“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in,” groans a weary Al Pacino in The Godfather III. This is what it feels like being in/out (I’m not sure which) of the Sex Pistols. Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle has filmed a six-part television drama about the life and crimes of my childhood buddy and Pistols guitar hero Steve Jones, based on his autobiography Lonely Boy. So here we go again with endless rounds of interviews, with such profound questions as, what was Sid really like? Or Malcolm? Why is Johnny so angry? Will you ever play again? No!
First, it’s off to New York for the drama’s US premiere, courtesy of Vanity Fair. Not very punk, I know. But hey ho — and if you thought traveling on an early Sunday morning would ease your travel nightmare, forget it. Midtown in the Big Apple is dirty, noisy and as crowded as ever, so we head downtown to the relative calm of the West Village to meet Lonely Boy himself, who seems very relaxed about having his life, warts ’n’ all, flashed before the world. Who would have thought the story of a streetwise ragamuffin from Shepherd’s Bush, with a love of music and a pocket full of dreams, would end up as a multimillion-pound drama? I hate these red-carpet shindigs, but I’m there to support my mate so it’ll be a case of grin and bear it, talk a bit of bollocks and move on as quickly as possible. The young cast in the series are full of energy and fun to be around. They do a great job considering it’s notoriously difficult portraying a rock band on screen. There have been many disasters.
Back to London, where Jonesy hasn’t been for many years. He has a hunger for pie and mash, so we head to the classic M. Manze’s down Tower Bridge Road for a bellyful. I note a posh cheese and wine bar has opened next door. A microcosm of what’s happening in London, I guess. Driving back through town, passing allthe usual sights, we get stuck in traffic at the Mall and Hyde Park by all the protest kids screaming and shouting about some nonsense. Oh, how lucky we are to live in a welcoming and open democracy, we sigh mockingly. The Union flags are out in great numbers. Preparation for Her Majesty’s Jubilee is palpable. We give our own version of “God Save the Queen” a blast on the car stereo. Nothing much has changed, giggles Jonesy.
We’re staying just off Whitehall, so I go for a stroll. I pause for a moment to admire the Household Cavalry and the heavily armed, grim-faced cops, before heading for Westminster Abbey. Hot tip — avoid the marauding hordes and the £25 entry fee and go through “martyrs’ gate” to a regular service. I come out of Holy Communion refreshed and ready to rock. It feels strange being a tourist in your own town. Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner.
Off we go to Stamford Bridge for the last match of the Premier League season, Chelsea vs Watford. A dead rubber of a game if ever there was one. The Blues have already qualified for Europe. The atmosphere was flat due to our recent Cup Final defeat to Liverpool (on penalties… again) and the ground not being at full capacity due to the government sanctions on the club over the Abramovich affair. The hypocrisy of it all.
The London premiere was a bit of a do. Cameras clicking and lights flashing everywhere. This way, that way, over here! Over there! Arghh! Danny Boyle was his usual chatty and good-humored self. He’s done a great job. The aftershow got a bit messy and it was lovely to catch up with old friends. Hollie Cook and her band kept the party vibes going, watched by a proud mum and dad. I think even Jonesy enjoyed it. I left early and walked back through Trafalgar, then Parliament Square, to the quiet of the hotel, relieved it was all over. I’ve been pulled back in all right.
This article was originally published in The Spectator’s July 2022 World edition.