You Can Take the Girl Out of Teesside: A love letter to my home x

I come from a wonderful little town called Middlesbrough, in a wonderful little place called Teesside. Heard of it? You’ve most likely seen it advertised as either ‘The worst place to live in the UK 2009’ on Location, Location, Location or most recently ‘the worst place to grow up in the UK if you’re a girl’. Football fans will have heard of Middlesbrough Football Club, especially as we’ve just been promoted back up to the Premiership. Foodies may have heard of the good old ‘Chicken Parmo’. Australians may, or may not, know that we are the reason they have the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Let’s just go back to this ‘Worst Place to Live’ thing a minute. You see, a group of people out there are studying for a living OR being paid to gather enough information to create a kind of ‘league table’, to show which is the ‘Best and Worst place to live in the UK’. That’s all fair and proper, as statistics and studies can contribute to life changing discoveries. If I’m honest, I’m nowhere near qualified enough to comment about all of that in great depth, so I won’t. But then we have the Media. The real issue here is the Media. In case we didn’t get the information from these studies in the first place, the media like us to be EXTRA INFORMED. Especially when it comes to ranking things from best to worst. They need to reiterate in every way ‘JUST HOW SHIT IT IS TO LIVE IN MIDDLESBROUGH’. And then do you know what they do? They do nothing. Absolutely nothing. They make everybody aware of the matter AND DO ABSOLUTELY NOTHING ABOUT IT.

You can see how the conversation would go…

‘Middlesbrough has the highest exclusion rate in schools or something’

‘Oh, really? Well, what can we do to improve it?’

‘Soz, don’t know. I’m out of office now, going away tomorrow, don’t ask me.’

Anyhow, in my opinion, that’s just a generally common thing nowadays. People who are tucked away in their high castles or offices are quick to come up with and highlight the negatives from afar, yet do nothing to turn them around and make them positive. The majority won’t have even step foot in the places they’ve been studying. Yet, with the click of a button, have the means to create a mix of shit vibes and paint them all over a town, bringing everybody living there down and leaving them completely fed up that, yet again, they have been targeted. It’s quite frustrating really.

Then, there are the people of Teesside.

Despite all of the negative press, the recent closure of SSI resulting in the loss of thousands of jobs and a fair whack of spending cuts, I’ll tell you what there is.

There is spirit.

There is a constant willingness to make the best of what there is and to move forward. There is an acceptance that, perhaps, we aren’t the ‘best town in the UK to live’, but we are growing. There is an invaluable sense of self, an evolving identity. Always aiming to improve, rather than aiming to be Number One. Completely unapologetic about who they are, they happily exist and take great pride in what surrounds them. A town in the midst of regeneration, a town that is united completely every week when their football team play, a town that is proud. Even when the British media are doing EVERYTHING in their power to ensure they can’t and won’t be, they remain proud.

I am an actor. I’m riddled with insecurities, centred around my looks, my skills and ability, my personality… You name it, I have the insecurity. I make a living by pretending to be other people, if that doesn’t scream insecurity then I don’t know what does. I’ve worked very hard all of my life to ensure I gradually progress to do this as a career, as it has always been my passion. As the years have gone by, and the novelty of graduating from a pretty amazing establishment after three years of blood, sweat and tears has worn off, I have come to realise that I am not the best in my field. Now, some people may read this and think I’m being negative or self deprecating or fishing for compliments… you couldn’t be more wrong. I know that I’m a relatively decent standard as far as my ability goes, I’ve been fortunate enough to work some fantastic jobs since I left college back in 2013 but I am not the best. It’s a simple fact.

Because actually, who is the best? Who do we define as some of the best people and why do we define them as the best? Who gets to decide who is the best and who is the worst? Who has that right? And even if they have some form of made-up ‘right’ to dictate who is the best, does it fucking matter anyway? Who gives a shit? It’s completely subjective and especially in a creative industry, it’s harder to point out who is the best when everybody is busy doing their own thing, dancing to the beat of their own drum and all that. This seems to be my current attitude. I have come to the realisation that if we spend our lives constantly trying to be what society says is ‘the best’, is that really going to bring us happiness? Is that mindset productive? What really do we have to prove? Who do we have to prove it to? 

