Bruce Dick­in­son of Iron Maiden (you might have heard of them) re­flects on a ca­reer of un­com­pro­mised am­bi­tion

Iron Maiden singer, PI­LOT, en­tre­pre­neur, OLYMPIC-STANDARD fencer – Bruce dick­in­son Wears A LOT of HATS, of­ten AT THE same TIME. AND some­how He’s found TIME To WRITE HIS Mem­oir, What does this But­ton do?. so WHICH one of Th­ese Things Is He re­ally? ALL of T

Kerrang! (UK) - - Contents - Words: NICK RUSKELL pho­tos: PAUL HAR­RIES

It is quite a while into a con­ver­sa­tion with Bruce Dick­in­son that the words ‘Iron’ and ‘Maiden’ spring up. That’s not be­cause you don’t care, or you’re try­ing to look cool in front of the singer in one of the world’s big­gest and best metal bands – it’s sim­ply that he’ll start talk­ing about some­thing that in turn leads to some­thing else that makes you go, ‘Hang on, what?’, and 20 min­utes later you’re onto an­other topic with no idea how you got there, other than prod­ding your sub­ject for de­tail. What does this but­ton do, in­deed.

But that’s what’s makes Bruce such a grand hu­man be­ing; ec­cen­tric­ity, an in­no­cent cu­rios­ity about ev­ery­thing, a fierce – but gen­uinely en­dear­ing – sense of am­bi­tion, a fan­tas­tic sense of hu­mour and a nose for ad­ven­ture straight from a Big­gles novel. When he meets K! to­day, in a chic Lon­don ho­tel, he ar­rives look­ing a bit like Alan Par­tridge af­ter a trol­ley dash in Mil­lets – but that’s fuck­ing cool, be­cause 30 sec­onds af­ter shak­ing his hand, you feel like you want to go out and scrub a few things off your bucket list, to do some­thing fan­tas­tic just for the sake of hav­ing done it, that could very

well take your en­tire life down a strange new ex­cit­ing path.

With a book, the reis­sues of his ’90s solo work from the pe­riod af­ter he left Maiden, and a life less or­di­nary to dis­cuss, when you start talk­ing to Bruce, you won­der where you’ll end up. And that’s ex­actly how you want him…

WHAT DOES THIS BUT­TON DO? ISN’T LIKE A NOR­MAL ROCK BIOG – IT READS MORE LIKE BILL BRYSON. WAS THAT YOUR IN­TEN­TION?

“Well, you’ve sort of hit the nail on the head when you said Bill Bryson. I’ll take that as a com­pli­ment! I never wanted it to be the usual ‘The sex, the sleaze, the this, that and the other’ tales. Be­cause, you know what? They’re bor­ing! Af­ter the first Holy Ro­man orgy you think,‘right, but does any­thing ac­tu­ally hap­pen that has any mean­ing, or any­thing that might in­form those of us that don’t have Holy Ro­man or­gies ev­ery five min­utes?’”

IT’S WRIT­TEN WITH A SENSE OF WIDE-EYED EX­CITE­MENT, THOUGH, WHICH IS ALSO DIF­FER­ENT FOR A ROCK BIOG…

“Well, yeah. I do sort of go through life in a state of wide-eyed ex­cite­ment… just with oc­ca­sional hang­overs! But yeah, that’s kind of how I treat life, I sup­pose. Peo­ple some­times say,‘you should take things more se­ri­ously…’ Well, I do take things se­ri­ously. I just re­ally, re­ally, re­ally en­joy what I’m do­ing and be­ing alive.”

YOU DON’T SEEM LIKE SOME­ONE WHO’S PRONE TO BOUTS OF DARKNESS – YOU SEEM LIKE YOU’RE AL­WAYS TRY­ING TO FORGE AHEAD AND OVER­COME ANY PROB­LEMS. IS THAT FAIR?

“I do al­lude to the odd mo­ment of feel­ing a bit down, but for me, that’s about as bad as it gets. So yeah, that’s prob­a­bly a fair re­flec­tion of the way things pan out. If things don’t work out the way you want them to, you can end up feel­ing a bit sorry for your­self.the thing with me is, I usu­ally end up in that place and go­ing,‘you’re feel­ing sorry for your­self. Ad­mit it. Own up.’ Ei­ther that, or some­one else slaps me around the head and says,‘come on, stop feel­ing sorry for your­self. Look at all the good things you’ve got in your life.’ Other peo­ple have re­ally shitty things hap­pen to them, and I’ve met a lot of peo­ple who re­ally do strug­gle with things like de­pres­sion and long-term ill­ness, and it re­ally does make you pinch your­self and go,‘you know what? I’m very lucky [that I don’t have to go through that].’”

