Lucy Mangan

“We mourn public losses as they remind us of our private ones” Lucy Mangan on why the loss of a public figure can feel very personal

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Is it weird to care so much when somebody we don’t know dies? Not at all, says Stylist columnist Lucy Mangan.

For about 48 hours after the news broke that David Bowie had died I kept bursting into tears. Full-on ugly crying. Which took me by surprise and made me slightly ashamed of myself. Not only am I not a member of his family or a friend, someone who knew him in any way personally, I’m not even a die-hard Bowie fan. Among the many, many things I wasn’t allowed to do growing up in a household run only slightly along the lines of a dictatorship was engage with popular culture in any way, including watching Top Of The Pops or reading magazines, so I first came across him at university, in the film Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence – this strange, ethereal, astonishingly beautiful actor who stole, by sheer charisma, every scene and broke my heart at the end. I’ve been slowly piecing the music thing together ever since. 

So he wasn’t the transformative, liberating force or the soundtrack to my life like he was for many people. But I loved knowing he was out there. I worshipped his charm and grace in interviews, his articulate explanations and defences of what he did, his endless creativity without a hint of pretention. And his death genuinely rocked my world – even now, a week later, I’m still upset.

Is this weird – to care so much when somebody we don’t know dies? Although it’s not quite true that we didn’t know Bowie. We self-evidently do know famous people, a bit. That’s kinda what makes them famous. Sometimes – with Diana, for example – it’s just from growing up with their stories, filtered through a million lenses and articles. With artists like Bowie – or Amy Winehouse, or River Phoenix – it’s often a more meaningful connection (I am still not, of course, equating it with the connections we have with friends and family), which was summed up brilliantly by Lauren Laverne on her Radio 6 music show on the day his death was announced. “It is personal,” she said. “His world is gone.” All the stuff he would have given us, his way of looking at the world, of interpreting it, of showing us hidden links and new possibilities – it just won’t be there any more.

And perhaps too we mourn public losses because they remind us of our private ones. What is grief but the knowledge that someone you loved just isn’t – won’t, can’t, not now, not ever – be there anymore? That loss never goes away. Life just gradually learns to grow around them. But a public death makes us long again for things to be different.

And perhaps it reminds us too of griefs yet to come. It makes us sad and fearful, all of us, to different degrees and in different ways. You can’t legislate for it. We are porous, and sadness won’t correspond in neatly linear fashion to exactly how well or personally you know the person who’s gone. You just feel how you feel. 

If your hero left a body of beautiful work behind, you will take comfort in that once the shock subsides, just as once the worst pain of losing a loved one recedes you can begin to take comfort in your memories. Bowie is all around us, and so is everyone we love. Music and memories last as long as we all need.

Who lives in a house like this?

Eighty-nine-year-old Hugh Hefner is selling his Playboy mansion in Los Angeles, on the condition that he gets to live in it until he dies. This will be either be very soon or never, depending on whether banging 20-year-old blondes is as good for your health as penises claim.

I couldn’t find the estate agent’s listing online, but there is always erstwhile Playboy bunny Izabella St James’ description of the sumptuous interior to tempt us. 

“Each bedroom had mismatched, random pieces of furniture,” she recalls in her autobiography Bunny Tales: Behind Closed Doors At The Playboy Mansion. “Our beds were disgusting – old, worn and stained […] if any of us visited Hef’s bedroom – we’d almost always end up standing in dog mess.” 

If we all club together, I think we could buy this little bit of history – a snip at just $200million (£138million).

Photography: Ellis Parrinder, Rex Features

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