Seven Days in England - May 1971
By: Bill Lewis
I was a chauffeur with Berryhurst Car Hire in London in the early 70's I was given the job, by the boss, of driving Melanie for a week. Her husband, Peter, accompanied her.
I had a bit of a problem-keeping artists asking for me. I used to take off for the whole summer spear fishing in the Med. Consequently; those that came into the UK during that time got a different driver.
Ken Brooker and I worked together for years backing each other up and causing mayhem on the streets of London.
He took Melanie off me and I took Shirley Bassey off him ! ! !
As we approached Stoke-on-Trent where Melanie was to perform, Peter said "Stoke-on-Trent . . . . . . . . . . that would make a good name for a pop group" I wonder if it ever did? After the performance (my first time to hear her) she was ushered out of the back door to where the Rolls Royce Phantom 5 was discretely (if that's possible with such a vehicle ! ! ! ) parked.
Part of our job was to ensure that the artist was not compromised by crowds.
Melanie had spent the last hour or so surrounded by fans signing autographs.
This was not my concept of what happens after a gig.
But these fans were so polite and quiet . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Magic !
Just as Melanie was stepping into the limousine with only one young fan by the door he said with a tear in his voice "Melanie, you didn't sing Ruby Tuesday" "I'll sing Ruby Tuesday for you" she said and reached into the car for her guitar. It was zipped up in a colourful knitted case! ! She asked me "Is this OK Bill?" I looked up and down the street thinking that I would probably regret saying yes.
"Sure" I said "just keep it down a bit" It was after midnight.
She sat on the running board of the car and let rip ! ! ! ! OH MY GOD . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . She really put her all into it . . . . . . It was beautiful . . . but very loud in the stillness of the night.
Windows flew open . . . . . . . heads looked out . . . . . . . . . . . lots of them, it was a residential street.
I thought I was in trouble. How could I stop Melanie in mid song without being nasty? I couldn't so I just listened.
As the song finished the applause started from the heads out of the windows! ! !
That was my introduction to this lovely lady.
There was a fair amount of fuss going on about the inauguration of the Prince of Wales at Caernarfon.
So we headed that way. Melanie and Peter had a look at the castle and then went walkabout through the town.
They were a bit surprised to find Melanie's albums to be to the forefront in all the record shops.
Sorry Melanie. I have to confess. I went ahead of you cajoling the shop assistants to do this saying that you were on your way down the street.
There were no rooms available in any of the hotels in town due, I suppose, to the inauguration.
I found one double room in a pub called "the black boy". They managed to find me an attic room normally used by staff. A warning. When I switched out the light I saw pinpoints of light on the far door. I looked. There were holes in various positions on the door opposite where "action" could be expected in the guest room. ( it wasn't Melanie and Peter's! )
They enjoyed a bit of pub life sitting in the saloon bar
The limo was parked in the adjoining car park.
In the morning I went to give it a wash as usual. There were some people in dark suits standing around and looking a bit puzzled. I ignored them and carried on with my washing. I began to feel watched and a little uncomfortable. There was a large notice on a post that I had not seen before. I sidled my way surreptitiously towards it and read that this was an official council car park. I had absolutely no right to be here. Added to that, the barrier was now down. Why all the dark suits? And what to do? Aha! I put on my chauffeur hat and my best "important" stance and waited.
Melanie and Peter came out of the pub and walked unconcerned into the car park. Well why wouldn't they? I drove slowly past the open mouthed dark suits to the barrier and honked gently. One of them jumped forward and lifted it looking a bit bemused. We left.
It is certain in the political climate that existed there at the time that the council were awaiting the arrival of someone important. This vehicle in the official car park HAD to be the one they were waiting for. Obviously the dignitary was attending to some personal needs? Surprise, Surprise.
We headed South through the Welsh hills towards Swansea where Melanie hoped to see the birthplace of Bob Dylan.
On a quiet country road Melanie told me to stop. She had seen a house through the trees that looked deserted and interesting. I reversed a bit to a board that showed it was for sale.
The two of them walked up a short drive to have a look. I was a few yards behind.
It was a two-storied red brick house with no other habitation in sight. A bit idyllic and attractive if you wanted to get away from it all.
The windows were boarded up with planks nailed across them. Melanie pulled at one corner to see if they were loose so that she could get a peep inside.
She pulled again, just a bit harder. Then a bit harder still! Peter moved forward to help. They pulled together!! Ooops, it came off.
