Tour managing Mick Jagger was like nannying an overgrown kid'When chance landed Sally Arnold the job of a lifetime, she could never have predicted where it would lead
By Louise Burke 23 October 2022 • 1:00pm
Sally Arnold was used to her phone ringing in the middle of the night – at least once. As tour manager to some of the most iconic rock bands in the world including the Rolling Stones, the Who and Peter Gabriel she would often take calls at 3am to “fix” situations involving the police or track down intoxicated band members who’d gone Awol before sellout gigs.
But there was one particular night in November 1974 when the alarm bells rang loud. American rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd were over for their first UK tour. Sally had received an angry call from the Portobello Hotel in Notting Hill to say that “one of them had strangled the hotel’s cat, thrown it out of a window and run off”. It was drummer Bob Burns. He was so stoned he’d had a mental “episode”. Sally eventually found him at 9am wandering around Hyde Park. Of course it landed on her to apologise to the hotel.
“What I always say is tour managing the boys was like nannying overgrown kids,” says Sally, now 73. She should know. After finishing at boarding school, Sally enrolled to be a Norland nurse, favoured by society’s elite and the Royal family. She says her years of training how to tend to newborns and look after toddlers during their terrible twos unexpectedly armed her with the vital skills to take on the role of the first female tour manager of rock bands. It’s all in her new memoir, Rock N Roll Nanny.
“My Norland training taught me to demonstrate a kind, guiding discipline. Children love security and discipline provides security. The rock bands were often like little lost boys in strange countries – they craved comfort and the security of knowing someone would always look out for them. There was no ego involved because it wasn’t a man bossing around other men. If I wasn’t strict, everything would have fallen to pieces. They generally obeyed me.”
So how exactly does a nanny graduate from one of the top and most prestigious colleges with a global reputation for impeccable childcare end up on Mick Jagger’s private jet? “Sheer chance,” Sally puts it simply. “I was never into rock ’n’ roll – I’d never bought a Rolling Stones record in my life.”
Sally’s passion was travel, or as she puts it, her “raison d’être” – which she certainly fulfilled later as tour manager. But it was while road tripping through France after her graduation, which saw her sofa surfing at friends of friends’ apartments, that she found herself at a glitzy party on a film producer’s yacht during the Cannes Film Festival. The abridged version is she embarked on a wild love affair with Jeanne-Pierre Rassam, the French film producer, which led her to meeting the Jaggers at a party in 1971. Two days later, Sally found herself being offered the job of a private nanny to Mick and Bianca’s unborn baby on a terrace of their top-floor suite at L’Hotel in Paris.
“The Jaggers felt like ordinary people back then,” Sally recalls. “Behind closed doors Mick was very normal – making tea, sitting and chatting. Although he’d speak in the Queen’s English at home, when he was rock star Mick, he’d put on this weird mockney accent. It was very interesting to watch.”
Fame, she says, was never on her radar. “It’s important not to be a fan [of your employer]. Otherwise, you’d be constantly in awe of them. Even when their friends came to visit at their Bel Air home in LA, I didn’t know who they were in the band,” says Sally, who also made a point of dressing in her Norland uniform while with the Jaggers. “They felt like a normal family and I felt part of it. Mick and I even cooked one Christmas dinner together with bread sauce and gravy, the works.
“Bianca thought we were bonkers. The three of us sat down at one end of this massive dining table to eat! It was lovely! It was only when we went out I saw peculiar things happening around them like people staring or stories being leaked to the press.”
As the Stones became more famous, Sally’s life got an upgrade. She joined the Jaggers for a temporary residence at the Beverly Hills Wilshire Hotel, shared lifts in lobbies with Warren Beatty and spent many a long lunch on Sunset Boulevard with rock widow Bianca and baby Jade (not to mention, of course, the decadent gifts like a red and gold Rolling Stones lips logo necklace and a Gucci purse). Although there were many “pinch-me” moments, Sally says: “In reality, it’s quite an unstable lifestyle. As soon as one fire was put out, another arose. Just like any other couple, they’d contradict each other with their instructions or ideas.”
The spontaneous jet-set lifestyle soon morphed into an unpredictable, chaotic one. Meanwhile, five-month-old Jade was becoming more attached to Sally – “I was with her 24 hours a day, feeding, cuddling, bathing, it’s only natural.” Sally worked her last day on March 2 1972, although it wasn’t the last she saw of the couple.
“I kept in touch with Mick’s driver and right-hand man Alan Dunn, and he called me up three years later after I’d got back from travelling round China, Russia and India to say there was a job going at the touring office of the Stones and the Who,” Sally says. “I had no idea about organising things or admin, but I got the job and took to it like a duck to water.”
Sally’s life was forming a pattern – when opportunities arose, she rolled with it. Her childhood was spent far from the bright lights on a farm in Wiltshire. “I had always been a tomboy and I suppose I was bossy as the eldest. I’ve never really thought too much about where my rebellious streak came from,” laughs Sally.
