A Letter from Hermione

Hermione Farthingale, the beautiful, refined, red-haired dancer with whom David lived when he wrote Space Oddity, was The One That Got Away from me during the writing of Starman. Several times I felt I'd got close to finding her – but she evaded me. And then one wonderful morning I opened Apple Mail and found she was trying to get in touch with me.

Later we got to speak; Hermione was kind about Starman, but also wanted to correct some interpretations. Foremost among them was the story, which I'd been told by several people, that Space Oddity was written in an atmosphere of froideur after the two had a falling out. They hadn't; rather, Hermione had decided to resume her career as a dancer, and the atmosphere that permeates Space Oddity was rather sadness, at an era that comes to an end.

Finally getting to interview Hermione was a complicated process – through no fault of hers – but to speak to her at last was supremely moving; for she seemed every bit as kind, charming and refined as all the descriptions I'd heard from other people. Although, quite reasonably, she is committed to keeping some aspects of her relationship with David to herself, there were several key insights. All of Hermione’s new information is reflected in the new UK paperback of Starman; the chapter that features her is heavily revised. Yet it’s worth pointing out two of the main areas that required revision.

One was to do with the flow of work: David's relationship with Hermione in fact coincided with a dearth of new material. This throws a new light on the momentum of his career - the first time he found a stable, happy household away from his parents, that formidable creative wellspring started to run dry.  More significant still was Hermione's observation of David's “strong sense of destiny”. Her description of how this manifested itself chimed, I thought, with Lindsay Kemp's statement that David was aware of “his own iconography,” or the many moments in Starman where I comment on Bowie's genius for positive visualisation, whether it was with The Manish Boys, or the Spiders, whose Trevor Bolder remembered “he cited where he was going to be. And then he did it.”

For, with Hermione, it seems David's positive visualisation was literal. He didn't describe the future – he actually drew it. “He'd draw himself. He'd envisage himself [in the future] in a drawing.” Even for something like an upcoming show, where most musicians would write a set-list, or itemise the equipment they needed, David Bowie would draw himself in costume - his own positive visualisation, sketched out on paper.

For me, this recollection underlines what a unique visionary David Bowie is, unlike any others in rock music. Even in 1968, his songwriting was patchy, unfocussed – but his sense of self, of destiny, was palpable, and supremely potent.

Towards the end of our conversations, I asked Hermione about that beautiful, poignant memento of their time together: David's song, Letter to Hermione.

“Um? How I felt when I heard it? I don't know.... It's an incredibly moving song. But I find an Occasional Dream just as moving, almost more so actually , because that's got [more] things in it. [In the song, David tells Hermione how fate  “danced you far from me”]. I think David [always] expresses himself beautifully. But they weren't written and handed to me , there wasn't any ulterior motive. Obviously they strike into the heart. They're wonderful, wonderful love songs, whoever they're for.”

Part of the attraction is they show a vulnerable, sensitive side to David – and more significantly, they're not written from the point of view of a persona, they're very personal. 

“I don't know his other music so well. To me, that's just the David I know. Who was very personal. These weren't works of fiction, they were just heartfelt songs.”

I was in a café in Greene Street, just a few weeks ago, and Letter To Hermione came on the sound system, it felt moving and... spooky. That must happen to you – how does it feel?

“Oh. Well. I don't know a good word for it. Completely moved. Transported... back to Clareville Grove. [An experience like that] is there and it's built into you, isn't it? I'm immensely moved by it every time I hear it. Knee-weakening it is.”

Part of me wanted to keep returning to Hermione, to constantly relive that blissful time in Clareville Grove. But sometimes repetition can damage a memory - it wears out with the retelling. So it felt fitting, somehow, to pay obeisance to her reclusiveness. Compared to many other interviewees, I know only fragments of Hermione's life – and I'm content to keep it that way. In the meantime, there's no better evocation of their time together than those two songs, Letter To Hermione  and An Occasional Dream. Meantime, Hermione, thanks for the glimpse into a fascinating period.

Hermione with David, Tony Visconti and ‘Hutch’ at the Ching a Ling session.