WHEN YOU LEFT IRON MAIDEN IN 1993 AND WENT SOLO, DID THAT KIND OF THINK­ING HELP? IT SEEMS LIKE YOU WERE LEAP­ING INTO THE UN­KNOWN GO­ING, ‘I WON­DER WHAT’S IN HERE…’

“That’s ex­actly what it was like. I wish I could say I had a plan – but I didn’t! In a bizarre way it felt like it was fa­tal­ism. I thought,‘it’s al­right, the uni­verse is gonna tell you what to do.and if the uni­verse de­cides that what’s next is just to dis­solve into the back­ground, then that’s what you need to do.’ If that was as far as I could evolve with mu­sic and all that stuff, then I was pre­pared to look back on the past 15 years or so and go,‘well, I’ve done plenty, not much to com­plain about. Maybe I’ll go and be a Tube driver!’”

WE CAN PIC­TURE YOU AS A TRAIN DRIVER, AC­TU­ALLY…

“Hey, there’s noth­ing wrong with be­ing a train driver! Looks great!”

YES IT DOES. SO WOULD YOU SAY YOU’RE HAPPY SO LONG AS THERE’S SOME­THING IN­TER­EST­ING TO DO?

“I made a strange pact with my­self that I would only try to do things that I loved.and the same thing goes for any­thing: you should do the things you love, but you should love the things you do. So even if you’re do­ing some­thing where you go,‘oh God, I re­ally don’t want to do this,’ fig­ure out a way to love it. Be­cause why be mis­er­able about do­ing some­thing you’ve gotta do any­way?”

HOW DID IT FEEL TO GO SOLO?

“I thought it was ex­cit­ing.the ex­pec­ta­tion was dif­fer­ent, there wasn’t as much rid­ing on it as with Maiden, and it was all up to me, re­ally. I didn’t know what was go­ing to hap­pen.would peo­ple like it? Would they not? Would they even care? It was a bit of a case of div­ing blind into it and just get­ting on with it, and what­ever hap­pens, hap­pens.”

SOME OF THE MU­SIC YOU DID IS QUITE ODD COM­PARED TO MAIDEN, PAR­TIC­U­LARLY ON SKUNKWORKS IN 1996. WAS THAT IN­TEN­TIONAL?

“Yes, and it was an in­ter­est­ing idea and an in­ter­est­ing thing to work on.and we knew peo­ple would think it was weird. It’s quite un­usual for peo­ple to move away so far from what they’re known for like that, ex­cept David Bowie. But it was nice to be able to have ideas like that and just go for it.”

DUR­ING YOUR SOLO CA­REER YOU DID A GIG IN SARA­JEVO AT THE HEIGHT OF THE BOSNIAN WAR. THE CITY WAS UN­DER SIEGE, YOU HAD TO BE SNUCK IN, AND YOU WERE TOLD BY THE BRI­TISH ARMY TO GO HOME. WHAT DROVE YOU TO DO IT?

“The sake of it, al­most. It cer­tainly turned into that. It was a big thing to do. Once we got there, the fact that they told us to piss off be­cause it was in­con­ve­nient to the UN at the time, that was like a red rag to a bull, I went,‘you know what? Maybe we can do this af­ter all. Let’s not give up!’”

SURELY, THOUGH, YOU MUST HAVE BEEN WOR­RIED THAT, BY LIT­ER­ALLY GO­ING INTO A WAR­ZONE TO PLAY A GIG, THINGS MIGHT NOT COME OFF SO WELL AND YOU MIGHT NOT MAKE IT HOME?

“Uh… yeah, be­cause we were do­ing some­thing gen­uinely haz­ardous! But we were only do­ing some­thing as haz­ardous as what every­body else was do­ing who was there.the only dif­fer­ence was, most peo­ple weren’t go­ing there – they were al­ready there, they were stuck there. But it was dan­ger­ous, yes.we had to travel down this very long road to get to Sara­jevo where there was a high chance of be­ing shot at, if you were un­lucky. For­tu­nately we weren’t, but that’s how de­ter­mined we were to go and do this gig.and it was great. The peo­ple there were so grate­ful to us for com­ing. It wasn’t a great venue, the PA wasn’t great, but we were ex­pect­ing that.we were there to play to those peo­ple, and they re­ally needed it, to have a band come and give them some­thing like that.”

