Rihanna served me champagne: Mark Ellen’s life with rock stars


OVER the course of four decades at the heart of the music industry, Mark Ellen has been served champagne by Rihanna, he has snorted cocaine with Julian Cope and been given the hairdryer treatment by Meat Loaf.Music, industry, Mark Ellen, Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Tony Blair, Meat Loaf

Lady Gaga stripped off for him. He was in the studio when Live Aid recorded their charity single Do They Know It’s Christmas, he has been rambling in the Lake District with Jimmy Page and was once in a band with Tony Blair.

Having written for or edited pretty much every music magazine you can think of, including NME, Smash Hits, Q, Select, Mojo and The Word, with all the exclusive access they offer, as well as presenting The Old Grey Whistle Test, Ellen now looks back over a lifetime lost in music in his new autobiography Rock Stars Stole My Life!

Before carving out a career reviewing gigs, Ellen formed his own band at university in Oxford in the mid-Seventies. Needing a lead singer, his friend Anji Hunter recommended one Tony Blair.

He got the job, despite sporting long hair with a fringe, because “he was keen, organised, quite posh, very funny and started a lot of sentences with the word ‘guys’.”

Ugly Rumours made a splash on the university circuit, “vocals delivered in Tony’s high fruity tones with the odd Jagger move thrown in”, Tony wearing a revealing top as they performed covers of the Stones and the Doobie Brothers.
Although Ellen realised that Ugly Rumours were doomed after the college ball where they were outshone by a band of jazz-playing 40-somethings in boaters and blazers, the pair are still in touch.

“I wrote him a letter when his dad died [2012] and he wrote a lovely letter back,” recalls Ellen. “It was really moving because my dad had died just before.”

In 2005, Ellen interviewed his old friend. “He agreed to an interview about music and I went up to the presidential suite of the Malmaison in Birmingham where he was staying. I’d brought along the guitar he’d used in the band.

“A waitress appeared at the front door of the suite, probably expecting him to be hunched over spreadsheets, surrounded by strategists, but she came into the room staring slack jawed in astonishment at him playing guitar, trying to remember the chords to a song called Wishing Well, by Free. It was priceless.”

However, when you are Mark Ellen, surreal encounters with household names are all in a day’s work.

He started out reviewing gigs for the NME in the late Seventies alongside Tony Parsons, Julie Burchill and Danny Baker but he had far more fun in his next job on irreverent pop bible Smash Hits, selling a million copies a week in its heyday: “Everybody was welcome at this fantastic party, people we really liked such as Human League, ABC, Madness and Bananarama and people we probably didn’t, like Toyah.”


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