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Mick Jagger

Philip Norman

Philip Norman interviewed Mick Jagger in 1965 and again in 1982, but found - as journalists always do - that he had nothing memorable to say and no interest in recalling the past. That is why he had to pay back the advance on his 1983 autobiography - the publisher who read the manuscript said 'It wasn't just dull, it was heart-stoppingly dull.' Luckily we have Keith Richards's brilliant Life to fill in some of the history, though Norman claims it has many inaccuracies - he even disputes the tininess of Jagger's todger (as does Pete Townshend in his memoirs). But the only change Jagger requested was a reference to a voice coach. His watchword is never complain, never explain. Which, of course, is why he remains so intriguing.

There are certain aspects of Jagger's character that everyone agrees on: he is vain; he is incredibly stingy (he lent ­Marsha Hunt a ring when she gave birth to his daughter Karis); he is controlled, never impulsive. He is well read, even erudite; he has excellent taste; he cares about etiquette and is supposed to keep a copy of Mrs Beeton in all his houses. He is a chameleon who changes accent according to who he is talking to and has the knack of being invisible when he wants to be - for instance while watching cricket at Lords. He is a health nut, who has always maintained the fitness regime inculcated by his PE-teacher father. He has never been keen on drink or drugs - the four amphetamine pills that sent him to prison after the Redlands drug bust in 1967 were actually Marianne Faithfull's. He is a good father but a bad husband - a ruthless sexual predator according to his last wife, Jerry Hall. But all his seven children (four by Jerry, one by Bianca, one by Marsha and one by the Brazilian model Luciana Morad) adore him.

There is considerable evidence that, when not with the Stones, he can be unstarry, easy-going, a good team-player. Christopher Isherwood, who stayed with him while Jagger was filming Ned Kelly in Australia in 1969, found him equally capable of group fun, clowning, entertaining, getting along with other people. Kevin Macdonald, the documentary director who followed him around for much of 2001, found him amazingly open, generous with his time, always good company. Mainly, he said, he behaved like someone you'd meet in a Hampshire golf club. But whenever he walked into a recording studio, it was as if he was inhabited by a different spirit. He just changed into a blues singer from Mississippi. Unfortunately, Jagger had the final cut of MacDonald's film, so all its most revealing scenes were deleted.

Many of Norman's best insights come from Chrissie Shrimpton (sister of the more famous Jean), Jagger's first serious girlfriend. She assumed his mockney accent came from his Dartford upbringing - until she met his parents, and found they both spoke with received pronunciation. (She found his father Joe charmless and rather alarming - though subsequent wives and girlfriends adored him.) The mockney accent came, of course, from Richards, who also turned Mike into Mick.

Chrissie found Mick very controlling, very paternalistic and her successor Faithfull said much the same. Neither found him sexually demanding - according to Chrissie, he preferred doing crosswords in bed, or reading poetry (Faithfull). Both girlfriends fitted the approved 1960s template of being beautiful, docile and silent.

But then, in 1970, came Bianca. According to Norman, she was the most impressive woman ever to enter Mick's life - she spoke several languages and had studied politics in Paris. Richards, though, found her aloof and humourless, and the Stones office staff hated her. Their regular limo drivers refused to take her on her frequent shopping trips, because she demanded an impossible degree of servility. Ray ­Connolly, who tried to make a film with her, found her such a nightmare that his hair fell out. Jagger said afterwards that the marriage was good only for the first year; she said even less - 'My marriage ended on my wedding day.' Furious with Jagger's endless infidelities, she sued for divorce in 1979, and won an undisclosed settlement.

He had meanwhile fallen for Brian Ferry's girlfriend Jerry Hall, whom everyone adored and urged him to marry. Whenever journalists asked her why they hadn't married yet, she answered 'Golly, I'm trying!' and said she always packed a wedding dress when they went to Mustique in case Jagger suddenly got an urge to marry on the beach. He finally wed her in a Hindu ceremony in Bali in 1990, but carried on pursuing women, including Angelina Jolie and Carla Bruni. When Hall met Bruni on a modelling shoot, she hollered across a crowded room, 'Why can't you leave my husband alone?' to which Bruni coolly replied, 'Tell him to leave me alone.'

Hall tried taking Jagger to marriage guidance, but soon gave up and told the Daily Mail: 'I'm in too much pain to go on any longer.' As soon as she filed for divorce in 1999, Jagger claimed their marriage was never legally valid anyway, which led to howls of fury from the tabloids. Anyway, Hall ended up with a 'very, very generous' settlement, and Mick moved into a flat next to their Richmond house and saw as much of the children as ever. His next official girlfriend, 6ft 3in model L'Wren Scott (real name Luann) has been around since 2001, but there has never been any mention of marriage.

Norman has written previous books on the Stones and also the Beatles, which means he knows the 1960s and 1970s music scene inside out. This is a sound, readable and generally reliable biography - except that he occasionally unleashes flashes of pure hatred for his subject. Commenting on Jagger's 2003 knighthood, for instance, he says that it was odd to get a gong for a career exclusively given over to egotism, selfishness and greed. He also, weirdly, seems to think that Sir Mick is a bit of a failure - he could have been a film star or a politician instead of merely fronting a band. Merely? Is he mad? Jagger has not only fronted the band but kept it going for 50 years. What film star or politician could say as much? Incidentally, Norman claims Jagger is hoping to make a film about Rupert Murdoch with himself as Murdoch. Wow, thrice wow, if it happens! But I wouldn't hold your breath.

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