I met Tim Willis on Sloane Street, London 25 years ago. He was with his then girlfriend Isabella Delves-Broughton. I don’t remember meeting him that day.
I remember the first conversation Tim and I had was at Celia and Andrew Lyttleton’s frescoed apartment in Ladbroke Grove.
I remember showing him the invitations I had just had printed for my play The Host starring Lady Georgia Byng who would later become Mrs. Danny Chadwick and after that Mrs. Marc Quinn. She is now probably best known for writing the Molly Moon children books.
Tim was unimpressed with the invitations.
I was prolific in those days, writing, making plays, living my life between London and Whitstable.
Tim was strangely nonjudgmental for one of the new elite who were making names for themselves during that time in London.
Remember, I was only a couple of years out of prison for a huge, unpaid credit card debt.
The story behind that debt had, the day I was sentenced, appeared in every British newspaper. Christened: Lord of The Lies by the News of The World Sunday tabloid that title, unlike the one I had assumed, tended to stick.
Pretending to be Lord Anthony Rendlesham was the defining moment in my young life. It set me on an unintended course the night I told that 4-word lie to the man I told it. I wonder what happened to him? Dermot Verchoyle-Campbell.
By the time I met Tim I was just ordinary (as the press loved to call me) Duncan Roy but he didn’t seem to mind how ordinary I was. We were both social misfits. The others came from good pedigrees and were gearing up to take their places in the British social stratosphere. Their roles already defined.
Unusual for a heterosexual he was socially mobile. Flexible. The girl he was with that day on Sloane St went on to become Mrs. Detmar Blow and invigorate the world of British fashion. Today her legacy, after a tragic suicide, is still evident as Alexander McQueen, John Galliano, Stephen Jones and Phillip Treacy are testament.
Although homosexuality offers the same kind of social flexibility (as I found when I told my big lie), I was wholly disinterested in the ‘gay lifestyle’ on offer at that time in London.
I knew a few other ubergays but we were frosty with each other as all of us wanted to be the only gay pet around. Mario Testino, Patrick Kinmonth, Johnny Shand-Kydd were three other ‘about town’ gays but, as I said, they were all pretty disinterested in me.
I had had a brief affair with Patrick when I was Lord Rendlesham.
I discovered Peter Doig’s degree show at St Martin’s Art School and bought one of Doig’s paintings that Peter then stole from my house whilst I was in prison.
Craigie Aitcheson the minimalist painter of crucifixes and Bedlinton Terriers accused Patrick of handing me over to the police when they were looking for me. He squealed, “Look, there’s the man who handed his gay lover over to the police.”
I had, of course, explored everything gay in London but it simply never inspired me enough to keep me going back.
Tim was really the first person I met whom I could share my wonderment with. One was encouraged, when in a huge and ancient houses, to take everything for granted but with Tim I could behave like a tourist. Ooing and arring about what we discovered there.
A few years later after Jay Jopling discovered Damien and the new British artists all of our lives would change irrevocably. We would no longer be living in someone else’s shoes, delighted by other older peoples choices, and would ride the British New Wave.
Meeting Kay Saatchi the other day at Amanda’s I now have a far more complete picture of what was going on when I knew Jay Jopling. I certainly remember Jay telling me about meeting Charles Saatchi. That Charles had discussed the possibility of running the Saatchi gallery on Boundary Road and how Jay had scoffed (to us) at that idea.
At the moment that Charles was offering Jay a job, Jay had other plans, he knew, and said as much, that Charles would ultimately work for HIM. I am, and have always been, in awe of Jay’s balls. Who wouldn’t have accepted to work for Charles? Only a man with massive ambition knew exactly what he wanted and exactly how to get it.
It was at this time that Jay would bring a harem of girlfriends to my tiny cottage on Island Wall in Whitstable. But that was all to end the day he met Maia Norman with whom he would fall deeply in love.
Visits to Whitstable became rare as they ensconced themselves in his house on Shakespeare Road in Brixton. The last memorable Jay visit was with Danny Moynihan, Louise Jackson and Maia. We would take ecstasy, drive to a ghastly local gay bar and dance to Pink Cadillac.
I think we may very well have had a rather wonderful orgy that night but Maia and Jay ended up alone as he was loathed to share her. The events of the next few years proved deeply unsettling. Maia would leave Jay for Damien and break his heart.
Jay submerged himself in the international art world, making huge amounts of money, marrying a girl he did not love and ending up in locations he loathed.
The last time I sat alone with him he told me how incredibly bored he was seeing the same faces day after day, the same gossip, same conversation and hankered after a the life he had at the edge of the world.
I will never, ever not love Jay. He was the one who looked out for me when I had my stint in hospital and collected me when I was discharged. He, for the longest time, was an occasional lover if no other pretty blond girl was available. He was an inspiration to a legion of young artists and remains so, something they all aspire to: a show at one of his many galleries.
I watched from the sidelines as he and Lily Allen publicly shattered the vestiges of his marriage.
The truth is, I couldn’t bear Sam Taylor Wood because she wasn’t Maia. It wasn’t her fault; she’s a perfectly nice girl. Not a very good artist.
So goodbye Tim, have a safe flight back to London. You make me remember the life we shared with this extraordinary cast of characters. I miss you when you are gone. You are a good friend.