Then & Now: Angie Bowie

 

JOHN HAD YOKO, Mick had Bianca, and David Bowie had Angela Barnett, a flame-haired siren who inspired Bowie to develop his Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane and Thin White Duke personae. David and Angie were English rock’s quirky royal couple, looking and dressing alike in bright red mullets and silk kimonos, and shocking the music world with tales of drugs, cross-dressing, threesomes and bisexual trysts.

Bowie and Barnett met in London in 1969, through a mutual acquaintance, or, as Bowie put it, “because we were both going out with the same man”. Angie’s arrival encouraged Bowie to explore his androgynous side, but not everyone in Bowie’s entourage took to this loud, domineering American. The couple moved into Haddon Hall, a grand Victorian house in Beckenham, Kent, and established themselves as London’s king and queen of tarts, presiding over a heady social scene and living an “open” marriage. Bowie wrote The Prettiest Starfor Angie, and the couple were married in 1970, Angie giving birth to a son a year later. They named him Zowie. Today, Zowie is better known as film-maker Duncan Jones, director of the recent sci-fi blockbuster Source Code.

She was born Mary Angela Barnett in Cyprus in 1949, the daughter of an ex-US army colonel. She had a privileged upbringing, attending a posh girls’ school in Montreux, Switzerland from the age of nine, and then going to the US at 16 to attend Connecticut College for Women. When she moved to England to attend Kingston Polytechnic, she found her milieu among the arty, avant-garde set in swinging London. She introduced Bowie to many of the strange, eccentric types who would provide the blueprints for his future alter-egos. She’s been credited with helping to start the glam-rock movement.

As Bowie’s career took off, however, Angie and Zowie were pushed into the background as Bowie moved onwards towards superstardom. They separated in 1976, and divorced in 1980, after which, says Angie, Bowie tried to “edit” her out of his life. “Famous men frequently do that when they feel threatened by a woman’s influence,” she said. “They like to be thought of as the sole genius. God forbid that any woman helped them to get where they did. Picasso did the same thing to his women – he tried to write them off as insane.”

After the divorce, Bowie got custody of Zowie, and Angie became estranged from her only son. Recently, Duncan Jones told the London Times that he had no plans to reconnect with his mother. “I haven’t heard from Zowie, or Duncan as he calls himself now, for five years,” Angie told the Guardianin 2010. “He emailed me, but the relationship didn’t progress and I think reconciliation is unlikely.”

After divorcing Bowie, she had a daughter, Stacia, with punk musician Drew Blood, and now lives in Tucson, Arizona with her current partner. She published her memoir, Backstage Passes: Life on the Wild Side with David Bowie,in 1993. She set up Aidsbegone to raise funds for research into a vaccine for the HIV virus, releasing two compilation albums and performing fundraising concerts of her own.

She also recorded her own album, Moon Goddess, in 2002, which features a song called For The Sake of Fame:“There’s a time and a heart for this/Let my soul never miss/A beat on this glorious stage of life.” She may have influenced Bowie’s image, but definitely not his lyrics.