Ronnie Wood: Rolling with the punches

<p>A recurring theme in Ronnie, Ronnie Wood&#39;s autobiography (Macmillan, October) is that he keeps getting mistaken for his fellow Rolling Stone, guitarist Keith Richards. Blues legend Muddy Waters made this error, as did Chuck Berry. Fans, Wood notes wryly, keep doing it to this day.</p><p>At Gatwick on the way to Budapest to interview Wood on tour, my digital camera and voice recorder catch the eye of security. While the guards look it over, I explain&mdash;a trifle smugly&mdash;that I am flying out to interview Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones. The guard smiles and says: &quot;Oh, I like him. He&#39;s in that &#39;Pirates of the Caribbean&#39;, isn&#39;t he? Plays Johnny Depp&#39;s dad.&quot; Keith Richards plays Johnny Depp&#39;s dad.</p><p>Budapest is convection oven-hot, 41&#730;C. The Stones are staying in the art-nouveau splendour of the Four Seasons Gresham Palace, overlooking the Danube and the Buda hills. Despite the heat, a crowd of about a hundred has gathered behind a security barrier to catch a glimpse of the band. </p><p>I am just hoping to catch a glimpse of Ronnie. Negotiations for exactly how much time I am to get with Wood have been going back and forth between Donna Worling, from Wood&#39;s management team, and Jacqui Graham, Macmillan&#39;s publicity director and my guide for Budapest. </p><p>First, there is the small matter that Wood is not meant to be doing any non-Stones media while on tour, so everything must be on the QT. Then there is Keith. Richards is shopping his own autobiography (eventually going to Weidenfeld and Little, Brown USA for a reported $7.5m) and is apparently a bit out of joint that Wood has pipped him to the post. Wood might have reason to worry about Richards. Though the best of friends, Wood writes in Ronnie about a -couple of run-ins at the height of their drug- taking days: they held cocked guns, Mexican stand-off style, to each -other&#39;s heads; Richards once had a knife at Wood&#39;s throat.</p><p>Worling lays out the ground rules. Perhaps 10 to 15 minutes with Ronnie. No voice recorder. No pictures except &quot;meet-and-greet&quot; type photos. Worling says: &quot;We&#39;ll just see how it goes&quot;.<br />We are ferried to Ferenc Puskas stadium, the site of the Stones&#39; gig. The band travels like an army, with about 900 people all told, including security and roadies, and a mini-city of tents that makes up the backstage area. </p><p>Although it is surreal to be backstage with the Stones, there is an unexpected normality to it. Kids run around. People go about their business in a professional manner. When we meet Ronnie&#39;s wife, Jo (also a Macmillan author&mdash;the paperback of her organic lifestyle-cum-cookery book, N<em>aturally Gorgeous</em>, is due in January), she is ironing.</p><p>We sit in the FOB (Friends of the Band) tent. There is an almost never-ending supply of food and drink. Perhaps reflecting the times, and the ages of the band members, there are organic vegetable stews, salads, juice. Worling pops back now and then to give me updates. Wood is meeting the prime minister of Hungary and the mayor of Budapest.</p><p>I pop out to the sub-Glastonbury-level Portaloos. Coming out, I bump into Keith Richards. He looks a trifle sozzled and blows an air kiss at me before moving on. </p><p>Graham and I are finally ushered into Wood&#39;s dressing-room. Incense burns, a little brass Buddha is on a desk. And then Ronnie comes in, a mop-topped bundle of frenetic energy. His face is famously craggy, but at 60 he looks fitter than most 40-year-olds. He is friendly, excitedly launching into talking about the book. </p><p>&quot;Yeah, yeah, have you read it? What do you think? But I&#39;m changing it, tweaking it here and there. Trying to make it sound more like me.&quot;</p><p>He says the first ghost writer did not capture his voice, but before he can go on, he is pulled away. There are more meet-and-greets. He is sent away to make-up. </p><p>Charlie Watts pops his head in the dressing-room. &quot;Where&#39;s Ronnie, then?&quot; he asks. Told he is in make-up, Watts rolls his eyes. &quot;Getting himself beautiful, eh? That&#39;ll take ages.&quot;</p><p>Then it is time for the gig. I watch from the mixing desk as the band rips through some of their classics for an appreciative crowd. On the ride back to the hotel, the talk is of the band&#39;s stamina, sexagenarians prancing about on stage in withering heat. At the hotel, Wood is whisked upstairs and Jacqui Graham and I are left to drink some nice Hungarian white on the Stones&#39; tab. <br /><br /><strong>A call from Ronnie</strong></p><p>Wood&#39;s book follows the typical rock bio arc: starting out with nothing, followed by fame, money, sex, then the drugs and bankruptcy, until redemption in rehab. But it is also fun, gossipy, with Stones war stories and an insight into almost everyone in the &#39;60s music scene. There are touching moments, too. When Jo first met Wood, she thought he was full of himself. A model at the time, she told him she worked at the biscuit counter at Woolworth&#39;s on Oxford Street. He spent the whole of the next day at Woolworth&#39;s waiting for her to turn up for work.</p><p>A few days later, I get a call. &quot;It&#39;s Ronnie,&quot; a jovial voice booms. Worling has arranged a follow-up &quot;phoner&quot; with Wood. I ask about the cloak-and-dagger interview stuff and Wood says the problems with Richards have blown over. &quot;It&#39;s OK now,&quot; he insists. &quot;I mean, we talked about it. He&#39;s doing a book, I&#39;m doing a book. And that&#39;s that. We&#39;ve just kind of agreed to keep it at arm&#39;s length from each other.&quot;</p><p>He says one of the reasons for writing the book was for therapy, to deal with his on-going addiction problems. &quot;Yeah, all those stories are in there. The drugs and the booze and that. But I don&#39;t want this to be just a rehab book. I wanted it to be fun and full of life.&quot;</p><p>The fact that the critics who read Ronnie will only write about his Stones days does seem to chafe. &quot;It does irritate me a bit. Maybe that&#39;s what&#39;s good about this book. It shows what I&#39;ve done with the Birds, the Jeff Beck Group, the Small Faces. And I talk about my art and the book&#39;ll have some of my drawings in between chapters.</p><p>&quot;But, you know, it doesn&#39;t really matter, does it? The tabloids are going to focus on what they want and will make it up anyway.&quot; </p><p>He will not say what he has left out, but admits it is plenty. &quot;When we finished the first draft I thought, &#39;Fuckin&#39; hell, mate, you&#39;re going to get sued a million times over.&#39; But I think people will enjoy the book. When they read it they&#39;ll say, &#39;Well, Ronnie, you fucker, you&#39;ve led a rich life.&#39;&quot;</p>