The mother who broke Eric’s heart: He was notoriously cruel to his lovers — but was it just Clapton’s revenge on the woman who raised him?
- Philip Norman shares accounts from the life of musician Eric Clapton
- Eric who was bought up by his grandma dreamed of a relationship with his mum
- As an adult he became a compulsive womaniser sharing the hurt he experienced
- He battled addictions including heroine and was once found minutes from death
- Philip also details the moment Eric had to identify his son’s body
SLOWHAND: THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF ERIC CLAPTON
by Philip Norman (W&N £25, 448 pp)
At the age of nine, Eric Clapton was visited by his mother, Pat. She had given birth to him at 16, the illegitimate result of a one-night stand with a soldier.
When he was two, she emigrated to Canada, leaving him with her own mother, Rose.
The boy was encouraged to believe that Rose was actually his mother but, gradually, the truth dawned on him.
Now Pat was back, with two further children from a new relationship. Young Eric had dreamed of this day. ‘Can I call you Mummy now?’ he asked. Pat refused, insisting that her son maintained the fiction she was his older sister. Her callousness shocked everyone present.
Philip Norman recalls key moments from the life of musician Eric Clapton (Pictured with his mother Patricia) in a new biography
That moment explains much of Clapton’s subsequent life — not least his relationships with women.
Dumping an early girlfriend made him realise he could hurt them just like his mother had hurt him.
He became a compulsive womaniser. A favourite chat-up line after the Cuban missile crisis was: ‘Oh, come on, we could all be blown up tomorrow.’
Even when he really loved someone, his passion never outlasted the chase. This was even true with Pattie Boyd, the model who inspired Clapton’s most famous hit, Layla.
She once brought a friend back to Hurtwood Edge, their Surrey mansion, only for Clapton to start chatting up the woman.
‘Can’t you see I’m in love with this girl and I’m courting her?’ he told Boyd. ‘Go away and leave us alone.’
He had stolen Boyd — whose sister Paula he happened to be going out with at the time —from his best friend George Harrison, to whom she had been married.
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The other legacy of Clapton’s childhood was astonishing selfishness. Spoiled silly by his grandmother, Clapton owned more toys than any other child in the village, but would never let anyone else play with them. And as an adult, he got other people to do everything for him — from sacking unwanted band members to taking his driving test.
During the three years Clapton lost to heroin addiction, it was his girlfriend Alice Ormsby-Gore (daughter of Lord Harlech) who was dispatched to Soho to conduct his risky drug deals.
Meg Patterson, the doctor who cured his addiction, once asked Clapton to make some coffee. The star replied that he didn’t know how. Pete Townshend of The Who organised a comeback concert for Eric, coaxing him into performing in an attempt to rescue the guitarist from self-imposed isolation.
Eric Clapton (pictured with Pattie Boyd) who was inspired by model Pattie Boyd to write his hit song, Layla, was discovered 45 minutes from death after collapsing on tour in 1981
But Clapton was even late for that — three years of junk food had left him so fat, he couldn’t fit into his white suit.
Everyone was kept waiting while he made Alice let out the trousers.
For decades, Clapton enjoyed incredible luck. Touring America with Cream, he was caught in possession of drugs, a charge that has left others unable to obtain visas. But Clapton got off. He spent a tricky weekend in a prison cell with several members of the Black Panthers: ‘As I was wearing pink boots from Mr Gohill in Chelsea and had hair down to my waist, I thought: “I’m in trouble here” ’ — but he survived.
The excess that killed other musicians failed to claim him.
But he pushed it close — after collapsing on a U.S. tour in 1981, he was found to be 45 minutes from death. Two bottles of brandy a day (mixed with 7 Up) had resulted in ulcers so large that every remaining date on the tour had to be cancelled.
The insurance payout caused Lloyd’s of London to ring the famous Lutine bell normally reserved for disasters at sea.
SLOWHAND: THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF ERIC CLAPTON by Philip Norman (W&N £25, 448 pp)
But Clapton’s luck finally ran out the day in 1991 when a window was left open in the 53rd-floor New York apartment of Lory Del Santo, the mother of his four-year-old son, Conor.
The boy came running into the room, jumped on to the low ledge where he normally pressed his nose against the glass and plummeted to his death.
Clapton had to identify his son’s body in a Manhattan mortuary whose lightbulbs were only 15 watts ‘to minimise the ordeal’ — but then had to do it again (because Conor was to be buried in Surrey) in a British morgue that favoured less sympathetic 100 watt bulbs.
After the funeral, his mail included a letter posted a couple of weeks earlier: ‘I LOVE YOU I WANT TO SEE YOU AGAIN A KISS LOVE CONOR CLAPTON’.
It’s impossible not to feel sympathy for someone who goes through this.
And you have to admire Clapton’s strength in not heading back to the booze he had finally managed to give up.
Such a move, he said, would be a ‘betrayal’ of his son.
But, in the end, you’re left with the feeling that the star’s defining quality is an unattractive self-centredness.
As usual, the masterful biographer Philip Norman has unearthed countless fascinating details.
I knew a lot about Eric Clapton, but I didn’t know that when he sought anonymity at the Connaught Hotel in London, the West Brom fan checked in as ‘Mr W. B. Albion’.
Or that during a vodka-soaked stay in Los Angeles, where cars’ front registration plates can say whatever you choose, he drove around as ‘Captain Smirnoff’.
Nor did I know that he once took possession of a parrot called Maurice, previously owned by his doting grandmother. ‘Echoing her life’s preoccupation,’ writes Norman, the bird ‘had only ever been taught to say: “Where’s Eric?” ’
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