WHEN YOU LOOK BACK, DOES IT EVER HIT YOU JUST HOW DAN­GER­OUS IT WAS?

“Yes. But here’s some­thing – the peo­ple who were there, who we played to, re­cently made a doc­u­men­tary about it 20 years on. The 20th an­niver­sary of it was last year, and a lo­cal film­maker de­cided to in­ter­view a load of the kids who were there at the show, and ba­si­cally made a doc­u­men­tary called Scream For Me Sara­jevo. It showed dur­ing a War Child thing at the Cur­zon cin­ema in Lon­don re­cently, and I got this amaz­ing email from Si­mon Egan, who’s the pro­ducer of The King’s Speech, say­ing that he’d seen it, and that he was in tears for the whole thing.that’s out on DVD next Fe­bru­ary.we par­tic­i­pated in the doc­u­men­tary only in re­spect of the fact that they were mak­ing it any­way and asked for some in­ter­views from us. But the whole thing came out of Sara­jevo, we didn’t know any­thing about it. I first heard about it when some­body doorstepped me in my lo­cal pub and said,‘i’m from Sara­jevo, I’m do­ing a film.’ It’s an ex­tra­or­di­nary film. It won Best Film at the Sara­jevo Film Fes­ti­val.”

But all this talk of mu­sic – play­ing it in a city in the mid­dle of an armed seige or not – is only part of the pic­ture. For K!, we know Bruce as the metal singer who does a load of other stuff dur­ing Maiden down­time. In the world of avi­a­tion, how­ever, he’s a re­spected pi­lot and air­line cap­tain. Should you so de­sire, you can read in aero-busi­ness mag­a­zines about his en­gi­neer­ing en­ter­prise, Cardiff Avi­a­tion, with­out mu­sic be­ing men­tioned once. Then there’s fenc­ing – ranked seventh in the UK at one point. And when, in 2015 this all had to take a back seat to fight­ing throat can­cer – now com­pletely de­feated – he chucked him­self back into ev­ery­thing with dou­ble vigour as soon as he was able.

It’s in­spir­ing stuff, and tes­ta­ment to the man’s un­break­able at­ti­tude. But, re­ally, what you truly want to know is what it’s like fly­ing a plane…

DO YOU STILL GET EX­CITED ABOUT FLY­ING PLANES?

“Yes I do! And I can tell you that I have so many de­mands on my time and so much to do that I don’t get as much of a chance to do some of the things I re­ally love as much as I’d like. But fly­ing… there’s no greater buzz. I get just as much of a buzz out of fly­ing a lit­tle light air­craft as I do a big 747. I re­mem­ber my first big air­line job – I turned up and there was this huge air­liner standing there that was mine for the day, like, ‘here you go, just bring it back…’”

WHEN YOU FIRST HAD A GO DID YOU THINK IT WOULD BE­COME SUCH A HUGE PART OF YOUR LIFE?

“Never in a mil­lion years did I ever think I’d end up fly­ing an air­liner, let alone be­ing a cap­tain, let alone fly­ing a 747.That was not part of it! It was just a slip­pery slope.and once I’d started, one thing led to an­other, you know? That’s the story of my life, pretty much – what does this but­ton do? I start with some­thing, get into it, and then I go,‘ well, how do I do that?’ And some­one says it’s a set of ex­ams. So you do the ex­ams, and you get into a slightly new realm, and then you start dis­cov­er­ing things in there. Like, fly­ing a plane over moun­tains, you think,‘ i’m not too happy about do­ing that with one en­gine, at night, what about two?’ And then you see more stuff you need, and then you go, ‘I won­der what it’s like to fly a jet? Oh, I can’t af­ford to do that… un­less I got a job! How do I do that? Can I get a part-time job as a pi­lot?’ That’s how it started.”

DID YOU HAVE TO MAKE ANY LIFE­STYLE CHANGES FOR IT? IT’S A WORLD AWAY FROM BE­ING ON­STAGE WITH A BAND…

“No, not re­ally, you just have to get used to get­ting up stupidly early in the morn­ing, like, three o’clock.”

WITH THE BOOK, WAS IT HARD TO BAL­ANCE BAND STUFF WITH EV­ERY­THING ELSE YOU DO?

