Liz Jones’s love for the leop­ard-print le­gend is reignited by a mem­o­rable though in­com­plete ex­hi­bi­tion at the O2

The Mail on Sunday - Event - - MUSIC -

My Name Is Prince The O2, Lon­don Un­til Jan­uary 7

Ever since the day Prince died, on April 21, 2016, I have been un­able to lis­ten to his mu­sic. It’s just too hard. But how on earth will I cope with­out him? When I broke up with my first proper boyfriend, I sat by my tape ma­chine, lis­ten­ing to Adore by Prince, over and over again. ‘ You don’t know what you mean to me!’ he sang, in that tremu­lous falsetto. Even the mem­ory makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. Prince was my con­soler. When he died, there was no one left to do that job.

And so it was with trep­i­da­tion I went along last week to the world pre­miere of the new ex­hi­bi­tion cel­e­brat­ing his life. As I did, all those old feel­ings of un­re­quited love bub­bled – I will def­i­nitely never marry him now!

I re­mem­ber my dad driv­ing me to Chelms­ford, just so I could buy the al­bum Pa­rade on the day of its re­lease in 1986. I was dis­ap­pointed, not at the mu­sic but be­cause the al­bum was just far too short. For all my adult life, I sim­ply couldn’t get enough of Prince: I saw him, front row, on 17 con­sec­u­tive nights at Wem­b­ley; by night ten, he would fold his tiny arms, shrug, roll those enor­mous eyes and look at me as if to say: ‘Oh no. Not you again.’

So. It’s me again, Prince. Gasp­ing anew at the al­bum cover of Dirty Mind, Prince in a pair of bikini briefs against an up­turned bed­spring. He had a one-track mind, and for a vir­gin like me he was my only in­tro­duc­tion to sex, and boy did he set a high bar.

While this ex­hi­bi­tion is tiny com­pared to the 2013 Bowie ret­ro­spec­tive at the Vic­to­ria & Al­bert Mu­seum, Prince beat him hands down in the love stakes. Bowie’s most ro­man­tic line was ‘I ab­so­lutely love you’. Prince, on 1988’s Love­sexy (that al­bum was a first, in that P made it seam­less, so you had to lis­ten in the or­der he dic­tated), writes: ‘ Race cars burn rub­ber in my pants.’ Crikey!

But even bet­ter than see­ing all the al­bum cov­ers again in what is a (thank­fully) chrono­log­i­cal tour through his vo­ra­cious work ethic – and watch­ing the videos on big screens (my heart still leaps at my all-time favourite, Al­pha­bet Street, where you can see those mas­cara’d lashes close over green eyes) – is the won­der­ful ar­ray of cos­tumes. The slightly shabby pur­ple trench from and Pur­ple Rain. The baby-blue cloud play suit from Rasp­berry Beret. The peach all-in-one from the 1987 Sign O’ The Times tour, which re­minds me my ticket stub for the Paris leg dic­tated the au­di­ence all wear peach or black; gosh, he was bossy! His rather sad box of Chanel and Mac make-up and

Dove soap. The case con- tain­ing his shoes (he had them cus­tom-made by a cob­bler in Old Street, Lon­don, of all places) with the four-inch heels, the con­cealed plat­form. It all feels so vul­ner­a­ble, th­ese relics of a man I thought so out of reach, so mag­i­cal. He was hu­man, af­ter all.

My only gripes are that the ex­hi­bi­tion feels far from ex­haus t ive. I’d have loved videos from the peo­ple he worked with: the pres­i­dent of the UK fan club (hello, Eileen!); Cathy Glover, his elu­sive dancer; and Su­san­nah Melvoin, the love of his life (bitch!). And there could have been a snatch of his film Un­der The Cherry Moon, just so you could see his bare feet run­ning across the floor (the only time he is un­shod, on record) and notes from fans, too: P was al­ways so gra­cious, giv­ing us front-row seats, and spe­cial re­leases.

There are lots of leop­ard-print gui­tars here, but I’d have loved to have seen the white-but­toned crop top and som­brero from Kiss; his 1985 Os­car for Pur­ple Rain; and the cage where he kept two doves, Di­a­mond and Pearl, on the atrium at Pais­ley Park, his laven­der-scented HQ in Minneapolis. Sent to in­ter­view him back in 1996, the first words I ut­tered were: ‘Prince. Those doves re­ally shouldn’t be con­fined.’ He was both shocked and amused.

What’s clear from this ex­hi­bi­tion, though, is that Prince bent gen­der rules so far they snapped. I don’t even think Prince was a man: that’s far too pedes­trian; he wore a Car­men Mi­randa tur­ban, for God’s sake! He used les­bian mir­rored im­agery in the video for When Doves Cry. He wrote prob­a­bly the best song, ever: If I Was Your Girl­friend. And he made up new rules for what it is to be sexy.

I wish his cos­tumes – all with that tore­ador high waist to lengthen his legs – had been dis­played at floor height, not on plinths, so vis­i­tors could stand next to all 4ft 10in of him (I saw his pass­port when I was re­search­ing his bi­og­ra­phy; it stated his dis­tin­guish­ing fea­ture was ‘dwarfism’; they re­ally should have said ‘ge­nius’) and marvel at the power from such a lit­tle man.

Much has been made of the fact those heels meant his joints suf­fered, mean­ing he died from an ad­dic­tion to painkillers. But if he had been of nor­mal height, he wouldn’t have had to nur­ture such a dirty mind, or such a great sense of hu­mour. My favourite item on show is his hand­writ­ten (in pur­ple pen!) script for Pur­ple Rain. For one scene, he writes: ‘Lisa and Wendy com­ing out of house. Ob­vi­ously not day peo­ple.’

At the exit to the ex­hi­bi­tion, as well as the in­evitable shop, is a wire fence and a shrine where fans can leave scrib­bled notes. At first I thought this was a bit mawk­ish. But I left mine. It was just one word. ‘Thanks.’

As P would say, life is just a party. And par­ties aren’t meant to last.

Clock­wise from left: chain­mail po­lice­man’s hat from 1993; ‘Sym­bol’ mic stand; Prince on stage in 1984; Rasp­berry Beret cloud suit; Pur­ple Rain coat

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