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Shifting Sands, Celebrities

Whenever I tell someone how long I’ve lived on the island the usual reaction is ““ “Wow, I bet you’ve seen some changes!” Well ““ yes and no. Changes are much more apparent when you leave for a spell and then return. But memories can be recalled and you can surprise even yourself when you explore the shifting sands of time. Ken

Celebrities on Tenerife

Celebrities lived in the Orotava Valley ““ Jack Jackson the daddy of the DJs had a recording studio in his house in La Montañeta and sent a cassette recording of his programme home by air every week to the BBC. Jack had a cat, Tibbles, in the studio, but it was a “virtual” cat; he was the first radio DJ with studio gimmicks.

I often met him in the Red Barrel bar when he and his wife, Eve, came down from the hills for a lunchtime bevy. We almost had a deal put together where I would ghost his biography but in 1973 he discovered that the Tenerife climate was worse for his lung complaint than the UK and left the island for good. He died in 1978.

When checking him out on the internet, I find that there are two versions of his place of birth ““ the first in Belvedere, Kent and the second in Horsley, Derbyshire. I would love to claim him as a fellow Derbyshire man.

JEAN BATTEN

Jean Batten, Garbo of the Skies

She was one of the Daily Express’s top 5 women of the year in 1936.

In 1972, she owned a small apartment in the Avenida Aparthotel yet very few people, including me, knew who she was. The lady was Jean Batten, the Garbo of the Skies, the title of a brilliantly researched book by Ian Mackersey. Why was she honoured by the Daily Express? In 1936 she had made the first solo flight from England to New Zealand. She was extremely photogenic. Hers is a fascinating story. The poor woman is buried in a pauper’s grave in Majorca. Her mother, who died in her arms in San Marcos, is buried in the British Cemetery in Puerto de la Cruz. It’s all in the book. She once nodded graciously in my direction and I nodded back

Find out more from the documentary of Jean Batten’s life, including an interview with Annette Reid

KENNETH WILLIAMS
During the 70s Kenneth Williams and his mother paid several visits to Tenerife. Puerto de la Cruz was his preference. I met him one lunch time in the Harp Bar. He asked me my name. I told him ““ Ken ““ and no he didn’t say “stop messin’ about“. He was in a sombre mood as he’d just discovered that there was to be a strike of hotel employees in a few days time. So it must have been 1978.

Louie, his mother, was taking things in her stride and was good company. “Kenny says we’re jinxed, “˜cos last year we were sitting in a little bus at the airport waiting for the luggage to be loaded when that terrible Jumbo crash happened. The bus shot off like a bat out of hell and forgot all about the cases” As we talked a few customers came in and one or two made a bee-line for him. One poor chap got a bit tongue tied and said, “I’d like to shake the hand that’s given so much pleasure to so many people“. One of the two Kens said, “I beg your pardon” ““ modesty prevents me from saying which one. However, when the penny dropped, Ken W. roared with laughter and I left while I was ahead. I never met them again.

Many years later, after his death, I discovered that he hated being approached by the public and, at times, was quite rude. This particular day, nothing could be further from the truth, he was humble and charming

LADY MOLLIE ABERCROMBY

Lady Mollie Abercromby

However we were not short of our own local celebrities. Lady Mollie Abercromby (above – where she always preferred to be, in the company of men) was a legend in her own life time. She was a member of the Smith family who had owned Sitio Litre since the 1850s. Her favourite bar was the Red Barrel which she visited regularly at lunchtime.

A happy, generous lady she made friends easily with the tourists and would often invite some of them to her stately home for lunch later on in the week. On arrival at the allotted time she would often greet them with ““ “What are you doing here?” Or if she didn’t recognize them, “What do you want?” An embarrassed shuffling of feet occurred before one of the party reminded her of her invitation. But she never failed to get Pancho and Maria to rustle something up and the wine flowed.

Mollie was the first person on the island to fail the breathalyser test when after a lazy lunch in Santa Cruz with her friend Desmond she was stopped whilst driving down the motorway at 20km an hour.