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Authors: John Cigarini

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Chapter 30
The New Heart Valve and the Farmhouse

I needed open-heart surgery again… the pig valve was falling out. It was possibly because of my cocaine habit through the eighties. In September of 1990, I went back in to have a carbon fibre valve fitted. I used the same hospital, the Princess Grace, and the same surgeon. By now, I guess he thought of me as an old chum. He came into my room the evening before the operation and sat on my bed. I think remembered my old sense of humour, so he thought he could confide in me. He put his head in his hands: “I've got to get out of this bloody game.” Faced with the prospect of my surgeon having a nervous breakdown, I rushed to reassure him what fantastic work he did… for society, doing four operations a day; how impressed I had been eight years earlier that he was still doing his ward rounds at 11pm; how well the pig valve had been doing in me and how much younger he looked than the last time I… I was practically putting my arm around the man. “All I want to do is go to my vineyard in Hampshire,” he said to me. “Now, come on old chap,” I told him. “One more valve… for old times' sake.”

These days, hospitals want to get rid of you soon after surgery, and after about a week in the case of open-heart surgery. They can't make much money off you when you're convalescing and just paying the daily room rate. The big money is in the surgery, so they want to free up the bed – but because I lived alone, I insisted on staying a few extra days – I was on insurance anyway. The surgeon would put his head in the door on his rounds: “As far as I'm concerned, you are on holiday,” he'd tell me.

After I left the Princess Grace Hospital, I still didn't want to go home alone. I'm not sure why, but it happened to me occasionally. Sometimes I guess it just got a bit… lonely. I went to the Champneys Health Club in Surrey and Jimmy Page was in the next room, trying to lose some weight for the Led Zep comeback concert at Knebworth. We discussed cars – I had quite a collection by then – and he told me he had a Cord, which I knew was a very rare 1930s streamlined American car. “Hang on a minute…” I asked him, “I didn't think you could drive?”

“I can't!” he told me.

Also at Champneys were my friends Mike Rutherford from Genesis and his lovely wife Angie. It was quite funny, actually, seeing a load of mates in there; I had seen them very shortly before in New York at a Mike and the Mechanics concert. Hanging out in Champneys and clearing my head up after the surgery was the right move, and I took the rest of 1990 off work on convalescence.

By now, I had a beautiful seventeenth-century farmhouse in Wiltshire, on the 11,000-acre Fonthill Estate owned by Lord Margadale. I had bought it in 1985. I was in my office one Friday afternoon in June of that year. Our office on the North Wharf Road had big picture windows overlooking Paddington Station and I saw a train snaking out of the station. I said to my PA, Domenica Fraser, “Look at those lucky bastards, they're probably going down to Devon for the weekend.”

Domenica is very posh (but gorgeous with it). Her uncle was Lord Lovat, Chief of the Scottish Clan Fraser. I went to her wedding later to Philip Dunne. He had apparently been an old boyfriend of Princess Diana, and she was at the wedding in the Brompton Oratory in Knightsbridge. After the service, I went outside and stood at the side by the columns to wait for Diana to come. I wanted to get a look at her, as it was surely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I suddenly heard a rustling and saw Diana, standing behind me and a column. I turned to her. “Are you hiding behind me?” I asked.

“Yes, I'm trying to hide from them,” she said and pointed across the road.

I hadn't noticed, but there was a battery of about a hundred cameramen over the road, all with their telephoto lenses pointing towards us. The next day, there was a photograph of her and me in the
News of the World
. The headline on the article read, ‘Diana Sees Old Flame Wed'. The people in my office were very happy to put the clipping on the wall, having cut off the word ‘wed', so it was just a picture of the Princess and me with the title ‘Diana Sees Old Flame'. There was a similar photograph on the front cover of
. This one was taken as I was talking to Diana and only showed the back of my head. I had a very short haircut at the time.

“I saw your photo in
The Observer,
” a friend told me.

“Don't you mean the
News of the World
?” I asked.

“No, I don't read the
News of the World

“But you only saw the back of my head in
The Observer

“Yeah, that's how I recognised you.” Remarkable!


