26/8/2012 Melbourne, George Fairfax Studio
I was Nigel’s agent for many years but today I am speaking simply as his friend.
Nigel was such a ‘naughty’ boy and I loved him for it. He was a creature of many moods and contrasts: one day he was the gossip queen of the world , the next, dismissive and grumpy, but most of all he was incredibly supportive. Travelling with him was a laugh a minute – he was never dull.
In Hanoi I remember Nigel decided that I needed the wax in my ears removed. “You can’t hear,” he said. He took me to a local barber’s shop. “It’s easy, Hilly,” he said, “they just thrust a long stick through your ear and it comes out the other side. Trust me.”
We travelled all over the world. One time Nigel bought me a ticket to Los Angeles and New York because he wanted to make sure that I saw Tap Dogs’ opening nights in those cities. He also needed company on a jaunt to Hawaii on the way back to Australia. He wanted to show me a volcano, one of his passions, which he hoped would erupt during our visit, plunging us into the epicentre of a live drama. But, it didn’t erupt and he had to settle for swimming with stingrays.
When Nidge was sick and needing to recuperate he bought a house in far north Queensland hoping to learn how to retire there. When I arrived for a holiday and to see how he was getting on, I found him swanning around his sundeck pretending to fish leaves out of the pool. In truth he had his binoculars trained on the nudist beach below – ‘swarming’, Nidge said, ‘with glorious bronzed Queensland blokes’, ripe for an invitation to Casa Nigellus.
I knew, as a house guest, that food would not be on Nidge’s radar so had taken the precaution of bringing salad, a salad bowl, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. We bounced into my rented car and took off to get some fresh fish. Later, over a glass or three of crisp, dry white the two of us wrestled with the difficulties of retiring. Nigel had loved the limelight and being famous. He had a highly successful career and wondered how he would cope as a private person.
At the same time he enjoyed his own company and diverted himself for weeks on the Internet planning his next trip. He was never happier than when he had done a fabulous deal and reported back that he had just booked a 28 day cruise for a quarter the normal price – with an upgrade to a suite – with balcony – on the top deck. He alternated between sailing the high seas for months on end and settling into everyday life with the locals in Mumbai or Bangkok.
Our holidays were varied. We sailed down the Nile one year, cruised the Mekong the next and on land one time we tramped over the ruins of Anghor Wat. We also loved Western Australia. The Bungle Bungles were a favourite – we were drawn by their beauty and strong Aboriginal spirit power.
But the first time we stayed in Western Australia, we decided to give ourselves a treat and visited the homestead at El Questro, 50 ks from Kunanurra along a dirt track. The property was perched beside a deep gorge with a river rushing by below, the opposite bank theatrically lit at night. Nidge and I dined, silver service, on a rock ledge. Our hosts lit a little fire beside us. We got gently sozzled and stared into the fire’s glowing embers lulled by the silken silence, only occasionally disturbed by the far off cry of an unknown creature.
The following day we were helicoptered to a moonscape – only the best for Nidge !– and deposited on a rock ledge next to a waterhole. We were a million miles from anywhere. The helicopter departed and was soon a speck on the horizon. Nigel opened the picnic basket and spotted a flask of margheritas. We set to and gorged ourselves on lobster salad and several cocktails. It was total decadence. Then, as if to cleanse ourselves of such indulgence, we plunged into the waterhole and then dried off on a sunny rock. In such a ‘last supper’ setting we inevitably found ourselves discussing life, age and the whole damn mystery of it all. Nidge, as usual, was full of insight and wisdom.
Next day we were picked up by Bill, our tour leader, in a small white campervan. Nigel discovered that we were his only clients and quickly hatched a plot. “Hilly, we can now go Exactly where we want and avoid all the tourist stops on Bill’s schedule”.
The poor man hadn’t a hope with Nigel in control. We mollified him by agreeing to try camping, mainly because we didn’t have to put the tent up or make a fire. With the blazing Bungles as our backdrop Nigel sat cross-legged in front of his tent and received me regally in a cloud of marijuana. After offering me a joint we settled down happily.
“Nidge, let’s face it. You’re broke. You need a job.
I think you should meet Dein Perry: he’s formed a tap troup called Tap Dogs. It’s six buffy blokes who perform in work boots – tapping in the 21st century. They’re brilliant. Between the two of you I am sure you could create a fantastic stage show with you designing and directing. It will be a ‘tour de force’ without a doubt.”
And that is how the idea for the stage show Tap Dogs was born – in a small tent in the Bungle Bungles.
The night before we left the Bungles Nigel couldn’t resist one last joke. He wandered around the camping site at midnight, lit by a crescent moon, thrusting jelly babies into the shoes of every camper, thrilled with the idea that they wouldn’t have a clue who had done it and might think the jelly babies were snakes. We were going at dawn and hadn’t met any of the other campers so they would be none the wiser.
As Nigel warmed to his new life of retirement he came up with a fresh nom de plume – THE DOGSTER. Under this name Nidge posted reports of his travels to Bangkok and India on the Fodors website. DOGSTER soon had truckloads of admirers who followed his postings and clamoured for more. He created a new family who loved his anecdotes about the eccentric people he met. I found a message from one of his new family who had received some very bad news and wrote to Nigel in distress. Nigel replied immediately:-
“Oh, gawd, my friend – this is a tough one. How scary this must be Right now. Just know that this network of distant friends is with you, hovering gently not far from your side. Feel it ? That’s us. Watching and waiting with you, my friend. My prayers, for what they’re worth, go with you too. Hang on tight.”
That says it all – Nigel the true friend.
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