18.5.14

TESSA WATTS – A Tribute

I posted this on my Facebook page earlier in the week, but I think it deserves to go on the blog as well, as Tessa was a star, just like the stars I generally write about, but with better manners. I’ve extended it a bit here.



Last Tuesday night I received an e-mail from my old Melody Maker colleague and dear friend Michael Watts telling me that two hours earlier his former wife Tessa, also a dear friend, had died from pancreatic cancer at her home near Biarritz in southwest France. I’d known Tessa since 1970, when she was Tessa Siddons, the PR for Radio Luxembourg, a regular visitor to MM’s offices on Fleet Street, always on the case and clearly going somewhere. Then she became the PR for Transatlantic Records whose artists received coverage in MM that was probably disproportionate to the size of the label, all thanks to Tessa of course.
Indescribably lovely in her hot pants and t-shirt, blonde hair trailing, I think we all fell in love with her but the chosen one was Michael, with whom she had two terrific children, William and Sophie. Not many MM wags earned the right to be honorary alumni of the paper but Tessa, brighter than any of us, was certainly one of them.
When Michael moved to New York in 1972 to become MM’s US correspondent, preceding me in that role, Tess went with him and worked as PA to Miles Davis, not the music industry’s most comfortable berth. Returning to the UK, the promise we all foretold flowered into an extraordinary career as a pioneering figure in the then emerging medium of video, heading up Virgin Records’ video production department where she juggled six-figure budgets, artist tantrums and Richard Branson’s autocratic leadership. Not to be messed with, Tessa established a paradigm for women in the male-dominated music industry, and I for one always watched my p’s and q’s in her company, aware that she’d pounce on any indiscretion or careless stereotype. Meanwhile, at Virgin and elsewhere, and as the head of her own video production company, she created a vast legacy of work and friendships that have been reflected in the words of so many who have left messages for William and Sophie on her own Facebook page in the last 48 hours.
For a while in the nineties Michael, Tessa and their kids split their time between West London and the idyllic village of Turvey, near Olney in Bedfordshire, where Lisa and I house sat for them on a couple of occasions when our own children were a bit too young for going far on holiday. We were supposed to water the garden and tend to the plants but I seem to remember missing some in a room we didn’t use. Tessa forgave us.
Personally – and this is what hurts the most for me – Tessa was one of a dwindling group of close friends from my MM days who, to differentiate me from Chris Welch, still called me Charlie, never Chris, and whenever any of them pass on I feel terribly sad.
        RIP Tessa x.

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