In the 1950s, Mick Jagger (at the time called “Mike Jagger”) was only a middle class kid growing up in Dartford, Kent, England. Eva, his mother, was a hairdresser, while his father Joe, a Physical Education teacher. The Jagger familiy lived in a nice orderly home, with more than enough money to pay the bills (unlike his neighbor, Keith Richards) In 1957, the elder Jagger began consulting on a weekly TV show called Seeing Sport, which promoted the virtues of sports to British children. In the coming years, Mick and his brother Chris made regular appearances on Seeing Sport, showing viewers how to build a tent, or master various canoeing skills. In the 1959 clip below (from an episode that was shot in a spot called “High Rocks,” near Tunbridge Wells), Mick shows off the footwear needed for rock climbing. Nothing too fancy. Just a pair of “ordinary gym shoes … like the kind Mike is wearing.” There, a fresh-faced, 15-year-old Jagger models his low-tech gym shoes and demonstrates a climb at High Rocks as his father narrates the activity. “I’m coming up!” Jagger shouts as he follows the leader up the route, rope around his waist.
From the book ‘Old Gods Almost Dead: The 40-Year Odyssey of the Rolling Stones’, by Stephen Davis (2001):
The household was prim and very proper, kept orderly by meticulous, somewhat snobby Eva Jagger, who sold cosmetics door-to-door. Mike didn’t invite his friends to the house, preferring to spend time at their houses, or to be alone. Sorne of the local kids thought he was a mama’s boy. The focus at home was on school and especially sports. JoeJagger took his boys “down the Valley” to See the local football team, Charlton Athletic, and its famous keeper, Sam Bartram. In 1957, when Mike was fourteen, he started appearing with his dad in the ATV television series Seeing Sport, which promoted activities such as rock climbing. It was the beginning of his career in showbiz, and it set him a little apart from his friends, who were nonplussed when Mike announced he had to rush off to the studio to be on the telly. “In those Slightly post-Edw•ardian days,” Mick later told an interviewer, “everybody had to do a turn at family gatherings. You might recite poetry, and Uncle Whatever would play the piano and sing, and you all had something to do. And I was just one of those kids. You have to want some sort of approval, but it’s also just the love of doing it.”
In a recent episode of the The Howard Stern Show, the American radio host asked The Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger about a video clip featuring a young Mick and his father Joe Jagger climbing at High Rocks, Tunbridge Wells.
“I’ve watched that video of you with your father, the one when you were a little boy and you’re climbing a rock,” Stern says. “It’s fascinating because it’s so you, but it’s just this little kid.”
In the radio interview, Stern asks Jagger: “Your dad was a gym teacher, which in my mind anyway seems like a real hard-ass, a very practical kind of guy. He wanted you to do well, his heart was in the right place. What was it like when you went to your father and you said ‘Dad, I’m joining a rock ‘n’ roll band and I’m dropping out of college?'”
Jagger, now 78, doesn’t address the climbing video specifically, but explains how his father’s teaching career instilled both a love for sport and an academic focus in his younger self. What his parents didn’t quite realise, though, was that their outgoing and extroverted son — with all his extra-curricular passions, including music, football and other sports — also had designs on show business. Jagger eventually abandoned his studies at the London School of Economics to join The Rolling Stones in 1962.
“I think he was depressed for a year, but then he saw that something was happening and in the end he loved it,” Jagger said of his father’s reaction to starting out on his journey to rockstardom.
Speaking to The Guardian in 2004, Jagger described Joe Jagger’s influence and his passion for more eccentric activities:
“My father Joe worked as a sports instructor at St Mary’s College in Twickenham. Sport was his whole life. He passed on that love to me; I couldn’t help but be a sports fan. He was pretty much my personal trainer when I was a boy. I played cricket and football but dad had me doing all sorts of strange outdoor pursuits too. I used to go canoeing and rock climbing down in Kent. Seriously.”
In his interview with Howard Stern, Jagger mentioned his famously energetic dance moves and on-stage hedonistic feats — some of which may have been inspired by those formative days at High Rocks. Jagger continued:
“I jumped off the stage. I could do absolutely crazy things that I hadn’t rehearsed and some of them were very dangerous. Even later on in the ’80s I’d climb up these 60-foot-high stages and go on top of them. But it’s fun, for me that’s part of the performance. I’m a musician and I’m quite serious about music, but when you’re actually performing, there’s another added element apart from the music in the scene.”
To get ‘the moves like Jagger’, so to speak, requires some practice. Asked about the physical training he undergoes ahead of going on tour — which includes vocal exercises, gym sessions, dance and running — Jagger told Stern:
“My favourite part of it is dancing because that’s what I’m actually doing on stage. The rest of it – being in the gym on a machine – is not really what I’m gonna be doing, so I always say to my trainer: “We’re gonna be doing more dancing, aren’t we?” So, that’s much more fun, to go into a dance studio and play around, fool around, trying things out.”
The Guardian asked Jagger in 2004: “Is it sport that keeps you so fit?”
“Nah, man, that’s all the dancing,” he replied.
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