It was into this scene that a slender, elegant David Bowie sauntered and casually asked...’Hello, I’m David Bowie, does anyone want to interview me?’
Like possums frozen by the dazzling brightness of this superstar, not one reporter said a thing for many long moments. You see, we did know he was on the island. We did know that he’d come to make a movie – “Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence.”
We also knew with envy that David Bowie was having almost nightly long guitar jams over many drinks at the Rarotongan Hotel with just about everyone he befriended. Everyone was talking about having hilarious times with the superstar.
But the local media had been banned from interviewing him by the people who paid our salaries – government, who in turn had been told by the movie makers that Bowie was off limits.
We believed ourselves mere silly mortals, unworthy of being within 25 metres of the greatness of “the Thin White Duke”, as he had been dubbed by the international music press. But there he was, a slight man asking to be interviewed. Accustomed to never-ending paparazzi, incessant clamouring for his attention, being besieged with interview requests, maybe Bowie felt like he was being snubbed by the local media.
Or maybe he was being kind by extending the hand of friendship. I think the latter is more accurate. Because he was the Radio Cook Islands talk show host and could also write a pretty good story, the late Bobby Turua was selected to interview the music legend who would be consistently voted one of the greatest and sexiest artists of all time.
They became good friends. And how the rest of the Cook Islands News staff squirmed with envy when Bowie gifted Turua a complete autographed set of all his albums. Those signed records would be worth a mint today.
A memorial posted on social media drew this memory from Apii Primo Vakai: “RIP Bowie. I remember when he came to the Cook Islands to act for the movie Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence and I skipped school just to watch how they act and it was inside the Avarua church and I just live right next to the church. It was fun.”
A request by CI News editor Cameron Scott on Facebook page Rarotonga Community and Beyond for memories and pictures relating to the visit turned up a lovely photo from local photographer William Tuiravakai, who sourced it from a cousin. He captioned it, “some of my beautiful aunties, with such a beautiful man, at the after-party for the 1983 Serious Moonlight Auckland concert.”
Tuiravakai said he met Bowie in a stationery shop on Rarotonga.
“He was talking to my mum about purchasing a Cookie dictionary.”
The information request also drew a response from former CI News reporter Jason Brown, who described filming for Merry Christmas on Rarotonga as “huge.”
“It involved hundreds from Rarotonga, including much of the expat community. The darker locals were put to the back (in the prisoner of war crowd scenes) where they would be out of focus. Not racism! Just that POWs were white!”
The extraordinarily gifted Bowie loved his time on Rarotonga. He befriended many of the locals over songs and drinks. He will always be special to many people here.