I’ve never met my biological father, he was a married man who’d disappeared well before my birth in 1967. All I have are my late mother’s opinions as to his character traits, which were … well, let’s just say he wasn’t exactly a role model. My mother met him while stationed in Australia during her time in the Women’s Royal Air Force and my early years were spent in a rural town on the outskirts of Victoria. My mother, while raising me pretty much single-handedly, continued to serve in the air force until I was four years of age. We then spent some time with my uncle in New Zealand, before several months later setting off on a five-week boat trip back to England. Even though I’ve seen a photograph of my father I’ve never tried to make contact – this chapter of my life may be best left alone.

When we arrived in England we initially moved in with my grandparents before settling down in Stanstead Abbotts. My mother soon found employment at a bank in London, which meant she left for work at 6.30 a.m., leaving me (from the age of eight) to fend for myself and get to school on time. When I got home from school she’d phone to let me know which neighbour I should go to for my supper. Then, around 7 p.m., she’d return home. My childhood might sound a bit Dickensian to some modern ears – but did I resent it? Hell, no, I had a cracking childhood – pretty much getting up to what I pleased with other kids in my neighbourhood. And I knew deep down she was only working to make ends meet. I can wholeheartedly say that, because without doubt I always came first – she’d go to work with holes in her shoes rather than see me go without. 

During my early teenage years, she did settle with one chap and ultimately got married. I didn’t really gel with him, a major hurdle being that precious time with my mother was scarce enough, without having to share her with someone else. Sadly, after just three years of marriage, he tragically died having contracted tuberculosis. While still overwhelmed with grief and loneliness my mother met someone else. Worse still, my mother and her new fella then decided to move out of town. It just compounded my need to leave home – well, four doors up to a neighbour who had a room to rent. Having spent many years fending for myself the move wasn’t that big a deal – leaving town and my mates behind was a far worse alternative. 

So while my mates were still living at home I already had my own digs and a job. The wages from that job only just covered my rent so, aware of my predicament, the kind-hearted lads at the roofing company I was labouring for supplemented my wages with a free breakfast. I was sixteen and having the time of my life in a decade that, in my opinion, epitomised everything that was great. The 1980s was the best time of my life. Yes, there’s an element of seeing things through rose-tinted glasses, but for me the decade that encapsulated my teenage years were much happier times. One day I was a mod, the next a new romantic, and the music was – and I still believe it to this day – the best it’s ever been. Music has always been a major part of my life; not just listening to it – I was singing in bands. However, the early 90s saw the start of Brit Pop – I wasn’t a fan. I was still stuck in the 80s and there wasn’t much call for a singer doing Spandau Ballet covers.

 

Therefore, I put music on the back-burner and tried my hand at acting. Having joined an agency, things started off well: a drama with Michael Kitchen, promo work as the Toxic Avenger and playing an extra in various soap operas. My big break came when I was cast as a German soldier, acting alongside Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan. However, imagine my confusion when just hours before filming was to commence I was presented with a script in German! Those present at my audition failed to mention that I needed to speak fluent German – that was the end of that.

Alongside acting, myself and a mate were among the early pioneers to capitalise on a new craze – human statues. We travelled the world to attend events and parties for the rich and famous: Elton John, Prince Charles and Camilla to name a few. A drop in demand for living statues coincided with an increase in my disdain for the TV and film industry. It was fickle, and I grew tired of being judged for what I’d appeared in rather than for who I was. I wasn’t too concerned about turning my back on acting – I’d my love of music to fall back on and by now a nostalgic view towards 80s music was developing. I moved to Harlow with my girlfriend ten years ago and started busking in the town centre, where I found surprisingly little competition. You’ve got to have a thick skin to do what I do – my mother wasn’t the only one who was convinced that busking was little more than begging. Regardless of others’ perceptions, though, busking fitted in nicely around my other musical commitments. 

My persona when singing isn’t an alter ego. Don’t get me wrong, I have days when I’m down. But if ever I’m feeling a bit glum while busking, a song or two from my repertoire of 80s classics really sorts me out. Not everyone can do what I do. Singers who want nothing but adulation can’t handle being a busker. There’s been times when I’ve been chased, spat on, and once someone tried to steal my money – resulting in concerned bystanders giving chase. Although I was angry, I did reflect upon the circumstances that would lead someone to steal from a busker. Negative reactions are few and far between – I’d far rather dwell on the majority of positive moments, such as the comments from my regulars, who say what I do brightens up their day. Or the time when a lady explained (her face a combination of tears and smiles) that a song I’d sung was a firm favourite of her late husband.

Recently Harlow has taken somewhat of a battering. It’s a shame, as an overwhelming majority of those who live in Harlow are really good people. A majority of the negativity aimed at the town is just misinformed bravado, whereas I’m inclined to form my opinions on fact rather than jumping on the bandwagon. For the time being Harlow is my home, but one day a move to the coast is likely. But I’m sure wherever I go I’ll never turn my back on busking – it’s a great way of life.

© 2018 CHRIS HADDON

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