the influences, the cultural references. I have loved and indeed contributed to much of this pretentious evaluation – one of the greatest things about Bowie is that he let us be pretentious – of the way in which he expanded the horizons of how we could look and how we could think.

Ronson does none of this – she barely mentions the music or the songs – but instead gives us a snapshot of the early Seventies. What is Bowie like? He is aloof, driven, sexually voracious, intellectually restless and prepared to dump whoever he needed to dump. What did we expect? He behaves like the star he is. Everyone waits for him on tour in America: he always arrives last as he won’t fly. He has Angie on one arm and his latest girl on the other. Their child is never mentioned.

 Suzi Ronson is living parallel lives: on the road and then back to south London, and wonders about her values. On tour she sees how girls are treated. Indeed, she becomes a “madam”, as she puts it, cleaning up the wreckage of Bowie’s penchant for very young girls. There is something steely here. She is astute on class, noting that families like hers who were always busy making ends meet had no idea of how richer people lived, and so thought they were doing fine. 

Indeed, many in the business including Bowie’s guitarist Mick Ronson – with whom she would take up with and, in 1977, marry – seem clueless about money. Bowie announcing onstage in 1973 that Ziggy is no more means that Mick “Woody” Woodmansey and Trevor Bolder, two members of the Spiders from Mars band, were now unemployed. Bowie’s instinct for drama came at a cost.

Mick Ronson comes across as sweet but already lost with a drink problem. With Mick, Suzi finds herself on tour with a charismatic man again – but, joining him on the road with Bob Dylan, this time she is “the girlfriend” – and she knows all too well what that means.

Fan, PA, girlfriend, wife, how did she survive it all?  Mick Ronson didn’t, dying at 46 of the same cancer that would kill Bowie. When Suzi is called up for reaction after Bowie dies it is apparent that she is no longer in his circle and has not seen him for years.

She sewed the jewels on to his jockstrap and worried about all the sweat breaking the zips of his costumes. This is a man with whom she had been intimate, but he remains weirdly distant. But more than anything, Me and Mr Jones is about the magical rising of Ziggy by the woman who put the colour in his hair. These were the life-changing glory days.

Me and Mr Jones
Suzi Ronson
Faber & Faber, 320pp, £20

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[See also: How the Liverbirds disrupted the rock ’n’ roll boys’ club]

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This article appears in the 10 Apr 2024 issue of the New Statesman, The Trauma Ward