Queen Fan Club: Jacky Smith Interview
Hi Jacky, introductions first, who are you, what do you do and and what is your link with Queen?
Hi everyone, my name is Jacky Smith, and I have run the Official Queen fan club for almost 30 years!! I know, longer than some of you have been born!
How did you get the position of Head of The Official Queen Fan Club?
Way back in 1982, I was out of work briefly whilst living in London (I was born and bred in Oxford). I picked up the London Evening Standard newspaper, and there was a box advert that read "Top rock band require fan club secretary". Didn't say who! I called them, and even when they answered the phone, they did not say Queen... So appointment made, I trucked out to Pembridge Road, Notting Hill Gate, from my flat in Upton Park, East London. There was an underground strike that day, but luckily the guy in the flat above me was a bus driver, whose route was out to West London! My first interview was with a lady called Sarah, who worked for the band then (she had an unpronounceable Polish surname!), and as I walked in the door, and looked around, I realised it was Queen from the gold discs lining the walls! There was also a good-looking blonde bloke there, on his hands and knees looking at artwork. I knew it was one of Queen, but for the life of me couldn't think of his name. I was introduced to Roger! Anyway, long story short, I was asked back for a second interview two days later, met with Jim Beach, who interviewed me in his socks! I got a call that evening asking when I could start!! That was the Friday, I started on the Monday, it was July 1982.
What sort of thing makes up your day when running the Fan Club?
Years back it was post sacks full of letters! And hundreds of phone calls daily. Now my day is almost all on the computer. I get hundreds of emails a day as opposed to letters and phone calls! Although I do still get phone calls... I reply to all emails personally, and deal with their queries and questions, finding out what they need to know if I don't know. I also update the fan club website (www.queenworld.com), and the members only website (www.queenmembers.com), and prepare all the content for the printed magazines we still issue. I update the database with renewals, I also send out new membership packs and enter all the data into the computer. The fan club has regular events too, and if it's a gig or party then I deal with organising those, and taking bookings and sending out tickets for those. If there is an anniversary of WWRY, or an upcoming premiere somewhere, I will organise tickets for members, and when the band do tour, I usually do tickets directly for members, so I can be assured they get the best ones! The last QPR tour was a nightmare as I did thousands of tickets, but it was worth it, as all our members who wanted seats, had the best in the house!
You recently worked closely with Island Records on the Stormtroopers in Stilettos exhibition, how did that go?
Brilliant! The run up to the opening was a little fraught - chasing around tracking down costumes and memorabilia etc, helping to check text for facts and dates - and even then I think we missed one or two little things that the fans picked up on! It was a very busy time. But all in all, I loved being a part of the Exhibition team, and it made me all the more determined to chase my dream of a proper Queen Museum one day!!
The Fan Club runs a convention every year, for those who have never been what can they expect?
Now this isn't an easy one. If you have never been to a convention, and you try and explain it to a non Queen fan, you tend to find them backing away and looking at you as if you are stark raving mad.
So let's try; A Queen convention is three days (and one nasty, early morning when we have to go home..) of Queen heaven. We cram in every Queen track they have ever recorded, and as many videos/DVDs/films as we have time for. There are usually three live bands (Queen tributes of course!), one every night, but this year we had five...!! The band usually find the time to record us a special message, and we have a charity auction and raffle, where we sell loads of signed stuff and items from the band's personal wardrobes sometimes!! We have karaoke on the Friday night.
Special guests are always people associated with the band, from their childhood/school days, previous bands, roadies, producers, other artists, family, friends - and even your very own QOL Galileo was on hand this year! They are interviewed throughout the weekend. We have rare videos and outtakes, Roger sent us a new song this year from his forthcoming musical project. There is fancy dress - usually one theme, this year we had two, Fantasy on Saturday, Rocky Horror Sunday... never seen so many men in stockings! There are quizzes - Queen and non Queen, games such as the Alphabet Game (pick a letter out of a hat and you have 30 seconds to name a Queen song... not as easy as it sounds, try it!), there are sports (crazy golf, five aside footie, darts and snooker).
We have in the past had treasure hunts and scavenger hunts too. We have also had talent shows, with a panel of judges, and we have a 'jam session' where anyone can get up and play or sing. The bar opens about 10am, and doesn't close until about 3am the following morning.. and about 1000+ ardent Queen fans attend every year - some of whom dress up as Freddie all weekend, but no one minds, it's part of the fun! Now do you get the idea of a Queen convention?!! It's unmissable!
You have guests at the convention, who would you most want there one year?
Easy question - Brian, Roger and John! Or at least one of them - none of them have attended in all our 26 years of having conventions. Failing that, Jim Beach!!
Do you have any other events or activities lined up this year?