They poked their heads through the gap. There was no glass in the window.
What they saw must have intrigued them because they proceeded to pull off a couple more planks laughing guiltily as they did so.
I grinned and walked slowly back to the limo. They were having a great time and weren't really hurting anybody.
After some time they turned up with three house bricks between them. "Put them in the trunk please" said Melanie "I love the markings on the bricks made by the ivy and I am going to incorporate them in my house when I build it" (They will crop up again) On through the Brecon Hills and the Welsh mining valleys Melanie and Peter soaked up the atmosphere and talked a little about their childhood.
We asked around in Swansea and finally located the house where Dylan Thomas was born. It was a bit of an anti-climax. It is just an ordinary house. But Melanie had fulfilled one of her ambitions. She did so admire him.
A visit to a local café to try to get a bit of local gossip also ended in three cups of tea, and us.
First job; take a package to the Mayfair Post Office in Queen St. Find out how much it will cost to send Airmail to the States.
Put it on the scales please sir. They groaned. He checked and double-checked.
"What the hell have you got in that, a house brick?" he said, not realising that he had hit the nail on the head.
How embarrassing it was to say yes ! ! ! ! (Remember the 3 ivy marked bricks?) "Come on, stop mucking about I've got work to do" he said I will pull a veil over the next part of the conversation and just say that I returned with the information and Melanie prepared them to send.
I wonder if they ever did get used?
That evening Melanie was due to appear at the Festival Hall. She was depressed and distressed. I know not why. Peter, assisted a trifle by myself, tried to get her spirits up.
He even sent me out to buy as many roses as I could get. I remember finding a guy just closing his stall outside the Palladium in Argyle Street. He had bunches of baby roses. I bought the lot.
Melanie gave most of them out to her fans that evening.
At about 7. 45, just 15 minutes before she was due on stage, Peter departed to try to keep the audience happy until Melanie could compose herself.
It was well after 8. 00 PM before we left the Mayfair with just a short ride to the South Bank. The concert went off splendidly with half the audience down on the stage. Not one incident with them being as close as that. Amazing. Only Melanie fans ever behaved so well at any of the concerts I attended.
After the performance the fans were clamouring at the stage door for her autograph. Space was a bit restricted there so I got them quiet and told them that if they wanted an autograph they must pass under my arm. I stood close to the wall ensuring that they came through singly.
It was all kind of magic. The fans were wonderful and Melanie stood for well over an hour signing everything including a broken arm! Was that you?
The following morning was just a simple ride to the airport.
I like her music, but the memory of her bubbly laugh and her lovely nature marks her out as the most pleasant star that I drove. (they number more than 100)
I don't remember where we stayed that night. It was certainly pre-booked by the record company.
They wanted to tour all of England, Scotland and Wales. In a week??? So they let me choose.
Since we were already close to North Wales I decided on that.
We drove up to the Snowdon area past slate quarries and tiny villages. Melanie and Peter were enthralled.
I remember we rounded a sharp left bend to cross a humped bridge over a stream. The village street, cobbled in the old way, was quite steep up in front of us.
Half way up was the village store. Melanie asked me to stop.
Inside she saw an old sweet jar high up on a shelf labelled "Jujubes".
She asked the shopkeeper how much it was.
"It's not for sale" he said "I'll give you ten pounds for it" she said (a lot of money then) He laughed and said "I told you, It's not for sale" She ran out of the shop to the car and came back with a copy of her album "The Good Book". "I'll give you this" she said "Nope" he said and turned to serve a customer.
Melanie was close to tears and Peter couldn't console her. We started to leave.
The shopkeeper called out "just a minute miss" and beckoned her back. She returned to the counter. He leaned forward turning his cheek and said, "give me a kiss". She pecked him on the cheek. He gave her the jujube jar and turned back to his customer.
I wonder if she still has it?
We looked for somewhere to stay.
I asked whether they would consider an ordinary Bed and Breakfast since we were in the middle of nowhere. They were enthusiastic. Something new.
We saw a sign "Farmhouse B&B" We drove down the muddy driveway to the farm.
Very surprised at the Rolls Royce Phantom bringing potential guests but accommodating in the extreme.
The following morning at breakfast Melanie asked if she and Peter could go walking over the fields among the livestock. No problem. Off they went.
Could I use the hosepipe in the yard to clean the car? Certainly.
