The Scottish Mail on Sunday
The toxic feud with Ginger Baker’s fourth wife (42 years his junior ) that means his children don’t even know where his ashes are
AS THE late Ginger Baker lay dying in hospital last autumn, he made clear the deep affection he felt for his eldest daughter. Ravaged by an infection, the legendary Cream drummer still managed to raise a smile. ‘He was really, really sick,’ recalls Nettie Baker. ‘But he knew me straight away and said, “Thank you for coming”. He even made a little joke about my leather jacket because I used to borrow his years ago.’
That tender memory is now all the more precious to his daughter, because it was one of the last moments of affection that they shared.
For the heartbreaking reality is that the relationship between rockstar father and daughter had become increasingly fractured – and, indeed, ended in terrible sadness – after what Nettie describes as the musician’s irresponsible decision to marry his fourth wife,
Kudzai Machokoto, in 2010. Now, just a few weeks away from a special Ginger Baker tribute concert in London, that decision has erupted into a row of almost incomprehensible bitterness.
Yesterday, Kudzai launched a broadside against her late husband’s children, claiming she had organised a ‘lovely funeral’ for Ginger, but that she was left to mourn on her own after his family, including Nettie and her siblings, failed to turn up.
Speaking for the first time since her father died, aged 80, in October last year, Nettie now feels obliged not just to answer back, but to paint a shocking picture of a man who – as she sees it – was taken away from his children by a wife 42 years his junior.
Nettie accuses South Africanborn Kudzai of ‘terrible behaviour in trying to come between a man and his family on his deathbed’.
And even that was only the final chapter in a story of unbridled animosity. Nettie, 59, reveals that before her father’s death, she reported Kudzai to the police for harassment and informed social services officials of her concerns that her father was being subject to ‘coercive control’ – a claim that Kudzai dismisses as ‘laughable’.
Important details about Ginger’s ailing health were kept from his children, including the fact that he was suffering from sepsis, a condition which is frequently fatal. And there has been an extraordinary row about Ginger’s will, in which Nettie and her siblings were all-but cut out.
As for the funeral, Nettie says the family were left believing they had no choice but to stay away.
For all Ginger’s stardom, it remains the sort of tragic domestic drama all-too frequently played out when a parent remarries later in life. ‘This isn’t a family feud,’ says Nettie. ‘I don’t regard Kudzai Machokoto as a member of my family.’
The mounting tensions are laid bare in a string of chaotic and disturbing emails sent to her by Kudzai, and seen by The Mail on Sunday. In them, she accuses Nettie of being ‘evil and bad’ and a ‘jealous, wicked old woman’ and implores her to ‘get a man of u [sic] own’.
In what seems like a particularly cruel taunt, Kudzai even makes a barbed reference to Nettie’s partner, who died of a brain aneurism in 2004, writing: ‘Look at you how many man died when they try to come close to you… [sic] not a good record…’
It is a traumatic and complicated postscript to an extraordinary life. The situation is so dire that Nettie and her siblings – Leda, 51, and Kofi, 50, Ginger’s only children from his first marriage to Liz Finch – have no idea where her father’s ashes are.
For his eldest daughter, there is particular sadness given the great loyalty she has shown her famously wayward father as the custodian and chronicler of his legacy.
She still runs Ginger’s website, for example – without payment – and is in regular contact with his record company Universal, which sells Cream’s music on the site.
Nettie cared for her father’s expensive polo ponies for years, one of the many ways – along with hard drugs, women and disastrous business ventures – in which he spent his millions.
In fact, this sad state of affairs is perhaps a reflection of the recklessness which has always characterised his behaviour towards those closest to him. For even during her childhood, Nettie accepts that her life with Ginger was strange and disruptive.
Ginger, born Peter Baker, grew up in Lewisham, South-East London, the son of a bricklayer. His 1959 marriage to Liz was fiery and passionate, fuelled by copious amounts of narcotics after his musical career took off. A self-taught musical genius with flaming red hair and a distinctive drumming style, he started out on the London jazz scene while still in his teens.