Domenica told me about a friend who had just started videotaping properties for house buyers. This was new technology in '85 and search agencies were a new thing. In fact, only Pereds, owned by the pioneering Perry Press, existed at that time. I told Domenica to get her friend to come to my flat the following week. His name was Willie Gething and his new company was called Property Vision, later to become a huge organisation. I told Willie what I wanted, which was an isolated house needing restoration, with outbuildings for garaging. He told me he had the ideal house near to the cottage he rented on the Fonthill Estate. It was probably the easiest search job he ever had, and we went down to see it early on the Monday morning. I ran around it in ten minutes and knew it was perfect, although in a terrible condition. I was back in my office in Paddington by 11am and it was a ninety-minute drive each way. Willie told me it was coming up for auction on the following Friday, only five days away. I was going to the Cannes Advertising Film Festival on the Wednesday, but he said that that was no problem and that he could bid for me. I went home and added up what I could afford, including selling my two jukeboxes and a bunch of cars. My friend and solicitor Stephen Wegg-Prosser did all his normal rapid legal searches on the property, and Willie bid for me. I stayed on the beach of the Carlton all day on the Friday, and when I got back to my room and called London, I found out it was mine. I owned a country house within five days of starting to look for one.

The house needed renovating and Simon Elliot's Shelston Construction did the work. They look after the Earl of Shaftesbury's stately home near Blandford, and John Shaftesbury had recommended Simon. Simon's wife, Annabel, is the sister of the former Camilla Parker Bowles, now the Duchess of Cornwall. Their brother was well-known man-about-town, elephant conservationist and author Mark Shand. Simon and Annabel's son, Ben Elliot, is the owner of the highly successful concierge agency Quintessentially. I had the interior of the farmhouse done by two married friends from Wales, Lesley Sunderland and Jonathan Heale. They were friends with Julie Christie and had lived in a farmhouse owned by her. Through that connection, I saw Julie in Montgomery, and again later in Santa Barbara, California, where she lives. Jonathan designed all my furniture and had it made by Welsh carpenters. Together, they designed and hand printed all the curtains, bed covers and dining chair covers, and stencilled the walls. I had told them I wanted it to look like a famously decorated house called Charleston on the Sissinghurst Estate, but it didn't after they were done with it – it looked better.

During the remainder of the eighties, I went there each weekend. Being at Stocks House had taught me how nice it was being in the countryside. I told that to Willie Gething on the initial ride down to see the place, but unfortunately he misunderstood, and the rumour then went around the hamlet during the two-year reconstruction that a film producer was planning a hedonistic Playboy-like mansion.

Before I went to live in California, my best friend in Wiltshire was Nick Hoare – younger brother to well-known London rich man Tim Hoare. He had a weekend cottage, rented from the Fonthill Estate. I also saw a lot of him in London. He was part of an upper-class social set, of which I was on the fringes. You've probably got the vibe already, but I was always on the fringes and I guess I preferred it that way. The truth is, you are never really accepted by upper class circles if you are not upper class yourself, so it's all kept in the families.

One day, I was sitting outside the Prince of Wales pub in Notting Hill having a beer with Nick, when another friend of mine, Nigel Cooper, showed up. Nigel is a car restorer and he looked a mess in paint-covered overalls. I introduced Nick and Nigel.

“I think I've met you before,” Nick said.

“Yeah, me too. Where did you go to school?” Nigel asked.

Nick is frightfully grand, and too much on occasion. He looked disdainfully at the dirty man, down his nose: “Actually, I went to Eton.”

“Oh, so did I. That's where we must have met.”

It brought Nick down a peg or two.

I went to Nick's wedding to Bella Heneage; in fact, I drove them. I had just done a shoot with comedian Mel Smith using an Erich von Stroheim-type uniform, so I wore that. I remember being shocked that it fitted me so well. I had deluded myself into imagining that Mel would be much bigger than me. I borrowed Isaac Tigrett's black Cadillac. On the morning when I was due to collect Nick and the best man, London was covered in thick snow. I managed to do my driving duties to the registry office, followed by the blessing in a church. Next stop was the Heneage home for the bridal lunch. The house was up a steep drive. As the Cadillac had front-wheel drive, my car with the bride and groom was the only car that could make it up the hill on the ice. All the other guests were walking in thick snow in their fine shoes and wedding outfits.

At the lunch, both families seemed to be having a competition to see which was the oldest. At the wedding reception that evening, I told Domenica Fraser's father, Sir Ian Fraser, about the Cadillac getting up the hill in the snow, and he said, “Should have used a Bentley.” I didn't know that he had been the Chairman of Rolls Royce and Bentley. I took his advice in 2012 and bought one.

Before my convalescence at Ridge Farmhouse in the autumn of 1990, I had never spent more than a weekend in the house. That time off changed my life. I found that I loved being in the country, away from the frantic city and the stress of work, and that I enjoyed pottering around doing nothing. I found that I never got bored and was very sad when it was time to go back to work at the beginning of '91. That was the beginning of me wanting to give up work and live that so yearned-for life of the recluse.


