THE JOHN HANNAM INTERVIEW
Many successful Island journalists learned their skills on Island publications and then moved on to mainland newspapers. But one of our most successful, Philip Norman, was turned down by one local paper because it had no vacancies. It did not hamper him too much. He ended up writing features for The Times, Sunday Times and Daily Mail, and has also written books on Elton John, Buddy Holly, John Lennon and Paul McCartney and interviewed Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Colonel Gaddafi, James Brown and Rod Stewart.
Philip is still a regular Island visitor and I met him again after a talk he gave at Ryde School. Some of his old schoolboy pals had their names used in one of his early television plays, Words of Love.
It was not a happy childhood, as he vividly revealed in his book ‘Babycham Night’. His father Clive ran the Pier Pavilion and amusement arcade at the end of Ryde Pier, and his grandmother the rock and sweet shop at the pier gates.
“I was ashamed to live in a derelict old pub in Castle Street with my grandmother. She was a wicked old witch, but very charming and a bit like the head of a mafia family. My father was unsuccessful and lived at the end of the pier with his girlfriend. This was supposed to be a secret but everybody knew.”
“I had a terrible family life. It seemed like I never left the end of the pier and some parts of Ryde were like a foreign country to me,” he said.
Philip joined a small East Anglian weekly paper and via Darlington and Newcastle evening papers ended up on the prestigious Sunday Times colour magazine. He said: “They had money to burn and would fly us all over the world. People wanted to be featured in it. I had the chance to meet some of my all-time heroes.”
The editor was due to fly out to Salzburg to meet Elizabeth Taylor, who was with Richard Burton while he was filming ‘Where Eagles Dare’. He decided not to go and handed the chance to Philip, who was just 24 at the time.
“One night I had dinner with both Taylor and Burton and then she went up to bed and Richard and I stayed in the bar drinking. A guy came in and was such a nuisance that Richard insulted him. Suddenly he produced a gun and held us both up. Elizabeth then appeared in her night clothes to see what all the noise was about. When he saw her, he put his gun down and told her it was such a pleasure to meet her.”
Philip’s other highlights include joining the Everly Brothers and Rod Stewart on their tours, having the Beach Boys sing Barbara Ann just for him, spending 14 hours in the company of Yoko Ono and memorable interviews with Gaddafi and King Hussein of Jordan. His books on the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Elton John, Buddy Holly, Mick Jagger, John Lennon and Paul McCartney have been best sellers.
“Some thought I was anti-Paul McCartney and I admit to not being fair to him in ‘Shout’, my book on the Beatles. When I did the one on John Lennon I got a message to Paul to tell him about it and said that he would probably not talk to me again, but I was not anti him. “I actually got a phone call and the voice said ‘it’s Paul here.’ I wish I’d said Paul who’? In fact, he agreed to answer my questions by email. Later I asked him if I could do a companion book on him and got his approval.”
Philip’s next book is on Eric Clapton. He’s also going to write the play for a new 60s musical. His last musical, ‘Laughter In The Rain’, with music by Neil Sedaka, was one of the best I have ever seen.