So there we were in the middle of nowhere, Melanie and Peter walking off arm in arm over the fields, in Wellington boots loaned by the landlady, whilst their up-market transport was being hosed down by the side of the pigpen. Incongruous! ! I suggested to the landlady that she should charge a little more for the inconvenience we had put her to. She was adamant that her charges included all this. Beautiful.
I wonder if the shopkeeper and the landlady will ever read this?
Melanie suggested a picnic.
So we went to the local "grocers" shop to buy a few goodies. "Do you like ham?" she asked. "Sounds good" I said. She ordered half a pound. That's a lot of ham. "What about beef" she asked. Peter said "that's good for me" Another half pound. Then tongue because I happened to look at it and cheese because I didn't. Peter found some salami sausage and Melanie was busy buying half the shop. Or so it seemed.
We left with enough food for a small army.
It was decided that we would cross over the Menai strait to Anglesey.
At a place where the cliffs were exceedingly high we walked down to the edge of the grass until we could just about see over and spread out the feast.
As you can guess, one or two sandwiches and we were full up.
Melanie threw a crust of bread over the cliff. A seagull picked it up before it was out of sight. Hey, that was good! Another piece. They came in hundreds. We spent the next twenty minutes having fun throwing bits to the birds.
Ah well . . . at least it all got eaten!! And Melanie was having a great time.
A few miles up the road we saw a sign "Antiques" We stopped for Melanie to have a look around.
She fell in love with a pair of glass lampshades. Beautiful but a bit delicate. She bought them. They were put in their box in front on the floor since there was no more room in the boot (trunk). I had no idea how she would get these back to the States.
We drove around the beautiful countryside. Melanie and Peter were so relaxed and happy.
We passed a hitchhiker. A girl with a pack on her back. "We should stop and give her a lift" Melanie said.
There wasn't much room in front with the box on the floor but we managed.
The hitchhiker was a bit clumsy with the extra space needed for her pack.
She couldn't believe that this posh vehicle had stopped for her and when she found out who it was she freaked out. She claimed to be an ardent fan and seemed to know all about Melanie.
I wonder if she will ever read this? We dropped her off later and returned to the "pub" in Caernarfon.
The car was getting so full with stuff that we decided to have a clear out.
Yes, you've guessed it . . . . . . . . . . . . . . The hitchhiker had stepped on the box! !
My instructions were to find a place called, I think, Home Farm? In Glastonbury.
They had been talking about holding a festival in one of the more ancient parts of the old world.
We finally located it and pulled up in front of a low stone farmhouse. A young lady called out for the farmer.
There were no introductions and I nipped into the kitchen for a cup of coffee with the young lady. The other three walked slowly off with the farmer (who I now know was Michael Eavis) doing all the talking.
The young lady asked, "who are they?" I said, "if you don't recognise her then it doesn't matter" They walked past the window so I popped out in case they needed anything.
Michael Eavis was pointing down to the bottom of a large field explaining that a stage would be erected on the far edge to enable more people to see.
They turned and came past me and he started to climb some stone stairs on the side of the adjacent stone building. He turned his head and said "we are hoping to get Melanie to come". I glanced at both Peter and Melanie who showed absolutely no emotion.
In order to stop myself laughing I quickly walked into the kitchen again to finish my coffee.
We had arrived in a Rolls Royce Phantom the chauffeur in full regalia and the lady in a Kaftan. Just who DID he think he was talking to? The young lady badgered me for her name, becoming persistent. After the farce outside I certainly wasn't going to let on.
Just then Melanie and Peter came past and said that we were going.
Just as I started away the young lady came rushing out of the kitchen shouting, "It's Melanie, It's Melanie" I smiled and drove on.
They had a bit of a laugh in the back of the car.
I suggested that we stop at the Old Bell at Hurley on the way in to the Mayfair Hotel in London. It is an ancient coaching inn from the 12th century. A bit expensive but serving wonderful food.
I chose this because I had taken a few clients there to eat and they all praised it.
Besides, the chauffeur went in the back door and got a slap up meal for himself. Perks! They waited for me as I parked the car and we walked through the door together. I assumed they wanted me to introduce them or whatever.
The Major Domo knew me and sort of indicated that he would take over now his eyebrows told me to go around the back.
Melanie and Peter would have nothing of it. They fought a funny little battle for supremacy with the Major Domo who, without actually saying it, wanted me out of there NOW. They didn't serve chauffeurs. He lost. I felt a bit uncomfortable but soon got stuck in to a fine feast with two lovely people.
Back to the Mayfair.