Since I brought her up before and I'm writing my memoirs, let me have my sixpence worth on the death of Princess Diana, as this will probably be my only opportunity in print. I knew Dodi Fayed because he was always around Chelsea and in Tramp, and he was a very nice man. The last time I spoke to him was in Tramp in LA, when John Stephen was the manager there. I believe the main cause of their deaths in the Pont de l'Alma tunnel in Paris has been generally overlooked. The deaths occurred because the Mercedes had a head-on crash with one of the support columns in the tunnel. Had there been an Armco guardrail, the out-of-control car would have just slid down the tunnel until it lost momentum, without having an abrupt impact. I believe the city of Paris needs to take some responsibility for having a dangerous tunnel. I know the tunnel – I have driven through it many times – and it has a rapid drop-off going into it. Consequently, it would be very easy to lose control at the entrance, particularly if you are driving too fast. The fact that none of the deceased were wearing seat belts was also a factor in their deaths.

Chapter 31
Apocalypse LA

By 1991, BFCS Inc., the American company, was running full steam, now with an office in Los Angeles as well as New York. I had started it all. It felt like my own baby and first love. While BFCS Ltd., the London company, was pretty much on automatic pilot, America needed me, and I her. The LA office at that time was on 2nd Street in Santa Monica, one block from the Pacific Ocean. I remember having lunch in the Ivy-at-the-Shore restaurant. It was where executive producer Gary Feil said to me, “I can handle all the production work, I just can't handle the directors and the politics. I need one of the owners here.” I was sitting in shirtsleeves, in the sunshine, in the middle of January. I was unhappy being back at work in London after my convalescence, and the British economy and advertising business were both in recession in '91. I could hear the ocean from where I sat. I thought of London, and getting away from my addiction to Henrietta and the cocaine. “I'll do it!” I told him.

I went back to London and told my three partners that I was going to run BFCS from LA. It didn't go down well, but it went down nonetheless. There was no reaction from the other partners for over a year, but after I settled in LA, the reaction came, and they forced me out of the UK company.

I was initially a bit apprehensive about living up a canyon on my own, so checked into the Sunset Marquis Hotel. By then, it was my hotel of choice whenever I was in the city of angels and where most English production companies stayed. I was there for three months, after which I was settled. I had become part of LA and it felt just right. I don't recall how Roger Waters and I met at the hotel, and he was the member of Pink Floyd I knew the least, but he was staying in one of the cottages at the back of the hotel while he recorded his solo album
Amused to Death

Roger had split from Pink Floyd in the late seventies. He once explained to me that after the success of
Dark Side of the Moon
Wish You Were Here
, the band members wanted to record their own solo albums. David Gilmour released his first self-titled album in '78, but when Roger came up with his solo album,
The Wall
, the rest of the band said it was so good they should record and release it as a Pink Floyd album. It was a huge hit and gave the Floyd their first number one single with ‘Another Brick in the Wall Part II'.

There was a lot of friction between Gilmour and Waters during the making of the album, particularly over the track ‘Comfortably Numb', which had its origins in Gilmour's solo album. The argument stemmed from Gilmour's feeling that the material was becoming too lyric-orientated with not enough guitar contribution, and after
The Wall
was finished, Roger left the band, declaring it to be dead. Steve O'Rourke later told me that the other members of the band fought Waters over their rights to the name Pink Floyd, and after a few years of legal battling, won a landmark ruling that one person cannot prevent the others from earning their livelihood. Pink Floyd started recording again and touring without Waters, and Roger began his own solo tours.

Pink Floyd shocked the world when they reunited for the Hyde Park Live 8 concert in 2005. I remember what one of the fan's signs read: “Sometimes pigs do fly.” It was the quartet's first performance together in over twenty-four years. Paul McCartney, The Who, Madonna, Robbie Williams, U2, Coldplay, Elton… the list of performers went on and on, but everyone knew the concert was only about one band. It was what Freddie Mercury was for Live Aid. Pink Floyd were the only band not to be verbally introduced and I remember the moment as if it were yesterday: the house and the stage lights were darkened while the introduction of ‘Speak To Me' was played, accompanied on the video screens by an animated version of the heart monitor graphic from
Dark Side of the Moon
. They stepped onto the stage and the crowd erupted in applause.

