When I heard that Hurricane Ophelia was due to hit the U.K. today, exactly 30 years from the great storm of October 16th, 1987, it brought back in a flash, the memory of that night. That was the start of when the shit began to hit the fan!
I had finished my contract of appearing in the Scala Show at the Melia Castilla Hotel in Madrid at the end of September that year, and even though they wanted me to sign a contract for another year, I turned it down because my mother, Rose, was very, very ill and alone.
My Father had died on June 20th, 1987 and the Scala management had refused to release me to attend his funeral. As they so rightly explained, they had built the whole show around me and I was irreplaceable. So I had to find an alternative and I asked Ray’s mother to stay with her, but she was completely indifferent, unhelpful and drunk. So I simply had to return to England to take care of her.
Apparently Rose had had a mini stroke in the flat whilst my father was alive, and he had just left her lying there in the hall for an hour before he bothered to telephone for an ambulance. That was just the way he was. Rose pampered him like a baby; he never lifted a finger to help her, he would just sit in his armchair watching T.V. and she would wait on him hand and foot.
I returned to England alone. Ray stayed in Spain to take care of some business, Scorpio and Suki, and the house that we had built on the Costa del Sol.
I must explain that Rose was a fighter and she wasn’t going to let a mini stroke get her down. I found her pottering around and cooking a meal for me. She was so pleased to see me. She was so very frail. For a few days she was okay, then she had another stroke and was taken to the Hommerton Hospital in Hackney. I went every day and got to know a few of the families that had relatives in the ward. One, a Greek Family, explained to me that they would stay all night, as apparently 4 o’clock in the morning was around the time that most sick people die, so it was good to have someone guarding them. I have no idea where this superstition came from, but I was ready to try anything. So I changed my routine. I would go to the hospital at around 6p.m. and stay with Rose all night and leave at 8 o’clock in the morning and go and sleep. I would nod off occasionally in the hospital, but sleep! Really it just wasn’t possible and watching her either sitting in a chair or lying in the bed upset me so much. It made me very emotional. I had asked the nurse in charge whether she could be in a private room instead of the general ward, as I thought she would like it better. Really, I suppose it was more for me as well, as I would get very embarrassed if anyone saw me crying. What was I to do? A few days earlier I had spoken with her doctor about taking Rose to Spain as I thought that the weather would be good for her. I thought that once they had got her better that would be it. But she gently explained to me that she would never get better and that every time she had a stroke they would just get worse and very soon it would be fatal.
I was distraught and telephoned Ray and asked him to come to England. He phoned me back and told me that he had booked a flight to Heathrow for the 16th.
I had not read a newspaper or watched T.V. for so long that I had no idea that a storm was coming.
That night was strange. The wind was howling and it seemed to whistle through the hospital. The nurses seemed strange, maybe I was hallucinating and they never mentioned anything to me about the storm warning. Around about 3:30a.m. the matron came in the room and told me they wanted to tidy up her room and would I go into the family waiting room.
The storm was reaching its peak and what with the wind howling and windows rattling, I began to fanaticize. Somehow, I imagined that they were holding a ‘Witches Sabbath’ in Rose’s room and using her like a rag doll, throwing her about. It seemed to go on for hours. Maybe it was because I was so tired that I imagined all these crazy things and there I was sitting in the waiting room doing nothing to help Rose. My mind was going berserk and I was so tired!
I must have fallen asleep because around 7-00a.m. a Nurse was gently shaking me to wake up and gave me a cup of tea and told me, “Go home and watch out for the damage”. I looked in on Rose she was asleep, so I left.
The streets were like a war zone: trees uprooted, windows smashed, cars damaged and the silence. Everything was so still. I waited at the bus stop and went home.
Meanwhile, Ray’s plane had been diverted either to Stanstead or Gatwick, I can’t remember. All I know that when the plane landed on the airfield all the passengers had to hold onto one another to stop being blown away as they made their way across the field through to Immigration. So when he arrived at the flat, he too was shattered.
Winds battered the South of England in what was the worst storm to hit the country since 1703. Severe weather had been predicted before the Great Storm, as it later became known, hit the South of England in the early hours of October 16th, 1987.
That is what I remember of the Great Storm of 1987. Not a very happy memory!