Despite my terrible insecurities, the one solid thing that I’ve accepted about myself, and always have been accepting of, is the fact that I come from Middlesbrough. Isn’t that funny? That’s probably been the most constant thing in my life. Quite frankly, I think it’s kept me sane. In and amongst all of the rejection, I always know that I have home to rely on to make me feel accepted and wanted and loved. 

I moved to London around six years ago, to study my degree. Moving to the big city brought many new people into my life, from all walks of life, from all over the place – stretching as far as Australia. I was thrown into a gigantic pool of people of all cultures, a plethora of accents and lots of different opinions. I also worked away in Asia for a long time this year, which helped me gain a lot of perspective. Taking all of this into consideration, and I’m sure fellow Teessiders who have upped sticks and moved away will agree, I always look forward to going back home.

I look forward to seeing that big, blue, beautiful thing we call the Transporter Bridge. I look forward to seeing the wonderful Cleveland Hills. I look forward to seeing the glorious industrial backdrop that our town is built upon. But most of all, I look forward to being back amongst an incredibly inspiring collective of people. A solid community.

I’m a firm believer that my hometown has influenced who I am and who I have become, realising that being ‘the best’ at something isn’t necessarily ‘the best’ thing in life has kind of confirmed that. I repeat, to have come to this realisation is not a negative thing. I feel free and better off for realising it, for now I can go on my way, doing things my own way and achieving things at my own pace. I feel proud to come from a town that strives to be a little better every day. A town that chooses not to let what other people say affect them. Who gives a shit if we’re not the best? What do we have to prove and who do we have to prove it to? No-one, that’s who. We’ll just keep on growing and developing whilst everybody else fights to be top dog, knocking each other down in the process. As they say, slow and steady wins the race.

UTB.

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

Teesside Dusk.

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Melbourne // Photo Series

My love for street art knows no bounds and Melbourne was certainly not short of the stuff. Be still, my hipster beating heart. Magical.

PERSPECTIVE: that time I cried at a Marks and Spencer’s biscuit.

perspective
pəˈspɛktɪv
noun
  1. 1.
    the art of representing three-dimensional objects on a two-dimensional surface so as to give the right impression of their height, width, depth, and position in relation to each other.
    “the theory and practice of perspective”
    2. 
    a particular attitude towards or way of regarding something; a point of view.
    “most guidebook history is written from the editor’s perspective”

Perspective interests me greatly. I am absolutely fascinated by how different things can affect perspective. Different environments, different people, different cultures. We are one person, with one set of eyes. Yet, what we see in our teens can be so drastically different to what we see in our twenties. What we see and how we deal with things in one country can be so drastically different to what we see in another country. What we see through our own eyes is entirely different to what your Uncle Bob sees through his eyes. What a criminal sees as right, the average non-criminal sees as wrong. What you see as one colour may appear different to what another person sees (hence that whole stupid ‘WHAT COLOUR IS THE DRESS?’ escapade).

I guess I find it so interesting as my perspective has changed a lot lately. With age, with experiences, with reading and educating myself. It amazes me how differently I look at things now, from how I looked at them when I was eighteen.

When I was eighteen, the world was my oyster. I dreamt big, I dreamt of having a successful career, I dreamt of living comfortably in London and taking over the world, step by step. Stereotypical of a creative, aspiring teen performer, some may think. But I wasn’t completely naive to the industry I was entering, I had witnessed many friends trying and giving up because it’s a super tough world out there. I’ve always been a hard worker, I enjoy hard work. I enjoyed slogging away at school to get my A* in GCSE English Literature. I enjoyed pouring endless hours of research into new musicals whilst studying for my BTEC in Performing Arts, just so I could be the person singing a song nobody had heard before. I’ve always enjoyed that feeling of ‘getting educated’ and learning new things. On top of all of this, I dreamt big and had this burning hope in my heart that I’d be that super successful person I strived to be, one shiny day in the distant future. This is what I perceived to be ‘the ideal life’.

Cut to being twenty four. I’m currently sitting in a beautiful, organic restaurant in Makati, Metro Manila. If you were to ask me, at eighteen, ‘Where do you think you will be in six years time?’, I can bet you ten thousand pesos, right in the moment now, that I would not reply with ‘doing Les Mis in the Philippines?’. I am BAFFLED at the thought of being here. At least once a week, I ask myself ‘how on earth did you wind up here, Jess?’.

