I’ve never forgotten that moment when I first listened to Chris. I was leant on the back of the armchair in our front room, flipping between music channels when the quiet, opening riff of ‘Be Yourself’ came on. Straight away, the song’s presence had me slide down into the chair, where I would sit, transfixed, for the next four minutes, by the words of the tall, haunting figure whose sombre, far-away eyes seemed to harbour all of the wisdom and sorrow of the world combined.
I had just turned thirteen, and it’d be fair to say things weren’t going well for me. Only a few years previously had my mum, half-brother and I finally managed to break free from my father’s violence, stalking and death threats. For almost a decade we had been held hostage to our fear and it wasn’t until I found my father pretending to hang himself from the attic that the courts listened, and, at last, stripped him of all access to me. I was no longer able to be used as his pawn; he could no longer use the threat of abduction to manipulate my mum into dropping the charges.
But no sooner were we free from being controlled, another took his place. Because of what I’d seen, I was pushed into therapy, where, little by little, every lingering hope, belief and ambition I had developed or clung to – writing, drawing, performing – was repeatedly judged to be unrealistic, unachievable, and childish. The psychologist I was under scrutinised every aspect of my personality and found fault in every conceivable way. It was wrong of me to be mature and sensitive to things beyond my years, strange of me to be content in my own company, when I ought to be wanting to socialise, rebel, experiment with my peers; it was abnormal that I should be close to my mother and feel so protective of her and my debilitating illness that had kept me out of school was merely a lie for attention. By this time, I had learned not to trust or believe in anyone beyond my mother. In everyone else’s eyes, wherever I went, whoever I interacted with, I was something to be righted. “Normalised.”
Then came Chris. Chris, who seemed to speak out to me, so simply, yet so poignantly that day, a reassuring force whose words and voice seeped into my skin and ignited a greater, more resilient determination which pounded in my chest. I knew nothing about the man on the screen in that moment, but something in me had recognised his soul as being something akin to my own, and he was the shining example that it was alright to be individual, whoever you are, and that you don’t have to be like everybody else, regardless of what anyone else thinks.
Sure enough, for the next twelve years Chris remained with me. He saw me through everything: poverty, oppression, personal criticism, through my mother’s poor health, my brother’s descent into drugs and alcoholism, through my own, crippling depression, Chris was always in my ear.
Most people are scornful when you confess you’re grieving over someone you never met, but I don’t waste my breath on them. How do you begin to explain to those who would mock emotion, that Chris gave me more than just music, or words of empathy and advice, and that the most significant thing he ever gave me was faith. Faith that men could be something other than cruel. Faith in humanity in the sense that when I looked at him, I didn’t just see an immensely talented singer or songwriter, but above any of that, I saw a loving husband and devoted father, a loyal friend to the fortunate few who had earned his trust, and a warrior for worldwide peace and equality.
I am blessed that in April 2016 I was finally able to travel to see him live in Manchester. I remember that night so vividly, how laid back and down to earth he was, how kind he was to all those who spoke to him, the vibrations in the floor that shot up through the soles of my feet into my legs when he sang. I felt as if, for those two hours, I was at peace. My one and only regret is not having had the courage to give him the portrait I’d spent weeks on to give him that night, and be able to thank my hero face to face for all that he had done – not that a simple, single sentence could have ever conveyed what he meant to me.
Vicky, Lily, Toni and Little C, I am so, so profoundly sorry for your loss. Chris once said John Lennon was like a father to him, and in my eyes, Chris was just that to me. My substitute father. He felt more like family to me than anyone I have ever encountered in all my life, and to this day I continue to feel as if I have lost my truest and oldest friend, but still I cannot begin to comprehend the weight of your grief. Thank you, for sharing your pain so candidly with us and for opening your hearts and supporting us, his fans, when the majority of people in your position wouldn’t have even considered that we, too, are grieving the loss of our distant, but ever present friend.