The wisdom of Bruce Dickinson: Iron Maiden's frontman on creativity, cancer and cocaine

Bruce Dickinson in 1983
(Image credit: Paul Natkin)

Bruce Dickinson - frontman/fencer/pilot/author/brewer/businessman, don't forget –  is never going to be short of a thing or two to say, and there's very little we enjoy more than poking around inside someone's grey matter to figure out what’s going on.

So here's some highlights from the the startling mind of the Iron Maiden man.

"I never got cocaine. I got speed, because it made you run around really fast. But then it also made you feel absolutely shit. As far as cocaine is concerned, people get mashed and then sit there with the most stupid gibberish coming out of their gobs for hours and hours on end. It’s just tedious at best, and at worst it turns people into paranoid nutcases. So I’ve got no time for cocaine whatsoever. And obviously anything resembling depressives, I just don’t get. I don’t get why someone would want to shut reality off. Cos reality is brilliant.

I think anybody that becomes successful has got to have that self-belief, and it’s not based on any logic. If you sat down and looked at it and said, ‘What are the chances?’, you’d go, ‘No, give up, you’re never gonna make it as a rock star…’ People do fall by the wayside, but I always admire people who have a dream. If the passion and belief are there, you just know they’ll do it. Also, part of believing that you can do it is not giving up. That’s equally important.

“I cut my teeth as a kid on Purple. It’s what I grew up with, what got me out of bed in the morning in terms of rock’n’roll music. Ian Gillan was a big vocal hero of mine. I did my first album with the band Samson [1979’s Survivors] at what was then Ian’s studio, Kingsway Recorders in Holborn. We partied exceptionally hard before going down for a playback, and Ian turned up in the middle of it and was listening away. I had to excuse myself to go and throw up in the loo, and sat there with my head down the loo for about 45 minutes, at which point Ian took pity on me. He went, ‘Where’s he?… Ah there he is… drag him out, clean him up, put him in a cab, send him home.’ I’ve never forgotten that."

"I had a vision for The Number Of The Beast: my voice glued on to Maiden equals something much bigger. We did it fast – four or five weeks. We’d be in the studio till five or six in the morning. The one mistake we made was putting Gangland on the album instead of Total Eclipse. We picked Gangland because it was the first thing we ever recorded together properly. But the rest of the album was fantastic. Hallowed Be Thy Name was a precursor to Rime Of The Ancient Mariner. That song, and the whole album, took Maiden to a different level.”

“We were on tour in Winterthur, Switzerland when we got the news about The Number Of The Beast album. We got a telegram on the Sunday morning going: “Your album is number one!”. And we went: “Fantastic!”. But at the time, we were pushing a 30-seat coach to jump start it, because the driver had let the battery go flat.”

“We were young and we were all chucked into this huge shit-storm of success and we dealt with it in different ways. To a certain extent you make a Faustian deal when you join a successful band. There is a price that gets exacted upon you, and there’s very little you can do about that except hope to come out the other end of it right-side up.”

“We were all fit as trouts at the end of the World Slavery Tour, running around, skinny as rakes. I think we’d all gone a bit barking mad. I was going stir crazy. Thirteen months on the road was not conducive to the state of my mental health!”

"Steve is extremely determined and for a mild-mannered, shy sort of chap offstage, he’s got quite a ruthless streak in him. Not in a bad way or an exploitative way, but he’ll go, ‘This is not working and there’s no way round it…’ He can be very, very stubborn and, of course, so can I! Ha ha ha!”

“How have we maintained our relationships in Iron Maiden? We take the piss all the time. We’ve been down a long, long road together. Steve [Harris] and I have such different personalities, but we have many moments when we’re so close, it’s really special. It’s Team Iron Maiden. It’s a bit like a football team but it’s so much more than that. It’s more than a job, because I wouldn’t put my body through what it goes through for a job.”

“I don’t take back any of my fashion statements however awful. I never regret anything because it’s all part of life’s rich tapestry. And in any case you can always hold it up to scare your children later.”

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“It’s a very bizarre story, how I ended up writing Empire Of The Clouds. Basically, I won a piano in a raffle. It was one of these charity dinners, hosted by Jamie Oliver. There were various auctions where you could win things that were utterly useless to me, like free facial pampering session at some place in the Cotswolds. But there was also a little portable electric piano up for grabs – signed, it must be said, by Jamie Cullum! I thought, I wouldn’t mind having a piano at home to muck about on. And in the end I won it – I am to the piano what two fingers are to typing.”

“I’d wondered how they tell you about cancer. Is it over tea and biscuits? But the oncologist just said, “Well, I have a letter here that says you have head and neck cancer.” So that’s how they do it: straight between the eyes. I appreciate that. I was told I had a golf ball-sized tumour on my tongue, and another in my lymph node. But the oncologist also said: “You’re an excellent candidate for a complete cure.” He told me, “I’ll get rid of this for you and it won’t come back.” I didn’t see the point in being fearful. I asked the doc: “Assuming I get rid of this, how long before I’m back to normal?” He said about a year. I said, “I’ll beat that.”