`Prozac and Paula'
If you had a son or brother who was famous, then died in suspicious circumstances reported by the world's media, would you then go on to make money by writing a sensational page-turner about his life? In a world in which the lives of the famous and those who live in their shadow are currency, this is an ethical question.
Perched like fragile birds on the edge of a white sofa in a private bar in the Morrison, Patricia Glassop and Tina Hutchence, mother and sister of the dead INXS singer Michael Hutchence, address the question with conviction.
They assert that by co-writing Just a Man: The Real Michael Hutchence about their "special and magical" son and brother, they are doing him a posthumous service by telling the world what they view to be the truth about his life: that he was a voracious womaniser who consumed women like other men go through socks; that he used drugs and knew what it was to be "Elegantly Wasted", to quote one of his tours; that he was so lonely in hotel rooms he used to call an old girlfriend to read him to sleep; that he was seduced into fathering a child by a troubled woman, Paula Yates, who wore a tiara to the family dinner at which she gaily announced the news; that when he died - whether by suicide or accident, and the Hutchence women maintain it was suicide - Paula and Prozac were to blame.
They do not blame Michael's childhood, which would appear traumatic to the objective onlooker, but which Tina and Patricia see as a healthy upbringing. They are also convinced that they are preserving his memory for Tiger Lily and her cousins, who are still too young to understand, but who may one day go to a library and read the four previous books about Michael - all of which, Patricia and Tina insist, include fallacious accounts. . The two women - who were a mothering team to Michael when he was young - wanted the world to know "the truth". Part of that "truth", for them, is to describe Paula Yates as trapping Michael, then cutting his family and friends out of his life by failing to pass on telephone messages and letters. Presents to Tiger Lily from the Hutchence family, they say, were returned from Paula unopened. Patricia and Tina now see Michael and Paula's daughter as the victim of a relationship between two people who were bad for each other. After losing her father, the child then lost her mother in what was this week confirmed as an accidental heroin overdose.
Both women dissolve into tears as they describe their attempts to spend time with Tiger Lily in London over the past two weeks and their efforts to secure guardianship of her. Then they get up and fix their make-up for the photographer. Two brave, strong women. Or two women who believe they can manipulate our perceptions? Tina writes of how her mother taught her to manipulate the media in childhood in Australia, where Patricia was involved in the film business. So - however genuine these two women appear - they are manipulating the media, since that was the whole point of writing the book. As their TV performance and interviews show, they are consummate performers in spinning their version of events. And part of the manipulation aims to secure guardianship.
To maintain contact with the child, they have been negotiating with Bob Geldof - whom they say Tiger Lily calls "Daddy" - although she looks just like her father, Michael. They have managed to spend a day with the child over the past two weeks, but against a tense backdrop of rivalry in which Geldof and the Hutchence family are arguing about guardianship of the child.
The issue will be decided by a British judge, who has heard Tina's arguments that she, and not Geldof, is in the best position to provide Tiger Lily with a stable home and a strong bond with a mother figure. "I have consulted with psychologists at the University of California who have told me that a child - especially a child who has been through the trauma that Tiger Lily has - needs one strong, permanent bond with a mother figure. A nanny is not a mother figure," says Tina, who will move from California to Australia to rear the child if she is awarded guardianship.
It concerns Tina and Patricia that Tiger Lily is now cared for by Geldof, who is not a blood relative, and who had a difficult relationship with her father. They assert that the UK is "the only country in the world" where a non-blood relative can be awarded guardianship of a child. They repeat the often-told story that, for many years before her relationship with Michael blossomed, Paula was fascinated by the singer. Her interest began with her 1984 interview on The Tube, after which she kept a picture of him on her fridge surrounded by fairy lights. She claimed Geldof would write comments on the photograph of Michael, which Paula would then stubbornly replace.
PATRICIA and Tina insist the book was written for Tiger Lily to read when she is older, and that there is nothing in it - even about Paula - that would upset her. Having read the book, I cannot imagine the following description of Paula's pursuit of Michael backstage after an INXS concert in Birmingham is the sort of thing a daughter would want to read about her mother. Sherine Abertrayne, a singer and friend of Michael's, "remembers Paula walking directly up to Michael without even noticing that the two of them were speaking and that after he introduced them she may as well not have been there. In all her years touring with bands, Sherine had never before witnessed such aggressive `come-on' lines from a woman to a man. She says that even the most zealous groupies don't usually attack their prey that hard and fast . . . Michael turned from Paula and, grabbing Sherine's arm, he whispered in her ear, `Get me out of here, this woman's a full-on predator'."
