It Is almost 30 years to the day since the purple Mini spun out of control and smashed into a tree, killing outright one of our most famous and flamboyant rock stars – Marc Bolan.
The T.Rex frontman – a leading light of the 70s glam rock movement – was two weeks short of his 30th birthday when he died in that crash in Barnes, south west London, on September 16, 1977. But his legend and music lives on. Marc has been cited as an inspiration by acts as diverse as Morrissey, Guns N’Roses and Oasis. And his iconic tunes are still used in adverts and films – I Love To Boogie was in Billy Elliot.No one is prouder of his legacy than Gloria Jones – his lover and mother of their son, Rolan. “He’s actually bigger now than he was in the 70s,” says Gloria, 68, speaking exclusively to the Daily Mirror. “You’ve got kids of seven and eight wearing Marc’s T-shirt because they used his music in Billy Elliot. And all these stars are saying they were influenced by him. He’d be happy with that.”
Certainly the 30th anniversary of his death was never going to slip by unnoticed.
First up is Saturday’s ITV1 documentary, Marc Bolan: 20th Century Boy, which looks back at his early life – growing up in Hackney, East London, with his dad Simeon, mum Phyllis and little brother Harry. A 2 CD collection of his work, Marc Bolan T.Rex Greatest Hits, will be released. And there will be a starstudded gig in his honour at London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire on September 15. Although Gloria is “very excited” by these plans to commemorate his life, she wants it to be a celebration rather than a memorial. “We are celebrating his life, his music and his legacy,” she says. “We would like for this time to be a happy time because Marc was a happy person.”
Even now Gloria finds it hard to talk about that horrific car crash. She was driving the Mini and although she survived it has left deep emotional scars. “I didn’t come out of shock for over 14 years,” she says. “It was all so difficult for me to understand. And my body was trying to heal. “When I think about the accident now, I think about Rolan – because without him and my other son I don’t know if I would have made it. Marc was my soulmate, but Rolan was nearly two when his father died – how could I not go on? Marc would not have wanted that.”
Sitting in the lobby of the plush Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Los Angeles, Gloria becomes wistful recalling the extraordinary life she shared with the 20th Century Boy. “This was a very special place for us,” she reveals. “Marc loved it here. And I can really feel his presence. We had some pretty rock ‘n’ roll times here. There’d be a knock on our door some nights and a couple of movie stars would turn up. It was always a suite. Marc always travelled first-class and only stayed in suites – did everything in style. “He always put on his feather boa and his mascara even though it was a conservative hotel.”
Texas-born Gloria was a talented soul singer and producer – she recorded the original version of Tainted Love and had worked with Marvin Gaye – when she met Marc. She recalls: “My band was on tour in ’72 and Marc got in touch saying he liked our sound. He was recording in Germany so we went there to meet him and we got on well. But we never crossed that line. He was married to June Child and I was married, so that was that. But we got to spend time together on the road. “One night I wore pink, I guess I looked cute because he said: ‘So what would you like to eat this evening?’ “I must have said seafood because he had 129 boxes of it delivered to my room! It was every item from the menu of a seafood restaurant. But we were still just friends.”
However their relationship didn’t remain platonic for long. “He came to the States soon after and brought me a box of jewellery,” says Gloria. “All my friends were saying, ‘He likes you,’ but I still wasn’t sure. “Marc returned to London but called me every day. One day he said, ‘My phone bill is so large you may as well take a flight over here.’ “That’s when it became different.”
Determined to look good, Gloria had a makeover. “But they did my hair really badly – nothing was right,” she says. “Then I had false nails put on. “Marc collected me at the airport, but by that time I was a mess. I said, ‘I really wanted to be beautiful for you.’ He told me, ‘You are’ – even though I looked a state! “Later we went to visit someone who had this dog and one of my nails came off. All the way back to Marc’s flat I was worried the dog would choke on the nail and Marc was just saying: ‘Don’t worry’. To have someone you can be that honest with – worrying about a dog eating a stupid nail – that’s normal, and amazing. And that’s what Marc was about.”
Their romance blossomed and Bolan was soon treating Gloria’s son as his own. She says: “He’d take him to Disneyland – sometimes several times in one day.
“After a while Marc would get bored and we’d go somewhere else. And he’d say, ‘This isn’t so great’, so we’d go back to Disney!’ “Life was always exciting with Marc. He was so alive.”Two months after Rolan was born, he took us to the Tramp Club in London. We went early before other people arrived and the girls would watch the baby as Marc and I went on the dancefloor. “I’d dance and he would watch me, then he’d go out and twirl and say, ‘This is how it’s done’. There was always a lot of laughter in our life. We were just having fun.”
Away from the wild rock ‘n’ roll scene, Gloria insists that Marc was just a quiet, family man. She dismisses his well-documented cocaine dependency, saying: “I know nothing of any addiction.”
She recalls: “We were always in London Zoo because he loved Guy the Gorilla – I mean, really loved him! We spent a lot of time there and in parks and peaceful places. Marc loved tranquillity. “Yes, there was the rock ‘n’ roll side, but then there was the humble Jewish boy. He was a very handson dad who had a lot of private time with Rolan. We’d talked about moving to Malibu and having more kids. In fact, just three weeks before the accident we’d talked about getting married. “In those days it was just rock ‘n’roll and to find that balance was important, especially for a genius. And Marc really was a genius.”
Gloria has since remarried but is establishing a music school for deprived children in Marc’s honour.”I now live in Sierra Leone and I’m building a Marc Bolan School Of Music there,” she says. “At the moment I’m relying on friends to donate and my family is sharing the little we have with the children. “These kids are orphans, they have nothing, all they need is a chance. Some have been through terrible things and music is so good at healing. Marc loved children – he would have been very proud to have this school in his name.”
He would also be proud of what his son has achieved. Rolan, 31, releases his own album later this month. “Rolan always wanted to be a baseball player but he got injured in college,” says Gloria. “Then he was asked to star in a college production, and he had talent. “It’s hard for him as there’s a lot of expectation with his music. But I’m happy for him – as long as he finds a balance. It’s scary. I heard him singing the other day and he sounds exactly like Marc. “And recently he said, ‘Mum, I want you to be looking slick for the anniversary events in September’. There’s no way I would be carrying this extra weight on me if his father was still around. “Marc was so ahead of his time. He never saw colour, he never saw black or white. Nowadays it’s nothing for a guy to be with a girl of a different ethnicity, but it was very different back then. “Did it cause problems? Well, with the way he dressed and his high heels, people always thought it was two girls! But you know what? He was very much a man. “And a wonderful one at that.”