It was a great moment in music history, many were crying and I had met many over the years whose lives had changed because of Pink Floyd. They were one of the few bands in music history that managed to speak on behalf of the people, to the rest of the world, capturing how and what they were thinking – not just with the words, but with the sounds. During the guitar introduction of ‘Wish You Were Here', Waters said: “It's actually quite emotional standing up here with these three guys after all these years. Standing to be counted with the rest of you. Anyway, we're doing this for everyone who's not here, but particularly, of course, for Syd.” After the last song had been played, Gilmour said, “Thank you very much, good night” and started to walk off the stage, but Waters called him back, and the band shared a group hug. It became the most famous picture of Live 8. With multi-instrumentalist Richard Wright's subsequent death in September 2008, Live 8 was to be the final concert to feature all four bandmates.

I saw Roger for Sunday lunch at his country house the following weekend. He told me an amusing anecdote. They were rehearsing one of the songs, and Roger said that the ending should go up. David said it should go down. Roger said, “But I wrote the song”, to which David replied, “Well, it's my band now.”

In '94 when they finished the US tour for
The Division Bell
, David had to go to New York to supervise the soundtrack for a film of the last live show. After touring for months, he was exhausted. I knew how much they had negotiated for the film rights; Steve O'Rourke had told me. In the overall context, it wasn't all that much – just single figure millions! I had a telephone conversation with David and he told me how exhausted he was.

“Why are you bothering?” I asked. “You've just made a fortune touring the US. The band are only getting x amount for the film rights.”

He replied, “Yes. But most of that is mine.”

After the Live 8 reunion, word on the street was that Roger wanted to get the band back together, but he told Associated Press in 2010 that “Gilmour is completely disinterested.” So Roger now plays
The Wall
and other Pink Floyd songs that he wrote, with his own band, on world tours to sold-out arenas, and he probably makes more money that way. Gilmour and Nick Mason are the only other surviving members of Pink Floyd, and they tour with other musicians under that name.

Back in the January of '92, Roger and I started hanging out together in the Sunset Marquis and for weeks we had dinner together – most nights, in fact.

We were getting closer as mates as the days went by. My room overlooked the garden and he would have to pass it to get to his cottage. He would bang on my door each night. “Honey, I'm home!” he would shout. I went to the studio a couple of times to see him recording
Amused to Death
and I think it's where our friendship was cemented; I recognised the voice of one of the singers, P. P. Arnold, and he seemed quite impressed by that. I realised I wasn't missing London one bit and it was here I had noticed how London and I were growing apart. It would soon become a place I would visit, but not live in again. Today, London has changed. It's busier than ever, everyone lives there now, and what with the globalisation of cities via the invasion of big chains and an increase in surveillance, the character of London that I loved so very much and was a part of on the King's Road was beginning to fade into a kind of memory. The signature of Britain was, to me, fading – or maybe it was me who was fading? I was out of love with London, perhaps.

I went with Roger to a benefit concert for Walden Woods where Roger, Neil Young, Don Henley and John Fogarty all played. Roger told me that Neil Young could only play acoustic guitar because he had damaged his ears. We went together to the Imax Theatre to see a film of a supposedly live Rolling Stones concert, but Roger deliberately ruined it for me by continually whispering ‘studio' over every other shot.

Maryam d'Abo was also in LA around that time. I would take her to Matsuhisa, our favourite restaurant (the original one in the Nobu chain). “Do you mind if I bring Roger along? Otherwise he will be on his own,” I asked her one night.

“Of course not,” she said, “I'll invite a girlfriend,” and brought along the beautiful Priscilla Phillips. Soon after, while still at the Sunset Marquis, Roger announced he had to go home to England. I thought it was strange he would leave the recording of his album, so I guessed something was up on the home front. When he got back, he told me he had gone home to tell his wife Carolyn he wanted a divorce. They divorced in '92. He married Priscilla in '93.


Eric Fellner was renting a house up in the hills and I used to go there for dinner. Eric, with his partner Tim Bevan, owned Working Title Films. Eric told me that Gary Oldman had rented a house for a year whilst starring in
for Francis Ford Coppola, but he had left it with four months left paid for. I took over the lease, did a deal with the landlady and stayed there for five years. It was in Benedict Canyon and, my word, it really was beautiful. The view, in fact, could have been near St. Paul de Vence in the South of France, but was fifteen minutes from Sunset Boulevard. David and Bridget Hedison owned the house. He was the star of the original 1958 version of the horror classic
The Fly
, played Captain Lee Crane in
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea
and Felix Leiter in two James Bond movies. Very Hollywood!

