I think it was October of 2009 when they announced her concert. Whitney Houston was coming to the 02 and I wasn’t going to miss this opportunity. I just knew that this was the time to see her before I was too old to bust a proper move. I had missed her by 6 weeks when she played in South Africa in 1994 but this wouldn’t be happening again. Then they said that the dates were around my birthday in Spring 2010. Perfect! It was destined and written in the stars surely?
O2 and ticket master had other ideas. On the day of the ticket sales I told my boss that I was going to be late for a meeting in Hertfordshire as I had to buy tickets. The fact that he didn’t seem fazed by this announcement suggests that he knew how much these tickets meant to me. Or thought I was joking. I wasn’t . So 8.50 that morning I started trying to call Ticketmaster….busy. Maybe it was the reception at Kings Cross? I jumped on the train and went to Finsbury Park. Still busy? NOOOOO this couldn’t be happening to me!
Let’s track back. It was the 80s and she had burst into our lives. Living as a black girl outside of London was never easy. The closest thing we got to a gang was The Press Gang on TV. I knew more black folks from the TV than I did in real life. I felt like the kids from Fame, Cosby Show and Different World were my friends. So whenever greatness came along and it was black too you have to know that to us it was special. I suggested to my parents that I write to Jim’ll Fix it for me to meet Whitney and Michael Jackson. They gently highlighted that all the kids that got things ‘fixed’ wanted to meet British celebrities. I realised then that black America was as far away as my Africa family.
Up until then all of my music influences had been from my parent’s tape and record collection. This was the first one that was stolen from them but became my thing. Thank god for parents who loved to buy music? There was being shouted for to come watch her on TV from wherever I was playing. There were the futile attempts to copy the hairstyles. It was only years later that I discovered that most of those styles were not her real hair. I remember my uncle Herbert buying me the sheet music for ‘So emotional’ and ‘Greatest love of all’. I hadn’t even passed grade 1 piano. I also remember trying to ban my siblings from singing her songs as they were my songs. I used to sneak the words out of the vinyl sleeve and take them to school to learn. This was more educational. Whitney and Lionel were my lyric stealing favourites. And then there was my karaoke attempt. As time went on and her career became harder to watch I believed every tale of her being better. The dream wasn’t over. She would rise again. Maybe this was her moment?
After an hour of panicked calls the tickets were sold out and the systems crashed. Ticketmaster have never been able to manage high demand, so this wasn’t a shock but I was devastated and ticketless. That was not a good work day for anyone who came across me. I started plotting how much I would be willing to pay for one on the internet? One can’t think budget when a legend rolls into town. I’d seen Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Prince, Tina Turner, Lionel Ritchie, Dolly Parton, Gladys Knight but Whitney was the one I had grown up pretending to be. I had to get in! Was now the time to apply for a job as a concert usher? I decided against it as fluorescent orange netting isn’t a good look on me.
Then …..I remembered a dull networking event where I had perked up when the guy said he worked for Ticketmaster. I told him then that we would be brilliant friends from that day forth. I didn’t lie. I called him at work and explained that if I didn’t get tickets my life would be over and that he would be responsible. He laughed at the histrionics, said he would see what he could do and BINGO a couple of hours later he said that he could get me tickets for the 2nd date. How many did I want?
Now here’s the thing the tickets weren’t cheap but like a bad gambler I had already felt the pain of not getting any so, crossing my fingers I told him 6 and gave him my credit card details. See! All that drinking and networking finally paid off even if the mortgage payment that month was looking precarious. And I couldn’t go without my siblings, my mum and my gay best friends right? I needed people there that loved her nearly as much as I did.
Then the X factor appearance came along. The performance wasn’t wow and she seemed decidedly …. not completely engaged. But again like a devoted fan I blamed that on Dermot asking complicated questions like what she thought of the talentless bunch of contestants that year or when was the album coming out and her wardrobe malfunction. It was a blip she would be alright on the night. People started to question my 6 ticket mad purchase. In my mind she was worth the risk. No one else had personified diva in my lifetime. And she was one diva you had to see. Just watching some of her live duets and the way she sung everyone else out of the water was enough for me to stay determined and focused.
And on the night she started off so strongly. As the opening bars of All the Lovers started she came out and smashed it. This was it, the show was on. The Whitney we all knew and loved. Sadly the highlights were near the beginning. She struggled through the old favourites but seemed strong on the new album tracks. And then it hit me….I was expecting a 20 something Whitney to perform the songs like she did before. This wasn’t going to happen. But it was pretty difficult to watch her struggle and she just seemed exhausted. She didn’t even attempt the famous drum beat then high note on ‘I will always love you’. The song ended without the last 45 seconds.
I was upset. Not because of the money spent but that the people around her weren’t taking better care of her. Normally if I get a whiff of drug taking singers I don’t bother to see them. The chances of them cancelling are too high and why should we support their habits? But with her she was like the wayward older sister /cousin you thought was so cool when you were younger then you outgrow and realise that they have their faults too. I just couldn’t help but hope that this was the time that she had managed to get her shit together. But alas it wasn’t to be and now we will all just sing along whenever her songs come on the radio and dance wildly at her at parties.
But take away everything else she personified talent, living life to the fullest and is a reminder that life is indeed too short. It’s a timely remember to love those that you claim to love fearlessly and without judgement. That reminds me, I need to catch up with my wayward older cousin. RIP Whitney.
For Whitney and me part 1 published last August please go to http://www.chelsea-black.com/respecting-my-diva/
© Chelsea Black