Samui Wining & Dining
Ridiculous Riders

When it comes to mega-stars, what they now demand backstage takes some getting your teeth into!


20There was a time, long ago, when people didn’t demand, they politely requested. This was somewhere back in the mists of time, when policemen rode around on bicycles, cuffed offenders round the ear, and told them to go home and not do it again. When teachers commanded respect. When everyone automatically, and without thought, added ‘please’ or ‘thank you’ at the end of their sentences. It was a delightful and innocent time, when boys wore short trousers and little girls were ecstatic about dolls. But it’s gone now. Today we have PlayStations not playthings, and ‘attitude’ is all – meaning that over-confidence, rudeness and disrespect have somehow become the norm.

    Times were so much gentler before Hip Hop and Gangsta Rap. Back in that period, somewhere between the last war and Punk Rock, stars were still stars and valued as such. Marlene Dietrich was about as mega as you could get, back in the ’50s and ’60s, as were Astaire, Bogart and, musically, Sinatra. These were household names, yet rarely (there are exceptions!) were they ever rude or demanding. But they were stars. And along with this came the ability to request certain perquisites – today we call them ‘perks’. Marlene Dietrich, for instance, on the 1935 set of ‘The Devil is a Woman’, requested that her trailer on the set was equipped with a ‘Frigidaire’, and had fresh milk, water and cheese in it – she didn’t even stipulate what sort of cheese or what brand of water.

      Today, every established star of stage, screen or song requests (sorry; demands) ‘riders’ on their contracts. Mainly it’s about food: everybody on tour wants – needs – certain things from day to day. Fair enough. It’s a necessity and should be guaranteed. But most stars have come up the hard way, and have had their fill of un-kept promises and agent’s assurances that came to nothing.

       The urban legend here arose with mega-band Van Halen’s request that they be provided with a bowl of M&Ms with all of the brown ones removed, way back in 1982. In actual fact, this wasn’t at all serious – none of the band even wanted M&Ms, the purpose was to ensure that their agent had actually bothered to read all of the band’s requirements in detail. Hardly surprising really as, several years before, their specifications for a stage-rig had been ignored, leading to its collapse due to the sheer weight of the band’s equipment, with two people needing to be hospitalised.

       Of course, this is all rooted in the need for a performer to have access to a regular supply of food, drink and basic refreshments whilst on tour. And, in all fairness, these things ought to be both ready-to-hand and fairly straightforward. They can’t know where grocery or liquor stores are going to be in each tour-stop, and would be hugely inconvenienced to have to hunt around in an unfamiliar city (or country, even) to find things that a local could find much more easily and quickly. Similarly, it’s a wise precaution to specify particular brands of food or drink: it helps to reduce shoddy or sub-standard practices. It’s not particularly that ‘Sunny Sea’ tuna is the bee’s knees – it’s more that cut-price cat food grade generic tuna is not!

      Well, that’s the basic idea, anyway. Sadly, things have changed since Van Halen hit the headlines back in the ’80s, and the band seems to have inadvertently paved the way for an endless number of prima donnas, each of them believing they have the unalienable right to demand anything at all. The list is both endless and often lunatic, with some mega-stars being more extreme offenders than others.

      Such as Britney Spears, for example, who demanded a high-cal feast when she performed at London’s 02 arena last year, insisting that the venue provide her with 30 McDonald’s cheeseburgers but with no buns, 100 figs and prunes and (appropriate for the location) a fish-and-chips supper. But that pales in comparison with her strangest dressing room request: a framed photo of Princess Diana. But this isn’t even half-weird.

      Madonna, for instance, won’t even consider the idea of sitting on a used toilet seat. She has it written in her backstage rider that all toilet seats have to be brand new. She also demands that her dressing rooms must be sterilised after her performances, ‘in order to prevent DNA theft’. So, the Material Girl makes sure that there are no strands of her hair, flakes of skin, sweat or even fingerprints remaining. Odd? Even more so when you consider that before she’s even set foot in the venue a team of builders will have ‘reconstructed’ her dressing room, installing fake ceilings and fake walls so they can ensure that no one has hidden a camera anywhere.

      Squiggle (the artist formerly known as Prince) insists that every single item in his dressing room be individually wrapped in cling-film. Jennifer Lopez demands that, before a public appearance, her path must be prepared in advance with the scent of gardenia, and her hotel sheets must be Egyptian cotton and have a thread-count of at least 250. And then – take a deep breath – Celine Dion requires a children’s choir with 20 to 24 children of all races. Pavarotti used to demand that there be no distinct smells anywhere near him (but he did want a golf cart!). Cher can’t perform without a wig room, cable TV that gets Turner Classic Movies and a room for her massage therapist. Elton John insists that his dressing room be kept at 60°F in summer and 70°F in winter. And rapper, Busta Rhymes, demands that there be no pork or beef anywhere at all backstage (but he does want a 24-piece bucket of KFC and a box of Rough Riders ribbed condoms – presumably not all in together).

      From the sublime to the silly and from Rough Riders to ridiculous ones: times have certainly changed. It all began with making sure that the artiste was taken care of and didn’t starve or die of thirst backstage. But, due to the delightfully permissive times in which we live, it’s all now gone bananas. And the demands of some of today’s mega-stars add up to some really ridiculous riders – that’s for sure!


Rob De Wet



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