SUNDAY TIMES MAGAZINE
RELATIVE VALUES: I WANTED TO DO MAD STUFF LIKE DAD
29 December 2013 by Danny Scott
Queen’s drummer Roger Taylor, and his son Rufus, also a drummer, talk about being in one of the most famous rock bands in history, going off the rails and why marriage feels like a mortgage.
I first became a dad when I was 30, and by then Queen had been together for 10 years. But being a bit of a rocker, I didn’t get married until eight years later. I’d always seen marriage like a mortgage — one of those society plots designed to tie you down. So much misery has been engendered by a meaningless contract… people end up staying together because of a piece of paper. I could maybe say that about my own parents; they should have split up way before they did. Couples either get on or they don’t get on. Simple as that.
Rufus was actually my third kid and he’s got two younger sisters, Tigerlily and Lola. Although Rufus’s mum [Deborah Leng] and I were together for about 15 years, we never did get married. I also had Felix and Rory Eleanor from a previous relationship [with Dominique Beyrand], but in that situation, we did eventually tie the knot. I guess I wanted to make sure Felix and Rory were looked after financially.
Yes, I’ll admit my life back then was, well… let’s say it was complicated. It was a strange time for all of us. Wouldn’t it be great if relationships were simple and easy? Sadly, breaking up with people who mean a lot to you is never simple or easy. The important thing for me has always been that the kids support each other and feel like brothers and sisters. There’s not some from “this relationship” and some from “that relationship”; they are a gang of five. ‘
Mind you, Freddie Mercury was always fabulous with kids
— he was the one who came up with Rufus’s middle name: Tiger’
Freddie Mercury was still alive when Rufus came along in 1991 and those two got on famously. Mind you, Fred was always fabulous with kids — he was the one who came up with Rufus’s middle name: Tiger. I was pretty good with most of the dad stuff — apart from changing nappies. Once or twice, I changed Rufus’s nappy on a car journey in an emergency, but, in general, I think men find it rather gruesome. Even when it’s your own child, poo smells dreadful!
All kids are fascinated by drums because they can bang them, but it was obvious that Rufus really got it; it was in his blood. I bought him his first kit when he was 12 and he’d hang out with me and my mates, the Foo Fighters. You can actually see him in footage from the Reading Festival After that experience, he just said: “Dad, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.”
He certainly wasn’t interested in academia; we had a couple of wobbles when he was 15 or 16 and kicked out of school. Rufus and I had a talk about it, but I honestly didn’t know what to do. It was Damon Hill who suggested a ski-instructor’s course in Switzerland. He said it was great for giving kids a bit of confidence.
Rufus hated the idea, but I got his brother, Felix, to ring him and say: “Look, mate, you’re gonna get laid every night!” As if by magic, Rufus changed his mind. He’s definitely a bit of a ladies’ man. He reminds me of me in a lot of ways. Unfortunately, Rufus’s mum and I split up almost 12 years ago. [Taylor married Sarina Potgieter in 2010.] People aren’t made of stone and things can be difficult at times, but we all have to find our own way through those difficulties. I’d like to think that, these days, we all get on and that all five of my kids have a strong set of moral values. I’ve seen a lot of spoilt rock brats, but, thank God, my lot aren’t like that. Rufus has got his own musical projects on the go and he also tours with Queen. He’s our percussionist… the second drummer, helping to lighten my load. Looking across at him on stage makes me beam with pride. Yeah, people automatically assume he’s only there because he’s my son. That’s rubbish! This is Queen we’re talking about. Queen would not have a waste of space on stage with us. He’s there because he’s a bloody good drummer.”
I didn’t even know Dad was that famous until I was about 10. I knew he played music and I grew up with the sound of drums coming through the walls, but it wasn’t until he dragged me and my mate out on stage with him at a gig that it really hit me. Have all these people come to hear my dad play the drums? Bloody hell!
Dad has always been really good at keeping things normal. Despite what might have been going on in his own life, he made sure me and my brothers and sisters got a proper childhood. My elder brother and sister, Felix and Rory, have been part of my life for as long as I can remember. Though Dad went through different relationships, he just sees us all as his kids.
Mum and Dad never actually got married, but their separation was still pretty rough. There was a bit of shouting for a while and a few headlines, but, y’know what: shit happens. People split up. Both of them have gone off and done their own thing, and they’ve got a much better relationship these days.
Dad didn’t push me towards the drums, but I have been told that, even before I could crawl, he sat me down at a kit. Then, as soon as I could walk, I was going around hitting stuff. One Christmas, this huge box arrived in my bedroom, but I didn’t work out what it was until I looked inside. My own drums! That was me done for the next six years; all I wanted to do was play drums.
‘Dad and Freddie Mercury were Queen’s naughty boys, the ones who got up to
all sorts of stuff. And whatever I imagine he got up to, I’m sure the reality is twice as crazy’
As I got a bit older, Dad being who he was did become an issue for other people. At school there were some kids who would treat you differently: they think you’re something you’re not. Maybe it was a money thing, I don’t know. Dad certainly never made a big deal about money. I was aware we had a big house, but I still got pocket money just the same as everybody else. Dad’s always had this do-it-yourself attitude to life; if you want something, you have to work for it.
Admittedly, I did have a few issues to iron out in my teens, but it was just silly stuff. I made my mistakes, and when I was asked to leave my school, I realised I had to change. That was the only time Dad has been properly pissed off with me. We had that father-son talk and he just said: “Look, you’re being given loads of opportunities; don’t waste them — don’t waste your life.”
A bit of me wanted to say: “Hang on, Dad. You lived a pretty crazy life. Why can’t I do some mad sh**?” But I think that episode made me understand that life isn’t always about having a good time. You have to concentrate on what matters — mind you, the parties and girls are a nice bonus.
I went through a period of asking Dad loads of questions about life in Queen, but you really have to drag those old stories out of him. He doesn’t give them up easily. Apparently, Dad and Freddie were Queen’s naughty boys, the ones who got up to all sorts of stuff. And whatever I imagine he got up to, I’m sure the reality was twice as crazy. Maybe it’s better not to know.
But Dad was also clever enough to know where to draw the line. Although he enjoyed the playboy lifestyle, he cared about the band and he knew he had a job to do. It’s like he’s got this side of him that always stays in control.
I wasn’t that when Dad told me he was going to be a dentist before he formed Queen. I can only imagine that life would have been… very different.
Roger Taylor’s latest album,
Fun on Earth,
is out now
A box set of his solo work,
is also available.
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