I’ve been lucky enough to have had a pretty great run in the industry so far, each job I’ve done has been very different to the previous job, artistically and logistically. I had a great year in London, a great year on the road in the UK and now, here I am in Asia. I have to admit, I’m completely rubbish at saving money, it’s the one thing that worries my mother (sorry Mam). And you know, if I was good at saving money, I probably would have enough to not be worried when the dark days of ‘funemployment’ loom, instead of panicking and working endless shifts in a pub to buy food and petrol.

But whilst being rubbish at saving money, do you know what I have done? I have travelled. I also have to admit, I’ve looked relatively well whilst doing said travelling because I have an endless need to buy clothes, but I have travelled. I have experienced places I have always wanted to experience and I have experienced places that I never intended to experience. Specifically, I’m currently experiencing and I’m about to experience EVEN MORE of a part of the world that I wouldn’t have dreamt of visiting if my job hadn’t have brought me out here. And boy, am I glad!

I’ve tried endlessly to write a piece about Manila, I think this must be my fifth attempt, and now I can finally weave it into this magical piece about perspective.

Because my perspective has changed.

Important things I have learnt from living in Manila:

  • We are just a tiny little human on a HUUUUUUUUUGE planet. No-one is more important than the next person. No culture is more important than another culture. Respecting other people’s cultures makes life easier for everybody. The filipinos are some of the kindest, most patient and most generous people I have EVER met, being a little more like them can surely NEVER be a bad thing? So yes, mutual respect IS everything. You can ALWAYS learn from people. If we all pulled our head out of our arses more often, we’d probably learn A LOT.
  • Poverty is much more than you see on TV or in magazines. Poverty is well and truly alive. I thought I’d experienced extreme poverty before. I’ve witnessed homelessness on the streets of London. Hell, I’ve felt so bad that I’ve bought things and handed them to the homeless people on the Strand before. But I had NEVER experienced a small child tugging at my skirt, begging for money, before I came here. I’d never seen a grown woman cradling a baby in one hand and holding an empty cup out in the other, under a lamppost on the corner of a street, asking for money to feed herself and her family. I’d never had a teenage boy asking me if I could give him my smoothie. But what really REALLY freaked me out about this whole thing is that, after about three weeks of being here, it felt normal to see all of the above. It was like I’d become immune to it. How on earth does it get to a point where you become immune to something like this? How is ANY of this normal? And how on earth did I not think this was a big deal when I was back in London, lapping it up and complaining about having to be waitress for a short time whilst being out of work? It BAFFLES me to this day.
    Yes, there are BEAUTIFUL areas of Manila, I’ve eaten the most delicious meals in awesome places. Which is what makes me sad. Because poverty is truly alive. And I feel like it’s important that everybody should be aware of this. It’s helped me to feel extremely grateful for what I have, for my wonderful family and friends and for the opportunities that I have been given.
  • I do indeed, have a fantastic group of people waiting for me at home, boosting me up from afar. Being here without them only strengthens my adoration and gratification for them. They make me who I am. I would happily take being short of money and unemployed but having a life filled with these amazing people over being successful, famous and alone ANY DAY OF THE WEEK.

Now, I find myself not putting so much focus on ‘being uber successful’, ‘taking over the world’ and ‘having enough money to live comfortably’. I want a life filled with love, being creatively fulfilled and following whatever path that’ll take me to creative ventures, knowing that I have done everything in my power to understand and respect other people and their own perspectives. I want to see this beautiful world and what it has to offer. I want to come home to London at the end of it all and feel GRATEFUL for it, not complain about the shit transport system or Oxford Street being packed full of tourists, leaving me unable to busily power walk to my destination. Believe me Londoners, you haven’t experienced bad traffic until you’ve experienced Manila traffic, I’d take five hours of driving in Central London over driving ten minutes in Manila.

But most of all, I want to have exciting stories to tell my children. I want to have gotten the most out of what this wonderful life has to offer, while I can so I can tell my kids to do the same… because it’s so worth it. Like anybody on this planet, I want to love and be loved.

