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Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott: the day I kidnapped David Bowie

Joe Elliott and David Bowie
(Image credit: David Cooper / Ron Galella / Getty Images)

Joe Elliott is the first to admit that David Bowie is one of his biggest heroes. The Def Leppard singer bought The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars after seeing Bowie’s iconic appearance on Top Of The Pops in 1972.

“David Bowie was an absolute idol to me when I was a kid,” Elliott tells Classic Rock. “Without him, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing. He was a big part of what made me want to be in a band.”

Inevitably, the pair’s paths would cross, though it was in unlikely circumstances. It was the late 80s and Leppard were at the height of their success, coming off the mega-platinum success of 1983’s Pyromania and 1987’s Hysteria. Elliott had moved to Ireland, and spending time mixing with other rock’n’roll A-listers.

“It was 1989, and I got an invitation to [U2 singer] Bono’s place,” he says. “He was throwing a big barbecue and everyone who meant something in Ireland was there. {Director] John Huston, [actor] John Hurt… I get there and Bono says, ‘I want to introduce you to somebody.’ 

"So he takes me upstairs to this room with a snooker table, and Bowie’s sitting on the table. Bono goes, ‘I thought you might like five minutes.’ I’m like, ‘You could have fucking told me. What am I gonna say? How’s your mum, David?”

The pair hit it off, to the point where Elliott soon found himself crammed into a car with Ziggy Stardust and the barbecue’s host. “Me, Bono and Bowie hijacked a Mini and drove to this restaurant where the Edge was having a meal cos it was his birthday. We pulled up, jumped out of the car, sang Happy Birthday to the Edge, jumped back in and drove back to Bono’s.”

Coco Schwab, Bowie’s fearsome personal assistant, was not impressed. “She went fucking ballistic. She thought we’d kidnapped him. We were, like, ‘No, David Bowie kidnapped us.’”

At one point earlier in the evening, Elliott had mentioned the version of All The Young Dudes that Bowie recorded during the Aladdin Sane sessions. “He said, ‘I’ve never heard that since I did it.’ And I said, [disbelievingly] ‘What, you don’t have it? I’ve got it on a Japanese bootleg.’ And he goes, ‘Can you get me a copy?’ 

"He was playing The Point in Dublin the next night, so I did him a tape of it and gave it to him just before he went onstage. He went, “Thank you’, slipped it in his suit jacket pocket and went straight out on the stage.”

Elliott would pay tribute to Bowie, both with Def Leppard (who covered Drive-In Saturday on 2008’s Yeah!) and with his side-band Down N’ Outz, whose 2019 album This Is How We Roll, features a tribute to the late singer, Goodnight Mr Jones.

“To a man, everybody in Leppard adores Bowie,” says Elliott. “There’ll never be anyone like him again.”