In 1966, he formed Cream with Eric Clapton, the rising star of British blues, on guitar, and Jack Bruce on bass. The band’s success brought fame and fortune, but it lasted just two years, largely because Ginger and Bruce loathed one another and fought on stage.
Bruce, who died in 2014 aged 71, wrote most of the songs and earned the lion’s share of the royalties from the band’s massive album sales.
Still, Ginger and Liz were able to afford a lavish mansion, the loftily named Camelot, in Harrow on the Hill, North-West London. Having three children failed to dampen their hedonistic lifestyle. At one particularly debauched party in 1976, George Harrison insisted 15-yearold Nettie should be offered as first prize in a game of pool.
‘Although nothing happened, a line was definitely crossed,’ she recalled. ‘When I was a toddler, Dad would hand me a spliff and say to me, “Take a puff of this, it’s much better than cigarettes”. At 13, 14, I would go out with my parents and we would all get drunk together.
‘I thought it was great, that they were the best parents.’
It was only later that she realised just how damaging that chaotic upbringing was. ‘It wasn’t consistent parenting – you never knew whether the two of them were going to be OK,’ she says. Liz often flew into violent rages over Ginger’s infidelities and it was later discovered that she also suffered from a personality disorder. She took several overdoses and, on one occasion, had to be sectioned.
Ginger eventually left her for an 18year-old lover, Sarah, a friend of Nettie’s. They eloped to Tuscany after the collapse of a recording studio business he had set up in Lagos, Nigeria, leaving Liz and the children to be evicted from Camelot because he could no longer pay the mortgage.
‘It was like a light switch flicking off – we went from rich to poor,’ Nettie explains. ‘It was much worse for Leda and Kofi, because they were eight and nine years younger than me. Having started out in a pretty sheltered environment in private schools, suddenly they had to go to the local comprehensives.’
Ginger and Sarah divorced after a year and his third marriage to Karen Loucks was also short-lived. By the late 1990s, much of his fortune had been blown on drugs, women and disastrous business ventures.
He then moved to Tulbagh, on South Africa’s Western Cape, to build a polo ranch, where he was fleeced by a beautiful young accountant, triggering a two-year legal battle which left him broke.
It was during this period that Ginger met Kudzai on a dating site. They married in Cape Town in 2010 when he was 70 and she was 28 in a ceremony witnessed by only two people and none of his family.
‘The family weren’t invited to the wedding,’ says Nettie. ‘We didn’t know anything about it. We just knew it was all going wrong for him with
It was like a light switch flicking off... we went from rich to poor
this court case and then suddenly he left South Africa, owing £10,000 out there. He and Kudzai arrived with no money on my Aunty Pat’s [Ginger’s sister’s] doorstep in December 2011.’
The family decided, with great magnanimity, to try to make the best of things, despite early concerns about the pair’s apparently volatile relationship.
Nettie says she once discovered her father with a ripped shirt and glass on the floor, just one of several worrying incidents.
‘Between 2012 and 2016, we were still trying to be Kudzai’s friends for his sake,’ explains Nettie.
‘In 2014, Leda and I even paid six months’ rent for them. Dad didn’t have any money so we said, “Okay, we’ll do it.”’
But Ginger blamed Nettie for the ensuing rift. In one interview, he explained: ‘When Kudzai and I first got together, Nettie caused trouble and they had a really big row. I don’t want to go into the ins and outs of it, but Nettie has always been against us being together.’
Nettie says she was simply concerned for her father’s failing health. He suffered from deafness, degenerative osteoarthritis of the spine, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, meaning he needed to carry oxygen with him. And in 2016 he had heart bypass surgery.
Nettie organised his state pension, but this marked a turning point in her relationship with Kudzai, who was clearly unhappy about this meddling in Ginger’s financial affairs.
‘She rang me at work about it and I was so exasperated that I asked her to leave me alone. I told her I was fed up with always having to say how wonderful she was to please
Dad,’ says Nettie.
What followed was a series of emails from Kudzai, many of them cruel and abusive.