I cried at the sight of a Marks and Spencer’s packet of biscuits a few weeks back because I hadn’t seen them in so long. That night, I introduced some Aussy workmates to them and we ate the packet during the next few shows. How is that for cross-culturing behaviour?

I do miss a good old cup of Yorkshire Tea though.

Palawan

Rebel, My Best Mate.

Now I have to admit, I don’t really know where to start with writing this one. You see, a few weeks ago I was on a creative roll. I was loving throwing down the creative thoughts whizzing around my head, and putting them out there in a bid to inspire.

But today, I’m trying to dig as deep as I can to find some words. I’m trying to take a leaf out of my own book when I’ve been jabbering on about ‘art’. I’m pleading with my head to let me use what has been a really tough few weeks to create something, anything, in a bid to help me deal with things. In my Art. Is. Important post (click here to have a gander) I wrote: ‘sometimes my brain doesn’t allow me to start this process right away, so I feel like I have to endure raw emotion at it’s most concentrated. Sometimes art can’t just step in and take the bull by the horns.‘ These past few weeks has been one big, prime example of the above. And I feel like I have to apologise in advance because this is a bit of an emotional one for me.

 

Two weeks ago today, I lost my best friend of 13 and a halfish years. My dog, Rebel.

 

Now, before we start, I don’t really care to hear the whole ‘he’s just a dog’, ‘ohhhh your dog? ah I thought it was a family member the way you’ve been carrying on’ business. If you’re thinking that, I’ll want to punch you in the face for being ignorant and you’re not welcome here today.

 

Luckily, I haven’t had much of that over the past few weeks. In fact, I’ve been completely blown away by the messages I’ve received, the memories people have shared and the love and support I have been shown by friends near and far. I’m not going to go into the ins and outs but Rebel was an old man, he had his troubles and, though it breaks my heart to say, it was just his time to go.

 

Reb had been through EVERYTHING with me over the past 13, nearly 14, years. So many highs, so many lows. He even made it to prime time Saturday evening TV. He was my constant. Honestly, I know I’m bias, but he was the most terrific animal I’d ever known. He let me dress him in stupid things when he was a puppy, he sang along to my saxophone playing as I practised (or he was probably crying because it mostly sounded dreadful), he collected giant sticks from the park and would walk all the way home with them in his mouth (which pleased Mam & Dad, when they left the front door and tripped over them), he’d bark angrily at the postman from afar only to greet him with love up close (all bark, no action), he’d go to the bookies with Dad and scrounge biscuits, he’d be in the kitchen within 3 seconds of hearing the biscuit tin clattering… I could go on for days. He was an all round champion of a dog, with qualities of a human. Actually, he was more intelligent than some humans I know. He was such a presence. Even being home alone on an evening, I’d feel safer just knowing that he was chilling in another room in the house. If he was laid in the kitchen, and I started crying for whatever reason in my bedroom, he’d be by my side within seconds. When I’d arrive home from London, after moving away and having not being home for months due to college, he’d greet me with throwing himself on the floor to have his belly scratched, whilst crying happily and wagging his tail profusely. If I was away, Mam used to put him on FaceTime or put the phone to his ear and he would recognise the voice and react. As he got older, he stopped resisting cuddles and he started to cuddle back. When I hadn’t seen him in a good while, that was enough to make me cry. The feeling of pure love and feeling needed and relied on.

 

Dogs are pretty amazing, aren’t they? Fourteen years have passed and still these memories are so vivid to me, some of the happiest memories I have. And all because of a dog and his loyalty and love for me. I have a lot of fantastic, supportive friends in my life, don’t get me wrong… but he was one of the best, most reliable friends I had.

 

These past few weeks have felt somewhat… empty? Like, there is a massive void. A grey area. I keep going to whistle for him and then I remember that he’s actually not here. He doesn’t exist anymore. It’s all very, very strange.

 

Grief, to me, is one of the most alien experiences a person can go through. I lost two grandparents when I was much younger, whom I loved dearly and still think of fondly, yet I think I was too young to understand and feel the true pang of grief. Losing Reb has kind of been my first, properly-felt encounter with the beast that is Grief. Grief has had me crying at the sight of a slice of toast, because that’s what me and my mate shared every so often. In fact, it’s had me spontaneously crying A LOT. Grief has blocked my motivation to create (the little shit). Grief has made me feel riddled with guilt, numerous times. Grief has made me feel like I’m anywhere but on planet Earth. Grief has actually made my heart feel like it is physically breaking in my chest. Grief has made me feel like I’m now part of an elite crew (‘I know how you’re feeling, I can relate…’).

