From The Oxford Writer, no 38, Winter 2005
There’s a news story out there, but will you recognise it? The latest series of ‘I’m a Celebrity…’ reminded Edward Fenton of the night he went home empty-handed.
IT WAS SOME TIME in 1983, and I was trying to make it as a freelance music journalist, when a friend rang me with a tip-off from the legendary radical journalist Andrew Tyler. The Daily Telegraph were sending a cub reporter to a youth centre in South London, to meet (among other people) anarcho-punk band the Poison Girls. And since the Poison Girls had discovered that the reporter was the daughter of prime minister Margaret Thatcher – who was then plumbing new depths of unpopularity among left-wing circles – they were planning to strike a blow for the underdog by… well, they hadn’t quite worked out all the details. But Andrew Tyler thought someone should be there to cover it.
The evening started tamely enough. Carol Thatcher arrived incognito and asked the Poison Girls’ formidable lead singer, Vi Subversa, the name of her band. ‘The Boys and Girls?’ Carol trilled. ‘That’s nice!’
As Carol Thatcher went on to talk to some of the young people involved in the centre (none of whom had any idea who she was), Vi Subversa held her fire – and I held my breath. Surely, any moment, she and her legendary band of anarchists were going to lash out. I kept looking at Vi Subversa and wondering what she had in store. And then suddenly a look of bafflement passed over her face. Carol Thatcher had evidently asked her minder to ‘get me out of here’, and slipped away without anyone noticing.
What I didn’t realise till much later was that there was a news story there all the same. I could have written my piece for New Musical Express, not about how Vi Subversa had spoken out boldly for society’s victims, but about how this punk icon had bungled what would anyway have been a very token protest. But I didn’t. Like Vi Subversa, I had missed my opportunity, and indeed I abandoned my career as a music journalist shortly afterwards.
Since then, of course – as obscurity beckoned for Vi Subversa, the Poison Girls and me – Carol Thatcher has gone on to far greater things. But sometimes, when I remember that fruitless night back in 1983, I wonder what might’ve happened if I’d done things differently. Perhaps I could’ve been someone… I could’ve been a contender. It could’ve been me, not Carol Thatcher, gloriously feasting on live witchetty grubs and kangaroo testicles in the steaming Australian jungle.
© Edward Fenton