In one, Kudzai threatens to make Ginger change his will and disinherit his own children. Some of them even referred to Nettie as ‘a devil’ and ‘an unclean spirit’.
‘After the first one, I emailed her with the sarcastic reply, “How deeply charming”,’ Nettie admits. She refused to be provoked, but was so shaken that she reported Kudzai to police for harassment.
It led to her stepmother being questioned at a London police station in May 2016. No further action was taken but, says Nettie, the angry emails soon stopped.
Ginger continued to side with his new wife, insisting that Nettie was afraid of being cut out of the will. While it is true that there was no fortune to speak of, substantial royalty cheques meant there was still a desirable inheritance. But at the time, Ginger warned: ‘I’ll only cut her [Nettie] out if she doesn’t stop [her attacks on Kudzai.]’
The executors of Ginger’s will – who happen to be Kudzai’s immigration lawyers and who are organising her application for British citizenship – are not revealing further details until probate is granted.
‘I never rang Dad about the will, only about whether he had declared his health problems to the insurance for performing – because if not, there would have been big repercussions,’ she says.
‘He was being worked to death when his doctor had said, a year before he died, that he was far too ill to perform.
‘We, his family, all knew he had no property and no money left – only fluctuating royalties that he told us, in one of his 2010 emails from abroad, were 75 per cent down on what they had been.’ Sadly, Nettie
no longer had any means of contacting her father directly because – she believes – Kudzai controlled his phone.
Despite everything, however, what Nettie cannot forgive is being excluded from her father’s care during his final weeks.
He had been in hospital for three weeks before any of the family were told, she claims.
She believes that Kudzai further frustrated the family’s efforts to see him by agreeing a ‘secret password’ with the hospital, without which they were denied access.
It meant Nettie only saw her father once before he died.
‘I was my mother’s carer till she died [in 2014] and we were all prepared to care for Dad too, but Kudzai was actively stopping us from looking out for him,’ she says.
‘What sort of person does that? And then to claim that his family wanted nothing to do with him – that’s absolutely, unequivocally not true.
‘Mum wouldn’t have allowed this treatment of Dad in his old age to happen.’
Kudzai, of course, has her own version of events. Her late husband, she says, had been angered by Nettie’s behaviour, which explains the lack of communication with his daughter.
Certainly, the wording of his letter of wishes – which has been seen by The Mail on Sunday – suggests a degree of anger towards Nettie, who has been left no more than one twelfth of the estate.
Speaking yesterday, Kudzai denied excluding the family from his life, saying: ‘The world knows Ginger could never be controlled or coerced into anything. That never changed right up to his dying moments. It’s laughable to say otherwise.’ Her late husband, she says, could phone who he wanted and continued to speak to other relatives.
She didn’t tell Nettie about Ginger’s sepsis because ‘I didn’t think Nettie had the right to know’.
There was a special door code to his hospital ward because she wanted to keep fans – not the family – away from his bedside.
Kudzai admits to writing the aggressive and insulting emails, but says: ‘Nettie put both Ginger and me under a lot of duress by sending the police and the social services to our house at all times of the day and night.
‘As a result, I became furious with her and sent her several messages expressing my anger at her behaviour towards me.
‘My mental health was at breaking point. It is regrettable and a sign of the shock and stress she had put me under.’
Relations were so bad that the family did not even feel able to attend the funeral.
Ginger’s son Kofi, who plays drums in a Cream tribute band in the United States, had intended to pay tribute to his father using his iconic drumkit at the modest service.
But the family claim Kudzai refused to tell them the arrangements until a couple of hours before it began, which meant they felt unwelcome and excluded – and, as a result, they did not attend.
‘We felt that we had been so mucked about that we just gave up,’ says Nettie. ‘I have nothing but contempt for her.’
She says she is now determined to think not of the past but of her father’s future reputation.
‘Most of all,’ she says, ‘I just want my dad to be remembered as a great musician.’
Mum wouldn’t have allowed this treatment of Ginger in his old age