Michael's "charisma" with women was so effective that he could never have just one woman at a time. Patricia recalls visiting her son in the US and joining him with long-term girlfriend Helena Christenson for dinner after the show, then meeting him for brunch next morning, when he turned up with his old love, Kylie Minogue. Patricia implies that Paula was not especially important to Michael, and that it was really Tiger Lily to whom he was committed. Is that the sort of thing Tiger Lily will want to read in years to come? The book's revelation is that, when he died, Michael was actually in love with a 22-year-old Californian - called "Blair" in the book - whom Paula knew about.
Patricia believes that a crucial part of the psychological pressure which led her son to commit suicide was Paula's refusal to spend Christmas in Australia with Michael and the Hutchence family, unless she could be accompanied by all four of her daughters - Tiger Lily, plus her three daughters with Geldof. Because this would have meant taking the three older girls out of school before the end of term and breaking the terms of the child custody arrangements, Geldof refused. So instead of going without them and taking only Tiger Lily, Paula decided to stay in the UK.
Tina writes, "I look at this logically and wonder why - knowing that he was under great stress, even under the care of a psychiatrist, and after hearing the desperation in Michael's voice - Paula didn't attempt to alleviate his anguish by travelling to Australia with Tiger, and telling him then that she was going to do this. Bob Geldof is an extremely devoted father who never had trouble sharing responsibility for his daughters' day-to-day care, and I would have thought could have willingly have stepped in if their mother had gone ahead of them to Australia."
While Paula is maligned in the book, this should fool no one. The book is written in two voices - Tina's and Patricia's - with Tina's voice dominating. It is her narrative voice which drives the book and makes it eminently readable, but when I mention this to Tina and Patricia, Patricia startles and says "But what about my writing!"
This isn't unexpected, since throughout the book Patricia's contributions are always in the "me, me, me" vein. She adored hobnobbing with the rich and famous, courtesy of her son's success. Patricia is a thrice-married former model and experienced media manipulator (self-confessed) whose first husband (Tina's father) is persona non grata. "My father is Irish," Tina told me. She then turns to her mother. "Where was he from?" Patricia tosses her head and refuses to discuss it, leaving Tina with the hole in her knowledge. Patricia's second husband was Kelland Hutchence (father of Michael and Rhett Hutchence), from whom she parted acrimoniously when Michael and Rhett were young. Her third husband, Ross Glassop, is a wealthy, Australian, former airforce pilot.
The family travelled constantly, never living in one place for long. Tina never knew her father and the boys barely knew theirs - he was always away "on business". Because Patricia worked as a make-up artist to support the family, Tina, 13 years older than Michael and Rhett, left school at 16 to look after her brothers. When I mention to Tina what a sacrifice this was, Patricia interjects: "But I was the Mommy".
The emotional wrenches of moving house and country again and again and the absence of fathering in the children's lives are described poignantly and unsentimentally by Tina in the book. One of the worst incidents was when Patricia, leaving Australia to join Tina in California, decided to bring Michael - her favourite - and not Rhett, who had behaviour problems. Rhett was left crying at the gate at the airport, while the adored Michael was rewarded with the sole attention of his mother. This was typical of the sort of emotional trauma which led to Rhett's drug problems, an addiction so serious that, when Michael died, Rhett's first thought was: "Why him and not me?"
Michael was the family hero, while Rhett was the trouble-maker. The pressure of being the hero who must hold everything together was vital to Michael's self-image. When he died, Michael was to spend Christmas with his family in Australia for the first time in four years - which Patricia was looking forward to with excitement. The fact that Tiger Lily was not to be there was just one of many pressures on the singer, who hinted to his mother and friends about how desperate he was.
Patricia remembers Michael telling her six months before he died that he could not go on any longer. She responded by telling him to keep going, that the end of the tour was near, and that he would soon begin his career as a solo artist. Even knowing what she now knows, that his stoicism ended in self-destruction, Patricia still believes that she gave her son the appropriate advice. They would have gone on to have that wonderful Christmas in Australia, if it hadn't been for Paula and Prozac.
Just a Man - The Real Michael Hutchence is published by Sidgwick and Jackson (£16.99 in UK)