Christopher Sandford

Sympathy for the vicar

Christopher Sandford says that Keith Richards — 60 next month — is a secret conservative: he eats shepherd’s pie, loves his mum and even goes to church

Christopher Sandford says that Keith Richards — 60 next month — is a secret conservative: he eats shepherd’s pie, loves his mum and even goes to church

He doesn’t exactly look like your average squire, Keith Richards, with his piratical swagger and a complexion that’s been compared to old cat litter. But Keith, who turns 60 next month, is emerging as one of the most shockingly normal, and English, of rock stars, as well as one of the most self-aware. ‘I can be the cat on stage any time I want,’ he said some years ago. ‘I like to stay in touch with him…. But I’m a very placid, nice guy — most people will tell you that. It’s mainly to placate this other creature that I work.’

Keith’s paternal grandparents were both well respected councillors in Walthamstow, where his grandmother served as the first female mayor. His maternal grandfather was a first world war hero. Keith’s father was among the first to hit the Normandy beaches on D-Day and was badly wounded as a result. He was later cited for conspicuous gallantry. Some discrepancy, then, between the raised-by-wolves legend of Keith’s upbringing and the reality, with its emphasis on duty, rank and sound traditional values. He enjoyed singing ‘Zadok the Priest’ to the new Queen in 1953 and was a model Boy Scout, as well as a dab hand at sports. Years later in Jamaica, Mick Jagger would challenge Richards — then in his ‘elegantly wasted’ phase — to a game of tennis. Sir Mick appeared for the contest dressed for Wimbledon; his opponent sported ragged jeans and kept a butt end clamped to his lip throughout. Keith won the match 6–1.

Even at his leaden nadir as a smack addict, Keith was unabashedly proud of a past that would be branded imperialist in today’s Britain.

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