“The lure of the big city had always been too difficult to resist. Even before her Norland training, at 16 she went to London to work in the cloakroom of Soho’s legendary Marquee Club. “I got to see the best bands live, which was pretty amazing. Jimi Hendrix was there, Pink Floyd and Eric Clapton with his horrendous perm,” she says.
“I probably owe more than I realised then to my grandfather [Charles Arnold]. He was a successful entrepreneur, owner of MK Electric and the sixth richest businessman in the UK at the time, who admitted he never really knew what he was doing, so he just did what he thought was common sense. And that’s what I did. I remember Roger Daltrey’s wife, Heather, saying to me once: ‘Nobody’s ever given the wives an itinerary before.’ But to me, it was common sense – the wives needed to know where their husbands were!
“I don’t think anyone had been particularly thoughtful before. Everything I did was for the good of the tour and I was also there for them. When Allen Collins [from Lynyrd Skynyrd] missed the birth of his first baby, he was heartbroken so I had him sobbing on my shoulder.”
The 1970s were a blur of private jets, after-parties and penthouse suites in the world’s most luxurious hotels. “It was all about sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll,” Sally laughs. “I was no saint either! Let’s put it that way. I’d have drinks and cocaine after a show but I’d stay in control so I could pull myself together if something went wrong.”
But, she admits, there was one time when she did slip up. “It was on the Stones tour. I’d only ever seen heroin as yellowy, brown sugar, but this was white. I was so ill. But Woody [Ronnie Wood] and Keith [Richards] looked after me for hours and hours,” she says. “I would never have taken it by choice, because I saw what it did to them. It was all too easy. The same went for sleeping with the group. I didn’t want to be a cliché, and fortunately, it saved my sanity.”
In a world of demanding egos (“The Stones once demanded a last-minute holiday to Mustique only to change their mind 24 hours later”) and jam-packed schedules, Sally sought refuge in her real passion – classical music. “I auditioned for the London Symphony Orchestra Chorus in 1973 and got in,” she says. “It helped me escape the insanity – and it was my secret. That was until Jagger heard me singing the high notes of You Can’t Always Get What You Want on the plane and then asked me to get the choir to sing at the Knebworth concert in 1976 – which I did!”
The fact it was a man’s world she was living and working in (and some under the influence more than others) was part of the ride. “I loved it,” she says. “In fact, one thing I miss is the big bear hugs. We were such a close-knit family on tour.”
Crossing the line, she says was never an issue – except for once. “Considering all the years I worked on the road with men and the type of environment, I only found myself in a situation once, during the Stones European tour in 1976. He was a stupid boy, a roadie, he could have invited me out for a drink or a meal, instead he lunged at me in a lift.”
Generally though, Sally says the men were afraid of her. “I mean, it took my fiancé Dean [Kilpatrick, part of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s crew] four years before I gave into him. I completely ignored him until all the others said to me, ‘Don’t you realise he really is in love with you?’ And of course, we got engaged and then he was tragically killed in a plane crash.”
In 1977, a private plane carrying six crew members crashed in Mississippi due to fuel shortage – a moment that Sally describes as when her “life fell apart”. “I lost my beloved Dean but he also saved my life, as I should have been on that plane.” (Dean had called Sally a few days before suggesting she took a different flight.)
Although she continued to work as a tour manager to Mike Oldfield and Peter Gabriel, the work life was never the same after the plane crash (this year marks its 45th anniversary) and Sally decided to step away from the rock ’n’ roll chaos and move towards charitable projects, supporting big star-studded events with Comic Relief and Pete Townshend’s Double O charity. Sally also had a run working with Classic FM.
Now retired, she lives in Totnes in Devon, and enjoys “painting and walking”. Though she hasn’t quite cut herself off from her old life. “I still talk to Allen, who must be nearly 80 now. We always talk about Jade. I absolutely adored her. I chat with Artimus Pyle from Lynyrd Skynyrd on the phone because he doesn’t do email – he’s more of a heathen than I am! He’s still deep and moody. We reminisce about those we’ve lost.”
This year marks 20 years free from breast cancer. She was proudly the first to tattoo over her mastectomy scar. “People always talk about having to be brave. But you do what you have to do, there’s no alternative – you just carry on,” says Sally, who also, incidentally, chose never to have children herself (“I’d been put off!”).
“I’ve definitely had some really high points in my life, but I’ve also had lots of lows,” she concedes. “I’m so relieved to be retired. I work voluntarily helping local teenagers learn about music with my charity Jamming Station. I still enjoy the odd trip up to London to see old friends like [the model and photographer] Pattie Boyd and enjoy long gossipy lunches – but without the alcohol. It’s like poison to me now, it gives me migraines. Perhaps I did overload back in the day…”
‘Rock N Roll Nanny’ by Sally Arnold is out now, £13.99telegraph