Magenta Devine remembered by Tony James

4 November 1957 – 6 March 2019
The musician and ex-partner of the TV presenter recalls her effortless cool, impeccable taste and private demons

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I’ve always been attracted to extraordinary women… the opinionated, intelligent, articulate and exasperating. Magenta was all of those things and more.

Born Kim Taylor, she grew up in the home counties, her childhood bedroom wall adorned with all the rosettes she had won showjumping with her pony. Kim the English rose then reinvented herself as Magenta Devine, the Hollywood gossip queen, over six foot tall in her heels, with a shock of magenta hair, the ever-present dark glasses and those enormous red lips. Timeless.

Sadly, our love affair was doomed from the start. As has been said before, there were three of us in this relationship; except there wasn’t a tangible third person, this was much more complicated. Because Magenta’s other love was heroin, and it was to be a very long affair. It kept her in a warm bubble – safe from the world, protecting her from harsh reality – which is where she wanted to stay. No matter how much I loved her and she professed to love me, heroin always came first, and ultimately, after a relationship lasting seven years, I found that impossible to live with.

But in the beginning, before I understood, we started living together in her Maida Vale mews house. The previous tenant, Sid Vicious, had painted all the walls black. To complement this, Magenta had installed wall-to-wall deep-pile black carpet, a large sound system and a giant pink desk where she conducted the business of her larger-than-life days as a rock PR. There she would elegantly perch, a St Moritz cigarette in one hand, phone in the other, her seductive voice working its magic. She was so good. You believed in her: she had such taste, such style and an instinctive knowledge for what was real. You trusted her truth and I watched her list of clients grow, as others recognised what made her so special.

One of her earliest clients was a young American called Prince, whom she was squiring around London. She took me to the gay nightclub Heaven to see a Liverpool band that were just breaking, called Frankie Goes to Hollywood. The mews house became a revolving door for the latest, most talented and most interesting faces of rock’n’roll. And she was at the epicentre.

She was also my lover and my muse. We spent for ever discussing the new group I was creating, Sigue Sigue Sputnik. I would seek out her opinion and her blessing for every idea I had, every move I made. She was unquestionably the seventh member of Sputnik.

Her true destiny, however, was to be on television. She was born to play the role of presenter. After all the straight guys, Magenta burst on to the screen like nothing seen before, a black-bobbed Audrey Hepburn lookalike telling you what was cool and where to find it. She was just so natural, so great at presenting the world.

After the era-defining programme Network 7, she presented, among other things, the unique travel show Rough Guide for BBC Two, which made her a cult figure. I’ve bumped into so many people over the past years who raved about how much they loved her, how much she influenced them. She was a style icon. Like all creatives, I don’t think she ever really comprehended the impact she made.

She became a UN goodwill ambassador in 1998 and every so often I’d hear that instantly recognisable voice on the radio, or catch a glimpse of her on TV shows.

But being Magenta Devine in such a public arena took its toll. It meant she had to keep that face on more or less permanently, to try and control her demons or to keep them locked away. It seems those demons were stronger than she was and that ultimately, tragically, they won.

Magenta was utterly unique. I know why she became such a star. I never stopped loving her. I still cannot believe she has gone, but she’ll be on screen somewhere, dazzling the afterlife with her beauty, wit and charm. How on earth could she not be?

Tony James

The GuardianTramp

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