Derek Pringle

Looks at the re­la­tion­ship be­tween rock stars and cricket

The Cricket Paper - - NEWS -

Worces­ter­shire’s New Road has been graced by cricket’s great­est names, but they still talk of the stel­lar celebrity line-up which ap­peared on the dress­ing-room bal­cony there in 1987, a top trumps trio com­pris­ing Ge­orge Har­ri­son, Eric Clap­ton and El­ton John.

All sports love the star­dust be­stowed by celebrity sup­port, and cricket is no dif­fer­ent. But is it a pass­ing fad or even a love of some­thing other than the game which piques the big boys’ in­ter­est as with the rock roy­alty above?

El­ton is more closely as­so­ci­ated with foot­ball and his beloved Wat­ford, a tribal as­so­ci­a­tion borne of ge­og­ra­phy given his up­bring­ing in nearby Pin­ner. His cre­den­tials for lik­ing cricket are less clear, but he did tour New Zealand at the same time as Eng­land’s crick­eters in 1983, form­ing a friend­ship with the likes of Ian ‘Beefy’ Botham, Bob Willis and Graeme Fowler.

Celebri­ties can be fickle, but El­ton ob­vi­ously en­joyed their com­pany as the as­so­ci­a­tion en­dured for a few years. I wasn’t a part of that ’83 tour, but I do re­mem­ber Beefy ask­ing me the fol­low­ing sum­mer what I was do­ing af­ter play as we stood in the slips to­gether at Lord’s against the West Indies. “Why?” I asked. “Coz El­ton’s in­vited us all to a party at Old Wind­sor,” he replied, as if it was the most nat­u­ral thing in the world. We went too, a splen­did but cu­ri­ous af­fair that in­volved about eight of the Eng­land team, El­ton and his band, and his then wife, Re­nate.

While Ge­orge Har­ri­son’s pres­ence was a one-off, Eric Clap­ton be­came a reg­u­lar at Worces­ter­shire in the late 80s though I sus­pect, like El­ton, it was the cult of Botham which at­tracted him more than the cricket. A bona fide English hero, Beefy’s der­ring-do, his in­cred­i­ble feats with bat, ball and beer vat, were the stuff of myth and leg­end by then, and noth­ing drives celebrity cul­ture more than them.

Like El­ton, Clap­ton is a gen­er­ous man who gave me and my Es­sex col­leagues one of the more un­for­get­table nights of our play­ing ca­reers when he played for us down a back­woods pub that was Beefy’s lo­cal out­side Worces­ter. Just Eric, a Fender Strat he’d swapped for one of Beefy’s Dun­can Fearn­ley bats, a small amp he’d bought that af­ter­noon with the pro­ceeds of a card game and a gag­gle of cul­ture-starved crick­eters. It was fan­tasy, nir­vana and ely­sium rolled into one all washed down by some de­cent ale – a mag­i­cal mem­ory which that Es­sex team talks about to this day.

Worces­ter­shire did have one celebrity who sup­ported the county, though I doubt many of the play­ers knew who he was. Stan Webb was a gui­tarist in­spired by the same Amer­i­can blues­men as Clap­ton, and he played in a band called Chicken Shack in the late 1960s and early 70s. He’d ap­pear at the start of play with a cheery wave from in front of the pavil­ion and a cry of “see you af­ter­wards,” though that of­ten proved fu­tile given he was of­ten sleep­ing off the ef­fects of a six-hour drink­ing spree by the time stumps were drawn.

Mick Jag­ger’s love of cricket is well known to all, though it may have some­thing more to do with his Aus­tralian-born mother than his Kent birth­place. Mick has cer­tainly not shied away from do­ing the hard yards to see some cricket, trav­el­ling to Guyana to watch Eng­land in 1997/98 and Cal­cutta to watch the aborted 1996 World Cup semi-fi­nal be­tween In­dia and Sri Lanka. In­dian fans set fire to Eden Gar­dens that night when their team started los­ing, which made it a scary place for the riot po­lice let alone a man in a white linen suit which Jag­ger was wear­ing in ho­mage to crick­et­ing tra­di­tion.

Celebrity gloss has ac­quired a strange power in the new mil­len­nium. Whereas in­sti­tu­tions like the MCC once es­chewed such as­so­ci­a­tions con­sid­er­ing them gauche, they now em­brace them to the point where Lord’s Tests can be spent just as eas­ily spot­ting fa­mous faces as watch­ing the cricket.

There is even talk that the MCC may fast-track Theresa May into the club, the Prime Min­is­ter hav­ing ad­mit­ted to be­ing both a fan of cricket and a cer­tain Ge­of­frey Boy­cott. With Ed Miliband also pro­fess­ing a fas­ci­na­tion with Boy­cott, I’m at a loss to ex­plain what it is that at­tracts politi­cians to a stodgy open­ing bats­man – other than that they all prob­a­bly need to get out more.

In In­dia, one’s fame, es­pe­cially at cricket grounds, is usu­ally in­di­cated by a V. So enclosures bear­ing the sign VIP are for any­body who can af­ford a ticket for a seat with the back still at­tached. It then goes up a notch to VVIP, which means you prob­a­bly get some shade and a buf­fet lunch thrown in. The fi­nal des­ig­na­tion is VVVIP, which equates to Bol­ly­wood stars and other crick­eters like Sachin Ten­dulkar and Sourav Gan­guly, the mod­ern day ma­hara­jahs of Mum­bai and Kolkata. Then you get ac­cess to ev­ery­thing the club or sta­dium of­fers in­clud­ing, at one venue in Mum­bai, a siesta room.

Bri­tish ac­tors and writ­ers have long re­tained strong links with cricket. Lewis Car­roll was said to have played reg­u­larly while Harold Pin­ter, some­thing of a cricket ob­ses­sive, had his own team, the Gai­eties. In­deed, Pin­ter even wrote a poem about the game, which he sent to Si­mon Gray, a friend and fel­low play­wright. “I saw Hut­ton in his prime; An­other time, an­other time.” When he asked Gray what he thought of it, Gray quipped: “I’ve not fin­ished it yet.”

Stephen Fry is of­ten spot­ted in MCC’s box while Stephen Tomp­kin­son, an­other ac­tor, has been known to watch Eng­land at home and abroad. Those pythons John Cleese and Eric Idle are also cricket fans of long­stand­ing, though not ev­ery­one re­mains loyal for as goodly amount of time. At the bizarre launch of the 1999 World Cup, Caprice Bour­ret, a model from Cal­i­for­nia, was one of the tour­na­ment’s am­bas­sadors, wear­ing a skimpy out­fit and pro­fess­ing a deep love of cricket. That World Cup, held in Eng­land, was a flop, which may be why Caprice, apart from be­ing linked briefly with Kevin Pi­etersen in 2005, has not been sighted near a cricket ground since.

That is why celebrity fol­low­ers of cricket tend to fall into two camps; those who en­joy and fol­low the game for the plea­sure of watch­ing it in all its ar­cane glory, like Ray Davies of the Kinks; and those who are more at­tracted to the per­son­al­ity cults of cer­tain play­ers.

The first set stick around but the oth­ers, like the crick­eters they re­vere, move on once the fire­works are over.

Clap­ton would be­come a reg­u­lar at Worces­ter­shire but I sus­pect, like El­ton John, it was the cult of Botham that at­tracted him more than the cricket

Old pals: Ian Botham and Eric Clap­ton en­joy time away from cricket

The bell tolls: Writer and ac­tor Stephen Fry is a reg­u­lar vis­i­tor to Lord’s

One of the boys: El­ton John, in shades, with mem­bers of the Eng­land team and, far right, David English

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