Indeed we do - August 6th we are holding a party in the Driftwood Spars pub in St Agnes, Cornwall, almost 40 years to the day that Queen actually played there! Live band, quizzes, videos and a presentation about Queen's early days in Cornwall. Tickets on sale soon. Then on November 25th, the fan club and the MPT are co-hosting a Freddie Tribute Concert, at the Clapham grand Theatre in London, with the SAS Band and a host of special guests! Details can be found on the fan club website. It will be 20 years this November since we lost Freddie, so we felt it was time for a commemorative concert!
Do you have a particular memories from working with band that really stand out?
Loads!! Parties, gigs... not easy to think of just one... how about Freddie's 40th birthday party, it was a "Silly Hat Party" held at his house in Kensington. Later on in the evening I was sitting at the bar that was on the mezzanine of the house, above the living room. Freddie was behind the bar, serving us drinks! I don't remember who else was sitting there, I have a feeling Jim Beach was one of them, and Rudi Dolezal I think, but I could be wrong! Anyway - Freddie was serving ice cold Stolichnaya vodka slammers. He would line them up, we would slam them and down them. We were not allowed to leave until he had had enough. Many slammers later, he flounced out from behind the bar, as though he had drunk nothing, laughed at my attempts to get off my bar stool, and just said "you're such lightweights"!!
My first gig I remember - 1984 in Birmingham I think... I was standing at the side of the arena (you didn't have to have a seat then!) with Freddie's Mum! I was just in awe of that show - afterwards, backstage, I was actually a little nervous of going into the dressing room - these guys I had known for almost two years, but had never seen play, were suddenly real live rockstars in my eyes! I stood outside the door shuffling my feet, it was flung open and John came out, and told me I must go in, why was I outside?! Phew, they were still normal! Many many great memories!!!
How closely do you work with band these days?
They are always still supportive, they sign whatever I ask, they do letters for magazines, messages for the conventions (and not just the UK one, I do try and get them to do messages for other fan club events overseas too, like the German and Dutch conventions, American Breakthu etc. it doesn't always happen, but more often than not!). And I can email or call them directly if I need questions answered and they're the only ones who might know, then they do their best to answer them! I am lucky enough to be thought of as "Queen Family"!
I bet that Freddie Mercury chap was a handful...
Oh he was so funny! Obviously the story of the party was a good one, but there were other occasions when he could be hysterical. When they were filming I Want To Break Free, the dressing rooms were upstairs in the film studio, and all you could hear for a while was Freddie's screaming laughter as they all got ready! Then he appeared at the top of the stairs to come down, and they were metal stairs. He was wearing the PVC skirt and pink top and wig, and really quite high heels. He tottered to the top of the stairs, took one look at them and said "I cannot possibly do stairs in these 'effing' heels darlings, I'll break my neck"! He flounced back in the dressing room and appeared moments later in heels of a far more sensible height!
If he was amongst friends he was so relaxed and funny - he loved a bit of gossip, and could tell great stories! There was a great Trivial Pursuit story - the game had been going on for days (well, apparently it felt like it to all there!), and Freddie was always insistent that the answer given was exactly what was written on the card. Finally it was nearing the end, where you can finish the game. He threw the dice, got into the middle, and the question was..... "Who is the lead singer for Queen?!" He screamed "Me Darlings!!!" And the other team refused to let him have it because it said "Freddie Mercury" on the card and not "ME"!!! ha ha!!
Apart from Queen, who else do you listen too?
One of the joys (I'm sure there is more than one...) of having an 18 year old rock chick, (I taught her well) for a daughter is that I get to hear music I might not other wise, so I have loads of 'new fave bands'! I still love Thin Lizzy, Bon Jovi, Led Zep and classic rock, but also love Papa Roach, You Me At Six, Alter Bridge, Nickelback, Shine Down, Slipknot, Pearl Jam and loads of others (Kerrang Radio rocks!)
Having worked with the band at their peak, what did you think of the album and tour with Paul Rodgers?
I love Paul, always have, used to listen to Free and Bad Company a lot - Free's Fire and Water, and Bad Companies Straight Shooter, two great albums! I loved that when he joined Queen, he didn't try and be Freddie, but I thought he could have made more effort to learn the songs, and perhaps how to actually phrase them in some cases. But I know many people liked some of his quirky ways with the songs! I felt uncomfortable hearing him do stuff like Break Free... only Freddie got away with that! But in the end, if it had not been for Paul, would we have had two tours from Queen? No, I don't think so. And I think he made them realise that they CAN go on without Freddie, and I appreciate him for that. Let's just hope they STILL realise that! Cosmos Rocks? I thought it was a good album, some outstanding tracks.... but in many ways it didn’t sound like a “Queen” album to me, but an album from three brilliant, but individual musicians/songwriters rather than a cohesive band. Just my opinion!!