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Roger Daltrey: ‘I’ve not been perfect, but I hope I learned from my mistakes’

As The Who frontman releases his autobiography 'Thanks . A Lot Mr Kibblewhite: My Story', Adrian Lobb sits down with the mod legend to discuss what he would have told his younger self

School ended on my 15th birthday. I was sent to the youth employment officer, who got me a job as an electrician’s mate on a building site, but I never saw a wire, I just bled pipes. I thought, fuck that, this is plumbing. By 16, I was working in a sheet metalwork factory in South Acton. Calling it a factory is a bit much, it was more like an asbestos shed with 20 blokes turning out early computer cabinets, which were as big as tanks. They were some of my happiest days. Some guys were just out of Malaya and Korea, two wars we often forget about. The singing, laughter and camaraderie was so much fun, even though it was hard graft.

Those teenage years were full of angst, full of energy, full of testosterone and full of paranoia. I was bullied at school so my flight or fight switch was always on – if I ever felt threatened, I learnt to get the first blow in. Perhaps I was quite an aggressive bugger, but I don’t think I was a bully.

My imagined future was nothing other than becoming a rock singer. It was already my drive and my vision. I was 11 when I saw Elvis, but it was Lonnie Donegan that really hit me. One reason I got slung out of school is that I didn’t want to know about anything other than music. And every night I was out playing with the band. We were just starting to get paying jobs in social clubs.

1945: Roger's dad Harry comes home from the war

My generation missed National Service by one year, thank goodness. I don’t know where my life would have gone, but I would have been OK. I didn’t mind a bit of discipline – I’d been in the Boys’ Brigade. In those days we were all being trained up for the next war. I learnt the bugle and formation marches but they also taught us how democracy worked. I became the company singer. Because I am little, the sergeant used to sit me on his shoulders and get me to sing.

We were a generation of builders who grew up with nothing. Everything had been destroyed by war. When you have nothing, if you want something you fucking build it. I made my first electric guitar, a copy of a Fender, and we were building a band. John [Entwistle] joined – we were different characters but got on and he was a genius bass player. Pete [Townshend] joined, and, fuck me, he was a different class altogether. He had the ability, through his writing and intellect, to write songs of a different calibre to anyone else. I happily gave up the guitar, it was completely incompatible with being a sheet metal worker. My hands were cut to shreds after unloading 10 tonnes of steel. So that was the gang. And when [Keith] Moon joined, it was the key to the starter. Vroom. Off it went, like a jet engine. Even then, our energy was different to any other band.

I don’t want to be that star on a pedestal. I lock myself away in the country and I’m a bit of a recluse

Even with all the anger, angst and paranoia, there was always a deep respect and that is why The Who stayed together. You can have all that stuff, but when you get home, there was a deep caring for each other. It is family. Don’t fucking get in the middle of it – you wouldn’t last two seconds!

I have done what I always dreamed of but I haven’t changed inside from being that kid. Fame is a weird thing. We all wanted to be rich and famous, which we became. But you are still the same blokes. I don’t want to be that star on a pedestal, I was always uncomfortable with that. I lock myself away in the country now and I’m a bit of a recluse, but that is out of choice. I like to be with the grandkids and the family.

In 1960 the year Roger turns 16…

  • Psycho premieres
  • The Beatles play their first gig in Hamburg
  • The farthing ceases to be legal tender

I was 20 when I became a father. When I left them, it was with the intent that I could do better for everyone – Jackie [Daltrey’s first wife], my son Simon, me, the band, my mum and dad, my sisters – if I followed my dream than trying to do something I couldn’t handle, which was being married with a kid in one room of a council flat in Wandsworth. I’d look down at the band’s van with the arrow and The Detours [the band’s previous name] on the side. It was luring me down. And as it happened, it worked out. I haven’t been a perfect human being, but I hope I have learned from the mistakes I have made.

The main advice I give youngsters is to be very aware of what you are getting into on social media. Because life is not looking down at screens, it is looking up. We are heading for catastrophe with the addiction that is going on in the younger generation. Your life will disappear if you are not careful. You are being controlled, and that is terrible.

Roger Daltrey LTMYS
1962: The Detours on the road (l-r): John Entwistle, Doug Sandom, Daltrey, Pete Townshend

My younger self would have loved Baba O’Riley. Teenage Wasteland speaks to generation after generation. The bridge – “Don’t cry/ Don’t raise your eye/ It’s only teenage wasteland” – if that doesn’t say more about the new generation, I don’t know what does. But I am inspired by the young people I meet through the Teenage Cancer Trust. They are fantastic.

There have been two lightbulb moments in my life. First was the music of Lonnie Donegan, second was my GP, Adrian Whiteson, starting the Teenage Cancer Trust. Adolescents were being diagnosed with cancer and waking up in children’s hospitals next to two-year-olds. I thought back to that period in my life, when I was so isolated, walking by the river every day playing truant from school. I thought, fucking hell, you imagine if you had cancer and you were isolated next to screaming kids on a hospital ward? Or even worse, geriatric adults. It is something I am determined to change with whatever life I have got left, but it is a hard, hard slog.

Roger Daltrey LTMYS

Young musicians today are much better trained than we ever were. Occasionally you see the sparks, like when Ed Sheeran first played for Teenage Cancer Trust. He is a remarkable young man. To do all that on his own? People think it is easy – is it fuck! And he is a diamond of a guy. We’ve had them all play for us. Arctic Monkeys are going to be around a long time, and I wish the Gallagher brothers would get back together. My advice to them would be that all the verbal that keeps you in the press – it is today’s version of wrestling. It’s not real, get over it.

If I could relive any day, I would like to go back and give Heather a proper wedding. We got married at a registry office on the spur of the moment. Then we went down the pub and had a laugh and a joke with Zoot Money, Steve Ellis and a couple of mates. I don’t know if she would want a proper wedding, it’s more that I feel bad about it. We met 50 years ago this September. She is alright, you know! What is the secret? Ask her, I don’t know.

I would love to go back and have one last conversation with Moon. What would I say to him? You silly fucker! No, I don’t know whether I would say anything. I would just like to hug him. We loved him. We didn’t know about rehab in those days. We did our best with what little we did know, but it was hard. A good day out with Moon could be one of the best and funniest days in your life. A bad day out with him could be your worst nightmare.

Thanks A Lot Mr Kibblewhite: My Story by Roger Daltrey is out now (Blink, £20) 

Image: Camera Press/Paul Stuart