Entertainment & Arts

David Bowie fans create makeshift London shrines

Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars album cover Image copyright RCA
Image caption The cover photo for Bowie's Ziggy Stardust album was shot on Heddon Street

On a cold, pale January morning, a steady trickle of people file silently into the alleyway where Ziggy Stardust fell to Earth.

Almost 44 years ago to the day, Bowie stood here - left boot cocked, bolt-blue jumpsuit open at the chest under dirty yellow hair and an oddly captivating expression, with a Les Paul guitar slung over his shoulder.

The photograph of him, taken as the evening light faded under a glowing lamp, was to become one of the most enduring album covers in musical history.

That's why Heddon Street, which could pass for any other smart alley in the heart of London, with its restaurants, bars and exposed brickwork, is rocking today.

And number 23 is a shrine.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption A plaque now marks the spot where the cover photo was taken
Image copyright PA
Image caption "RIP David Bowie. My musical hero. Your music will live in my heart forever"

A bank of photographers and cameramen survey the scene. People come and go. Fans reminisce. A man plays Heroes on his phone as he tells those around him: "Bowie is everything."

Sheila Killick, 57, from London, is here to lay a dark red rose. "There was just nobody like him, he was just so different," she says.

"The '60s was dark - it was black and white, from the Stones to the Beatles, but he burst on to the scene in the '70s with colourful flamboyance and artistry.

"He was a creative genius."

Mrs Killick saw Bowie live nine times, she recalls, a smile spreading across her face but with tears in her eyes.

"He was my hero. When I was a teenager we used to come here - we didn't have mobile phones but we just stood there [she points to the doorway] and laughed and dressed up in platforms, with typical Bowie up dos and high-necked striped shirts.

"I just felt so sad and thought it would be nice to come here."

One of the floral tributes says "Good luck on Mars", while another says "RIP David Bowie, my musical hero".

A bunch of red roses wrapped in brown paper has "Ziggy" scrawled in black pen. A poster of the famous album cover hangs in the window of number 21, as more Bowie hits float in the air.

Image caption Paul Morris: "I had to come out to pay homage"
Image caption Frances Corrin: "He put things into words which I thought you wouldn't be able to express"

"I've been crying all morning," says Paul Morris, 48, originally from Cumbria, a fan for more than four decades.

"I just wanted to stay inside all day, pull the curtains and put David Bowie records on. But I had to come out to pay homage, put a sharp suit on and raise a drink to him."

Frances Corrin, 45, from London, says Bowie was "like part of my family".

"I'm really shocked, I didn't know he was suffering from cancer.

"He put things into words which I thought you wouldn't be able to express, through his music. It just really touched me - his music, the man, his fashion."

Paola Kellman, 56, from London, wearing dark shades and red lipstick, says Bowie was her "biggest hero".

She adds: "I've been here so many times over the years and tipped my hat and said 'Thanks, David, for the music', this just felt like the right place to be today."

Image caption A mural in Brixton shows Bowie in his classic Aladdin Sane make-up
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption One fan arrived with a tattoo of the same image on her back

Meanwhile, in Brixton, south London, where David Jones was born, the atmosphere is more raw and chaotic.

A scrum, some six-people deep in parts, clamours around the huge explosion of colour that is the Bowie mural on the side of Morleys department store.

His trademark lightning stripe and blue eyes look out over piles upon piles of note-clad flowers and dimly glowing candles, as people crowd for a turn at silent reverie.

Others push their way past photographers, tears streaming, to pay their respects.

"Thank you Starman. Music of my youth. RIP," reads one heartfelt note. Another says only: "Rocks in peace."

One card says: "You were the soundtrack to my life for 44 years. And later to my family's lives too. Words cannot express the loss I feel."

Others write more poetic lines: "David Jones put on a mask coated with stardust and rouge / and showed the gawky boys shivering in their own skin - they could be electric."

Image caption The floral tributes at the mural mounted up as the day went on

Ruth Adam, 54, travelled from Surrey as soon as she heard the news. "It's the only place I can be today," she explains.

A candle is accidentally kicked into the shrine, causing a small bunch of flowers to catch fire. Mrs Adam turns to stamp it out and then reveals what she wrote.

"You are my guiding star and what you gave to the world is immeasurable."

She has worn her best red glitter lipstick in tribute, along with an emerald-coloured star necklace and a coat printed with Bowie's name.

"I had to do something. I had to do something. It was such a shock this morning and I made the decision to come so quickly that I just put on anything Bowie I could find."

How does she believe he will be remembered?

"He was the greatest musician ever." She corrects herself. "No, he was the greatest creative person ever."

Image copyright AP
Image caption By the evening bigger crowds gathered and started an impromptu sing-along of Bowie's hits

Even as it grows dark and begins to drizzle, the procession of people shows no sign of abating. In fact it gets busier - a man in a Union Jack flag appears, and another in a metal-studded jacket. Tourists, trendy-looking teenagers and workers pass by. A couple of bobbies watch the scene as cross-legged mourners begin a steady hum of Starman.

One piece of paper reads: "Bowie. To our beautiful Starman. Thank you for coming up to meet us and thank you for blowing our minds, love Tee and Brixton."

And another lined card, quoting lyrics from Bowie's track Memory of a Free Festival, reads: "We played our songs and felt the London sky resting in our hands / It was God's light, it was ragged and naive. It was heaven.

"RIP David Bowie."

Image caption Brixton's Ritzy Cinema also paid tribute to Bowie

From the mural some fans are making the short pilgrimage to Bowie's birthplace, in Stansfield Road.

It's dark and peaceful here, a world away from the glare of the cameras and crowds at the Aladdin Sane artwork. A steady trail of people come and go, pausing only to lay flowers or light candles.

Anna Monachello, 44, who lives nearby, is weeping.

"The world has lost a real talent. We grew up with him," she says. "It's such a shock."

Galo Akum, 32, leaves a card: "I wrote thank you very much for his music, his art and his great inspiration."

The electronic musician from Chile adds: "It's sad that he's passed away but it's lovely too see the huge gift of music and talent and art he gave us to inspire and create more beautiful things for the world."

The signs at two Brixton landmarks - the Ritzy Cinema and the Brixton Academy - are also paying tribute to their local boy.

It looks like these vigils will continue long into the evening and the coming days.

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