WHERE WERE YOU WHEN: Ziggy Stardust made his TV debut

David Bowie’s performance of ‘Starman’ was out of this world, recalls singer Toyah Willcox.

David Bowie, Mick Robinson and Woody Woodmansey
David Bowie, Mick Robinson and Woody Woodmansey glam it up on the TV show Lift Off With Ayshea. Image: REX/Shutterstock.

I was born in Birmingham in 1958. My life was quite conventional by today’s standards: I went to an all-girls school, ate with my family twice a day at a dining table and wasn’t allowed to speak unless spoken to. Men led the households and were affectionately known as ‘blokes’.

Then the singer Marc Bolan came along with T Rex in 1970, strutting his stuff to ‘Ride a White Swan’. He was clearly in touch with his feminine side but was very palatable to look at. While my brother scoffed at Bolan’s satin trousers, I sneaked off from school to see him on stage – and fell in love with rock ’n’ roll.

My adolescence was completely normal until an afternoon in June 1972, when I was 14. After coming back from school, I turned on the TV to see who was singing on Lift Off With Ayshea, a music show on ITV. I was expecting Slade, Bolan, Dana, maybe Val Doonican – but instead, there was David Bowie singing ‘Starman’, in his television debut as Ziggy Stardust. It derailed me completely.

More of a cross-dresser than Bolan, Bowie had a scary masculinity in his Ziggy jumpsuit as his fictional alter ego – a bisexual rock star who was a messenger for extraterrestrial beings. He was like Mick Jagger but with higher cheekbones. Afternoon television wasn’t supposed to be subversive but this changed my life for ever.

Bowie was staggeringly beautiful. His hair was bright red, standing up on end, wild and contained all at the same time. Everything was a contradiction. And his performance portrayed something I’d never seen anyone do before – a nonchalance. He didn’t care if the audience liked him or not because he knew they loved him.

The song ‘Starman’ was otherworldly. Bowie was, too, and wildly sexy. I stood up, walked over to the television and asked the screen, ‘Who the hell are you? You are magnificent! ‘This is what I want to do!’

Also that month…

James Martin
Jeff Spicer/Getty Images
  • ‘Vincent’ by Don McLean topped the UK charts.
  • British tennis player John Paish was defeated by American Jimmy Connors in the men’s singles final at the Queen’s Club Championships.
  • The Duke of Windsor’s funeral was held at St George’s Chapel, Windsor.
  • TV chef James Martin was born in Malton, Yorkshire.