 

But, being the person that I am: constantly wanting to learn about absolutely anything and everything if it means I can get ahead, ‘Grief’ has taught me a lot in these few weeks. I feel like I’ve learnt more about being human in these past few weeks than I have in a lifetime. That may be a bold statement but for now, it is seeing me through so I’m going with it. Everybody deals with this Grief beast in different ways. There is no written manual in existence that can, step by step, cure it completely. In fact, I don’t think there can be a definition of it, as everyone experiences it in different ways. Unfortunately, it is a part of this crazy thing we call life. Personally, the thought of losing Rebel has not ‘got easier’ to deal with. I’ll actually think twice about saying ‘it gets easier’ to anybody in the future because I think that’s total BS. Losing somebody will NEVER get easier to deal with. I’m just now thinking, on a personal level (as I say, EVERYBODY IS DIFFERENT), I can practise getting better at dealing with it. We learn from experience, after all. This experience has taught me that, as humans, we have so much love to give. The massive love for my dog will now go into loving the memory of my dog, but I still I have so much love to give. I just think that’s incredible.

Time helps too. I’m not sure how, I’m not a trained psychologist. But time has actually helped a lot.

As I say, I can’t really preach. I’m kind of getting on with things and I have no idea how or what is exactly helping me.

 

Finally being able to try and write anything close to this has helped too. The thought of writing this two weeks ago was buried under masses of grey clouds in my brain. I knew I needed to do something of the sort as the next step to embracing this new stage, but when? was the burning question.

 

My intention today was not actually to inspire or to preach or to whatever. It was maybe to selfishly indulge in writing anything that sprung to mind as part of my grieving process, to help me move forward, to progress and look to the future.

 

But it was mainly to honour my wonderful, handsome, intelligent border collie best friend. I’d do anything to have him back (I could think of a few people in this world that I’d happily trade in) but I am so happy and privileged to have been able to have this little critter in my life at all.

 

Oh he was just a dog… but he was mine.

Love you Reb, thank you for being the best.

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The World Loves Pigeon-holes and I Don’t Know Why: I understand this title is weird.

This is the first post that I’m about to ‘free write’, so far in my new blogging expedition. From this point onward, I have no agenda. I have no planned analogy to share, or story to tell about a lesson I have recently learnt. I’m taking a leaf from my own ‘pro-creativity’ book. I’m taking a curious step out of my comfort zone and I’m just going to willingly write and share what comes out, right now, in this moment.

Today, we lost an icon. David Bowie.