“Well, I didn’t want the book to be just a shop­ping list of things that hap­pened on tour over suc­ces­sive tours. I wanted the book to have a feel­ing to it, so peo­ple

A NU­CLEAR SUB­MA­RINE is a bit like a big tour bus, just with Dan­ger­ous mis­siles

would know what it felt like to be at var­i­ous stages in our ca­reer. So the big­gest amount of word-footage in the book is al­ways about when things hap­pen for the first time. So, first learn­ing to sing, then Maiden, the first al­bum, first gig, it’s all stuff that hap­pens for the first time. But it’s the first time in your life that you do things that are the most in­ter­est­ing and ex­cit­ing, and it’s when you feel the most alive. So in the book, some of the lengthy, lengthy tours are com­pressed into, like, a page and a half. Be­cause it’s not a shop­ping list, and if you’re an Iron Maiden geek who wants that stuff in great de­tail, look on our web­site, be­cause all that in­for­ma­tion is on there.the book is not about that. “We carved about 60,000 words out in the end! We dropped some good sto­ries, but that means the book reads like a novel and there’s a nar­ra­tive to it. I romp along!”

IT’S AL­MOST LIKE A METAL BIG­GLES…

“Ha! Yes! I’d go with that.”

DO YOU EN­JOY BE­ING SEEN LIKE THAT?

“Yeah, I sup­pose I do, re­ally. It makes me more in­ter­est­ing to talk to, at least! I must con­fess that I’m not too crazy about books on mu­sic, be­cause they can be quite… in­su­lar.a book should be en­ter­tain­ing and in­for­ma­tive to an ex­tent, and it should make you laugh as well.”

YOU’RE IN­VOLVED IN A FIRST WORLD WAR AIR DIS­PLAY TEAM AS WELL. HOW DOES ONE GET INTO THAT?

“Well, they’ve been around for years and I was dimly aware of them, and I got in­volved when this guy ap­proached me. Ba­si­cally, he knew I’d be loony enough to go and buy an aero­plane! He talked me into buy­ing this bloody thing.as soon as I saw it, I had to buy it.”

THAT’S A BIG IM­PULSE PUR­CHASE…

“Yeah, but it just looked so cool. It was a Ger­man Fokker tri­plane, like [WWI Ger­man fly­ing ace] the Red Baron. It’s not red, but it’s the same type of plane. It’s quite tricky and ec­cen­tric to han­dle. I did one sea­son with them, and then I got stuffed by my throat can­cer thing, but the plane is still very ac­tive on the dis­play cir­cuit. Un­for­tu­nately dis­plays hap­pen over the sum­mer, and dur­ing the sum­mer I tend to be rather busy!”

YOU BOUGHT THE PLANE, BUT YOU ONCE NEARLY ENDED UP BUY­ING A SUB­MA­RINE AS WELL. WHERE DID YOU FIND THAT?

“I saw it in the Daily Mail.a chil­dren’s char­ity were sell­ing it, be­lieve it or not! I thought,‘what on Earth is a chil­dren’s char­ity do­ing with a Royal Navy oper­a­tional sub­ma­rine?’ In the past I’ve ac­tu­ally spent six days on pa­trol in a nu­clear sub, for fun. That was three or four years ago.”

WHERE DOES ONE GO IN A NU­CLEAR SUB “FOR FUN”?

“I can’t tell you, or I’d have to kill you!”

WAS THAT WEIRD?

“I loved it! It was just like be­ing on a very big tour bus, with­out any win­dows, and a lot of very dan­ger­ous mis­siles.”

WAS IT STRESS­FUL AND LOUD?

“No, it’s ac­tu­ally very quiet.the only is­sue is that if you do a deep dive, you need to be care­ful you’re not in the toi­let.the sub­ma­rine hull shrinks a bit be­cause of the pres­sure, and the door jams shut! You don’t want to be stuck in there!”

WHAT STOPPED YOU BUY­ING YOUR OWN, THEN?

“My wife! I was tempted, though – I bought a ra­dio­con­trolled one. It’s on top of my bookshelf at home. I was look­ing at it one day and thought,‘what’s the point of a re­mote-con­trolled sub­ma­rine?you can’t see it!’”

YOU’VE BEEN VERY OPEN ABOUT YOUR CAN­CER, BOTH WITH KER­RANG! AND IN THE BOOK. IS THERE ANY­THING YOU WERE WOR­RIED ABOUT SAY­ING?

