His ex Jerry Hall has just married Rupert Murdoch but Mick Jagger is still drawing in crowds with his new exhibition...
The Rolling Stones exploded on to the music scene over 50 years ago with a brand of sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll epitomised by their singer. Famed for his prowess, he is said to have slept with 4,000 women. Now, the great grandfather is still drawing in crowds with a new exhibition
Back in 1959, a 15-year-old Mick Jagger appeared on a BBC television series, Seeing Sport. His PE- teacher father was one of the show’s consultants, and Jagger, sporting a fashion-forward stripy tee, was among a group of teens who demonstrated outdoor activities. Years later, Jagger boasted: ‘I was a star already. I was thinking, “Never mind the bloody canoe! How does my hair look?”’
Fast forward six decades and Jagger is still working the camera. As the charismatic frontman of The Rolling Stones, he has strutted his way to fame, fortune and a reputation as one of the greatest performers alive. Ex-wife Bianca – who looked uncannily like her husband – has said Jagger was such a narcissist he only got with her so he could ‘achieve the ultimate in sexual experience – making love to himself’. Now a 72-year-old great-grandfather – yes, really – Mick the Mouth is still cool. He’s been cited as a role model by Lady Gaga, headlined at Glastonbury and sung with everyone from Taylor Swift to Barack Obama.
Born on 26 July 1943, Sir Michael Philip Jagger – he was knighted in 2003 – grew up in Dartford, Kent, with father Joe, beautician mother Eva and younger brother Chris. At school, he toed the line except when it came to dress code – he once walked into a special assembly called by the headmaster to lecture the boys on wearing the proper uniform in ‘the tightest jeans I’d ever seen,’ remembered one fellow pupil.
By the age of 18, music-loving Jagger was playing small local gigs, emulating Little Richard and James Brown: ‘I used to do mad things – go on my knees and roll on the ground... People were shocked. It was a bit wild for what was going on at the time in the suburbs.’ He found a kindred spirit in Keith Richards – they went to the same primary school – and, when the pair met guitarist Brian Jones at a gig, The Rolling Stones was born.
Jagger dropped out of a course he was taking in accountancy at the London School of Economics and moved into a squalid flat in Chelsea with Jones and Richards, who recalled how Jagger went through ‘his first camp period... wandering around in a blue linen housecoat’. Then, in May 1963, an executive from Decca Records watched as Jagger worked female fans into a frenzy, and signed the band. The following year, they had their first number one with It’s All Over Now.
Part of the Stones’ appeal was their rebellious image, concocted by their manager to set them apart from their clean-cut rivals, The Beatles. The band were encouraged to behave badly – they were once fined for urinating on a garage forecourt and, on another occasion, they were chased out of a restaurant by the knife-wielding chef.
Fans loved the anti-Establishment vibe as well as Jagger’s sexually ambivalent style. An early adopter of make-up and scarves, he was once asked by an unsettled male diner if he was a man or a woman. Jagger unzipped his jeans by way of an answer.
According to biographer Christopher Andersen, Jagger has had 4,000 lovers, including flings with Rudolf Nureyev and Andy Warhol. Jagger’s second wife, Jerry Hall, once described him as a ‘dangerous sexual predator’ (after they divorced, Jagger allegedly slept with the therapist he was seeing for sex addiction).
‘It was eating and drinking and taking drugs and having sex. It was just part of life,’ recalled Jagger, who in 1967 was arrested after a drugs bust (he was convicted of possession of amphetamines, but a three-month prison sentence was quashed on appeal). In his autobiography, Life, Richards dispelled the urban myth that police had found Jagger with then-girlfriend Marianne Faithfull and a strategically placed Mars bar.
Jagger and Faithfull were together for four years, though she later claimed that after the first six months it was more of a platonic relationship (the two would lie in bed reading). One night Richards bedded Faithfull in retaliation for Jagger sleeping with his then-girlfriend, Anita Pallenberg. After Faithfull miscarried Jagger’s baby, the couple drifted apart.
By the 70s, there was an unstoppable supply of sex and drugs. A 1972 tour documentary was withdrawn from broadcast due to its explicit content, showing Jagger snorting cocaine while groupies had sex with tour members.
At the end of the decade, Jagger had married – and divorced – Bianca Perez-Mora Macias, with whom he had a daughter, Jade, and fathered another child with singer Marsha Hunt (it took him nine years to accept paternity). But while his relationships with women were fractured, another long-term association was also about to implode.
‘It was the start of the 80s when Mick became unbearable,’ wrote Richards in his autobiography, recalling how The Rolling Stones almost broke up due to the growing animosity between them. ‘He became Brenda or Her Majesty,’ said Richards, who portrayed Jagger as cold, ambitious and controlling in his book. ‘We’d be talking about “that bitch Brenda” with him in the room, and he wouldn’t know.’
Part of the fallout was due to Jagger making and touring his solo records. He was also, said Richards, someone who was ‘difficult to reach. Mick doesn’t like to trust anybody.’
In his forties, Jagger cleaned up his act – ‘I realised that if I was to carry on performing I was going to have to be incredibly disciplined’ – and started training for his energetic performances. He combined running and kick-boxing with ballet and yoga, and swapped booze and drugs for smoothies and vitamin supplements.
The new Mick seemed almost as shocking as the old Mick. ‘There’s this little cupboard people put you in because they don’t want to see you as a balanced whole,’ said Jagger, who was known to fax his children to help with their homework when he was on tour.
‘He’s a very nice man,’ said Faithfull. ‘Mick rang me when I was ill [Faithfull was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005, from which she recovered 18 months later]. Behind the stage persona there’s a fabulous, intelligent, cultivated, kind man.’
Even ex-wife Hall – who filed for divorce in 1999 after Jagger’s affairs with Carla Bruni and lingerie model Luciana Morad, with whom he fathered a child (his seventh) – concedes that ‘he’s a great father and a great friend, just a lousy husband’. And that comes after he dropped the bombshell that their 1990 marriage, a Hindu ceremony in Bali, wasn’t legal and therefore she wasn’t entitled to a settlement (she eventually received around £10 million). Post-divorce, Jagger moved in next door to his former marital home in Richmond so he could be close to his children (he even had a wall knocked down to join the residences).
Many people have spoken of Jagger being ‘complex’ – Richards once described him as ‘a nice bunch of guys’. ‘He’s very cautious,’ says biographer Philip Norman, who interviewed Jagger a couple of years ago. ‘He’s still carrying this persona of a wild, sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll icon, and he’s not like that at all.’
He’s also, despite his advanced years, managed to maintain his reputation as a style icon, evolving from the Ossie Clark jumpsuits of the 70s to being dressed by the likes of Hedi Slimane. In 2001, when he began dating designer L’Wren Scott, the couple were regulars on the front row.Tragically, in 2014, while Jagger was away touring in Australia, L’Wren committed suicide. In her will, she left her entire $9 million estate to Jagger.
‘It’s amazing that [the Stones] are still considered to be cool,’ says Norman. ‘They created the template that all other bands have followed.’
Jagger has recently turned his hand to producing films, including the James Brown biopic, Get On Up, in 2014, and this year’s HBO TV release about the 70s music scene, Vinyl. And he shows no sign of slowing down. ‘I live in the now,’ he says. ‘I don’t ever think, “This is amazing, I can’t believe I’m still doing this.” I am doing it. And I don’t think, “It’s all gone so fast,” because for me it’s still happening.’
Exhibitionism is at London’s Saatchi Gallery from 5 April to 4 September.