icon
ˈʌɪkɒn,-k(ə)n/
a person or thing regarded as a representative symbol or as worthy of veneration
David Bowie was an icon. He was a singer. He was a songwriter. He was a musician. He was a record producer. He was a painter. He was an actor. He was, in the words of British Vogue, ‘unarguably fashion’s king of self-invention’. He was, creatively, pretty much everything. He broke down walls. He took the things that made him stand out for being ‘different’ and, instead of disguising them to fit in with the times, he made them more obvious. He embraced them, he highlighted them and he exaggerated them.
Now I won’t babble on about the legend that is Bowie much longer, but he is a damn fine example of how greatness can be achieved creatively. What does it take to be like that, to be like Bowie? Do many of us have incredible ideas buried deep inside our brains that we personally think are completely stupid, but could actually turn out to be a stroke of genius? How will we ever know if we don’t test the water? Is the key to creative success a combination of an initial idea and… plain old bravery?
On a personal level, I don’t think my ideas are good enough. I compare my ideas to those of others far too often. I am my own worst critic. Majority of the time though, I am my ONLY critic. My opinion is one single opinion. There are many times that I have disagreed and debated over various films, pieces of theatre and books with my peers. So who am I to say that my own idea is bullshit, when somebody else out there could think ‘Now, hang on. I think we’ve got something here’? Somebody else could have a different opinion to my own. Is that so daunting? If so, then why is it so daunting? Creative ideas are only developed and constructed further when they are opened out to a wider audience, when they are put up on their feet, when fresh eyes are unleashed upon them. Why wouldn’t we want to develop our ideas?
I’m currently burying my head in various books, one being Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull, the President of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation. A stand out quote, so far:
“Don’t wait for things to be perfect before you share them with others. Show early and show often. It’ll be pretty when we get there, but it won’t be pretty along the way.”
What I take from this is that I need to man the F up, take that idea that I think people will think is stupid and put it out there. Invest my time into it, inject some love into it and feed it. Give it a life outside of my own head.
Another thing. What I feel David Bowie did, over the course of his life, was to not give people an easy job when it came to defining him creatively. One minute he was trying to make it as a popstar, the next he was inventing the incomparable alter-ego Ziggy Stardust and after that, he was busy carving himself a successful film career… just a couple of MANY creative routes he decided to go down. People were all ‘oh David Bowie, he’s a singer. Oh shit, no he’s an actor. Oh shit, no… he’s… what is he?’.
He just existed. He existed and he produced truly original works of art. He, himself, was a work of art. One of a kind.
Today, we are living in a world that likes to label and pigeon hole people. Stereotypes are rife. They are absolutely EVERYWHERE. In the media, in the industries we work in, in the towns we live in.
Creative pigeon-holing is all round, to put it politely… a bit poo. Creative people are usually free spirited, always jumping at opportunities to try absolutely EVERYTHING. So any form of restriction is frustrating, being labelled for being a particular kind of anything can be a tiny annoyance in what is an all-round, fantastic life we may be leading. It may not be even that we want to go down that ‘different from the norm’ route, right here and right now, THIS INSTANT… but it would be just nice to know that the option IS there to have the opportunity to try something new, when we do fancy it.
The truth is… sitting around being bitter and complaining about it will not solve anything. You can post all of the Facebook statuses/tweets in the world about how frustrating it is to be stuck in a pigeon-hole… but that’s not actually making a smart move towards identifying how to, perhaps, solve the problem. So, how do we get around this pigeon-hole bad boy?
We have to get off our asses and create some shit for ourselves.
The one thing people can’t restrict you from doing is creating in your own time. Let’s face it, if you want something badly, you will, more times than enough, do anything to get it.
e.g. I will save up a month’s wages for those Kurt Geiger thigh high boots and I will be living off beans on toast for the foreseeable, as a result.
Beans on toast.
Why should our creative lives be any different? (This is the part where you ignore the beans on toast bit and pretend you never ever read it. ‘Twas only added for dramatic effect. They do look good though.)
Speaking from the area of my chosen career path:
You want to be in a straight play and can’t get seen? Write your own. Or investigate new writers who need people to read through bits and bobs. Experience is everything, if anything!
You want to play a villain when you haven’t a bad bone in your body? Watch all of the Stephen King, Alfred Hitchcock, Tarentino you need. Read all of the books. Learn those evil monologues.
Can’t find the particular colour scarf you want? Learn how to knit and knit one yourself.
You want to be in a rock band but you sing like Julie Andrews? Broaden your musical vocabulary. Sing Paramore in the shower. Blast Royal Blood in the car. Listen to the greats, starting with David Bowie.
Be Bowie in a world full of contoured faces and man buns and all that in-season rubbish.
Be one step ahead of the game. Be a creative mastermind and play people at their own game.
Earn the right to be looked at in different light, prove your worth. The key to success is hard work and determination, and all that bollocks.
EDUCATE YOURSELF. PREPARE YOURSELF. SURPRISE YOURSELF. SHOW YOURSELF OFF.
Lord above, I’ve surprised myself. I didn’t know I’d end up here at the end of a free-write…

Bowie: a collection of quotes.

I’m an instant star. Just add water and stir.

I’m always amazed that people take what I say seriously. I don’t even take what I am seriously.

I’m not a prophet or a stone aged man, just a mortal with potential of a superman. I’m living on.

I always had a repulsive need to be something more than human. I felt very puny as a human. I thought, “Fuck that. I want to be a superhuman.”

I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring.

NEW YORK - 1973: Rock and roll musician David Bowie poses for a portrait dressed as 'Ziggy Stardust' in a hotel room in 1973 in New York City, New York. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

David Bowie
1947 – 2016

RIP – a true artist.x