The six words that changed David Bowie's life in 1980

This week in 1980, David Bowie was at no.1 in the UK with Ashes To Ashes. The video was famous at the time as the most expensive music promoter made and for featuring several future stars from the emerging New Romantic scene that had formed around London's Blitz Club, including future Visage frontman Steve Strange.

But the video is notable for another reason. While making it, Bowie later explained, he had an encounter that he said "profoundly changed him".

The story was recounted by Michael Dignum, the Assistant Director on the video for the Tin Machine track Miracle Goodnight in 1993. During a recess in filming, Dignum said, Bowie told him a story about the making of the Ashes To Ashes video.

David Bowie

(Image credit: David Bowie / YouTube)

That was a huge moment for me. It put me back in my place

Bowie admitted that he "had quite the attitude as a young pop star", but that changed during the filming of Ashes To Ashes. Filming the shot where Bowie walks up the beach dressed in the distinctive pierrot outfit he wore for the video, an old guy and his dog walked into shot. Everyone's yelling at the old guy, telling him to get out of the way, and he's like, "Screw you, this is my beach".

So Bowie takes a seat next to the director and waits for it all to blow over. Eventually the old guy is walking past the director who says to him, "Do you know who this is?"

The old guy looks Bowie up and down and says, "Of course I do. It's some c*nt in a clown suit."

Bowie not only thought it was hilarious – "That was a huge moment for me. It put me back in my place and made me realise, yes, I'm just a c*nt in a clown suit" – but the "whole facade came crumbling down" and he claimed that it profoundly changed him. According to Dignum, Bowie knew the names of everyone on set, would get them coffee when he went out for one, and had time for everyone. "He became that sweet, gracious guy who'd get coffee for people, and knew everybody's name and took time out to be gracious. And he said, 'That became more important to me than anything else'.


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