Siobhan Barron was also living in LA. It was the spring of '92 and she was working at the Limelight LA office. In fact, due to the recession back in the UK, there were many Brits I knew over here. I counted seventy working in film, advertising and music. Siobhan had just rented a beach house in Malibu, on Escondido – the last beach where the houses are on the sand. After that, the big swanky houses owned by Barbra Streisand, Richard Gere, Johnny Carson etc. were all up on the bluff and aren't visible from the beach. You could walk for about two miles from Escondido Beach to Point Dume and not see any houses on the beach, except one – it belonged to TV legend Dick Clark. I went to visit my friend Siobhan in April, the first weekend she was in her house. It was foggy, but I loved it. I remember the moment; everything was monochrome grey: the sky, the sea, the beach…I loved it so much I rented a weekend cottage on the same beach.

Living in Malibu was the beginning of one of the happiest periods of my life, even if I nearly died on many occasions, for it was the beginning of apocalypse LA! Fires, floods, earthquakes and riots – we had the lot. In fact, I had only been living in the house in the canyon for ten days when I was curfewed inside it. I couldn't go out at night and I watched on TV as Hollywood burned. It was the Rodney King riots, after the police officers that had been caught on videotape savagely beating Rodney King were acquitted. The black community rioted and every night for six nights the fires spread into the smarter areas of Hollywood. The National Guard was called out. Nigel and Jaki Carroll were living in Hollywood, and the fires were coming too close for comfort. Shortly after, they moved their family to Westlake Village – a quiet family neighbourhood in the San Fernando Valley. Eventually the fires died, but not before causing a billion dollars' worth of damage.

Next came the Malibu wildfires. I had the house in Malibu, but luckily I had a backup pad well away from the flames. The fires spread through the Malibu canyons and were fuelled by the strong Santa Ana winds that blow from the desert towards the sea. Arsonists usually deliberately set the fires when there is a strong Santa Ana wind, just for the fun of it. When you say the word ‘arsonist', one often thinks of an anarchist, dressed in a hoodie and baggy jeans, someone with no education and a hate for the world, but that is not always the case – sometimes, the arsonists are the firefighters. Granted, firefighters are some of the bravest, most incredible people, but there are also the crazies who want to start fires and put them out – power maniacs. It's a weird world we live in… and I was watching it burn on TV.

Pepperdine University, just down the road from my Malibu house, was ravaged by the fire; all the trees were burnt down and the buildings were only saved because of the amount of lawn around them. All the Malibu canyons were burnt. I drove up some of them a few days later. The only things left standing were brick chimneys dotted around. It was very sad. Because of the earthquake threat, LA building codes stipulate that houses have to be made of wood. The only brick allowed was in the chimneys. Escondido Beach Road was only saved because the firefighters lined up their trucks on the Pacific Coast Highway and, with water hoses, stopped the flames jumping over it. Glyn Johns and a friend were caught in Glyn's home up a mountain off Topanga Canyon. They were trapped as sixty-foot-high flames travelling at forty miles an hour jumped over their house – while they were in it. They were only saved because Glyn had cut back his vegetation around the house. Danny Mindel came back to his house, intact in a burnt-out landscape, to find a note: “Your house was saved by fireman Bob.”

January 1994, and a record cold hit the Eastern United States. The coldest temperature ever measured in Indiana state history was recorded at -36F. On the West Coast, something else was happening: the 6.8 magnitude Northridge earthquake at 4.31am on 17 January 1994. This was the single most terrifying moment of my life (and I have left a Ferrari on top of a wall in a car crash). The whole of Los Angeles, including all the mountains and all the skyscrapers, moved up… an entire foot and north a yard.

Lest we forget, this is how the mountains were created. I suppose we've become too domesticated in the modern age, with set buildings and roads and train tracks, when in reality, all land moves, all oceans move and nothing is stable. Only the weather dictates and we are nothing but victims of it. I think in modern times we have come to forget that. I certainly had, but I remembered it again when the jolt sent me flying out of bed. The bedroom TV went ten feet and I was thrown into the doorway. I hung on for dear life as the land shook to settle. I was being shaken like a rag doll. It was terrifying and I remember in my terror thinking,
Why have I moved to LA? Everyone knew the ‘Big One' was coming.
The houses on Benedict Canyon sit on notches in the hillside and I was certain that either we would slide off our notch, or the house above us would come down on top of us. The shaking lasted thirty seconds. It doesn't seem long, but when you are in the middle of sheer terror, it's an eternity. The noise in the house was tremendous, as was the sound of the wooden frames creaking and glass crashing. The moment it died down, I rushed to have a shit and there was another 6.0 quake while I was sitting on the toilet. I was disappointed later to discover that this Northridge earthquake was not the ‘Big One'. I can't imagine what that will be like. I just hope I'm not in LA that day.

BOOK: Johnny Cigarini
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