“There’s stuff I could tell peo­ple that I haven’t, yeah. Things that would make their hair curl. But I haven’t. I do want to give peo­ple a bit of a flavour of what it was like, though. In my case I de­vel­oped a bit of a black hu­mour about the whole thing.you just do, be­cause how else are you gonna deal with it? Dur­ing the treat­ment there’s noth­ing you can do about it, be­cause you’re al­ready do­ing it – you’re hav­ing the treat­ment.and then you have to wait for a bit be­fore you know whether or not it’s worked, so you just get on with it.that’s all you can do. It’s quite re­veal­ing, that chap­ter in the book. I don’t know how you felt about it?”

IT WAS VERY HON­EST, BUT ALSO WRIT­TEN FROM A POINT WHERE YOU KNOW YOU CAN GET BET­TER.

“Yeah.and that’s some­thing else – you can get bet­ter. It’s a bit shitty – ac­tu­ally, it’s just shitty – but it’s pos­si­ble to be okay.and that’s how I felt. I was very lucky. It’s not a very nice treat­ment, and most peo­ple, I think, can suf­fer to a greater or lesser ex­tent be­cause of the treat­ment. I’ve met peo­ple who’ve had the same thing, and had ex­actly the same treat­ment, and some of them have been in a re­ally ter­ri­ble state. But they’ve all got bet­ter, and that’s what’s im­por­tant.”

YOU HAD TO PUT EV­ERY­THING ON HOLD TO FIGHT IT. HOW DID IT FEEL WHEN YOU GOT THE ALL­CLEAR AND COULD GO AND PLAY SHOWS AGAIN?

“Ab­so­lutely amaz­ing. Even if you’re a bit knack­ered, you just think,‘well, noth­ing can stop me now…’ The first time I got back on­stage with Maiden, it felt un­be­liev­able, be­cause you do have it in your mind,‘what if? What if I never get to do this stuff again?’”

DID IT FEEL LIKE THE FIRST GIG AGAIN?

“Not quite, be­cause the thing is, that first time, you have no idea what’s go­ing to hap­pen. But com­ing back, I know what Maiden gigs feel like – I’ve played enough of them – so I knew what I was go­ing into and what I’d been miss­ing.”

YOU DO SO MUCH – DO YOU HAVE ‘OF­FICE HOURS’ TO KEEP ON TOP OF IT ALL?

“No, I just have a pa­per di­ary with lots of cross­ings out!”

DO YOU HAVE A SET DAY IN THE OF­FICE, THOUGH?

“Which of­fice?! No, I don’t. If you’re do­ing two projects at the same time, you can keep on top of it as long as you’re or­gan­ised. If you’re do­ing three, things get a bit fran­tic so you end up do­ing a lot of stuff on the phone be­cause it’s the only way to have enough time.and if you’re do­ing four things, you just ac­cept that you’re do­ing the equiv­a­lent of liv­ing in a funny farm.”

IS THERE ANY­THING YOU STILL WISH YOU COULD GET INTO THAT YOU HAVEN’T YET?

“Yes – with­out go­ing into specifics. I’ve got half a solo al­bum from two and a half years ago that I would love to fin­ish off. Not that I’m un­der any il­lu­sions that any­body would be in­ter­ested, but I’d just love to do it.and I’d also love to, one of th­ese days, some­thing more with Em­pire Of The Clouds. I’d love to get in­volved with some the­atre peo­ple and an or­ches­tra and stuff, and do a proper pro­duc­tion to tell the story of the R101, us­ing footage, and bits with ac­tors, and in­ter­sperse it with the move­ments from the al­bum. Maybe write some ex­tra pieces as well. I dunno. But the ques­tion is,‘when the hell am I gonna do that?’ Be­cause what you don’t know is what I do know about the next five years of my life. I could tell you but I’d have to kill you!”

WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED FROM DO­ING ALL THIS STUFF?

“Never give up, and the sun will al­ways come up the next day.that’s as good as it gets!”

BRUCE DICK­IN­SON’S WHAT DOES THIS BUT­TON DO? MEM­OIR IS OUT NOW VIA HARPER COLLINS. HIS SOLO WORK IS REIS­SUED ON OCTOBER 27 VIA BMG

Once again, the ‘rab­bit-in-a-hat’ trick was a dis­as­ter

Bruce in Lon­don, Septem­ber 2017

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