Happy birthday Grace Jones, you multi-talented Taurus icon! In celebration of the icon’s turning 72 today, here are a few things you might not know about the Jamaican model, singer, songwriter, record producer and actor.
Hula-hooping isn’t that hard, apparently…
In recent years, Jones has cultivated a new live trademark – she effortlessly hula-hoops on-stage while belting out her 1985 album title-track ‘Slave To The Rhythm’. It is majestic to witness in person mainly because of how little effort the icon appears to put into the manoeuvre. Jones has been hula-hooping since her childhood in Jamaica – no wonder she’s good at it – and has some pertinent advice for anybody struggling. “Hula hooping requires hardly any movement,” she told LA Times in 2018. “When people can’t hula hoop, it’s because they’re trying too hard.”
The hula-hoop itself, she added, is a vintage number borrowed for a photoshoot – it belonged to the owner of “this pub Kate Moss was trying to keep open”. When the owner in question asked for its safe return, Grace Jones decided to incorporate it into her live show instead. And her ‘Slave to the Rhythm’ routine was born.
Most people witnessed Grace Jones at the peak of her hooping powers for the first time at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebration, of all places. Jones had been reluctant to get involved with anything associated with the monarchy, but agreed after multiple requests: “I thought it was Prince Charles for sure,” she said. On the decision to debut her hula-hooping on such a huge scale, she explained: “Basically Elton John said, “If you don’t hula hoop to ‘Slave to the Rhythm,’ I’m not coming to the show.”
Grace does her own shucking
Towards the end of her 2015 memoir – wittily titled I’ll Never Write My Memoirs after a lyric from her 1981 song ‘Art Groupie’ – you’ll find Grace Jones’ incredibly specific tour rider. Nestled in between bottles of vintage French wine, Tabasco sauce, sashimi and sushi platters and champagne, she has “two Dozen Findeclare or Colchester oysters on ice (unopened)”. There’s an extra instruction, too. “Grace does her own shucking”. Accordingly, her rider also asks for one oyster knife.
What the shuck? Well, Grace Jones firmly holds the belief that if you can’t trust somebody to shuck an oyster properly, you may as well shuck it yourself. “First of all, if you get someone to shuck your oyster who doesn’t do it right, you get a lot of shell inside it, which can cut your gums,” she informed New York Times in 2018. “It should look really pretty once it’s opened. And you have to keep the juice in it. A lot of oyster shuckers struggle with it or they don’t care about the presentation. I believe France has the best oyster shuckers, actually.”
She’s banned from Disney World Florida
Grace Jones’ rule-breaking antics during a 1998 concert at Disney World Florida earned her a coveted spot on the theme park’s banned-for-life list – and some even claim that she’s banned from all Disney properties worldwide. Her offence? Flashing her breasts during a performance. Which, if you’ve ever seen Grace Jones live, makes you wonder what on Earth they expected when they invited her in the first place.
Still, she doesn’t hold any hard feelings – nine years after the incident, she joined the likes of Jarvis Cocker and Pete Doherty for a Walt Disney covers concert at the Southbank Centre’s Meltdown festival, and opted to sing ‘Trust In Me’ from The Jungle Book.
She pioneered roller skates in the workplace
As well as hula-hooping and the occasional on-stage strap-on, Grace Jones loves nothing more than strapping on a pair of rollerskates – at the height of her modelling career in the early ’70s, she was famously photographed by Bruce Laurence speeding along Connecticut’s Compo Beach. And she didn’t just reserve blades for photoshoots: in her memoirs, Grace Jones writes about pioneering roller skates in the workplace at one of her summer jobs.
“I wore roller skates when I worked, answering the phone as a directory assistant,” says remembers. “My employers didn’t say anything as long as I did my job. I loved roller-skating. I loved the feeling of speed. Skating gave me my first scar, on the top of my right arm.” She also reveals lying about her age in order to land the job in the first place: “this might be how there are usually a few years added to my age,”
And working on wheels is clearly an appealing combination. Elsewhere in I’ll Never Write my Memoirs, Grace Jones claims that she flew on Concorde so many times that “I could have flown the plane, except I would have wanted to do it naked, sprayed silver, in roller skates.”
Her guestlist fuck-up inspired Chic’s ‘Le Freak’
At the height of New York’s disco scene, Grace Jones was a regular fixture at some of the city’s most influential clubs, including iconic hotspot Studio 54. Opened by Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager at the height of the scene, the venue quickly gained a rep for its celebrity clientele and picky entry requirements.
And at the turn of 1977, Grace Jones invited Nile Rodgers and his Chic bandmate Bernard Edwards along to a super-exclusive New Years party at the club… and then forgot to stick them on the guest list. “Grace Jones didn’t leave our name at the door and the doorman wouldn’t let us in,” Rodgers told Sound on Sound in 2005. “We stood there as long as we could take it, until our feet were just finally way too cold. We were really totally dejected. We felt horrible.”
“We grabbed a couple of bottles of champagne from the corner liquor store and then went back to my place, plugged in our instruments and started jamming,” he continued. “We were just yelling obscenities: ‘Fuck Studio 54 … Fuck ’em … Fuck off … Fuck those scumbags … Fuck them!’ And we were laughing. We were entertaining the hell out of ourselves. We had a blast. And finally it hit Bernard. He said, ‘Hey Nile, what you’re playing sounds really good.’” Chic later changed the hook to “freak out” – and it became one of their biggest hits.
The iconic ‘Nightclubbing’ hair-cut was a late-night decision
Picture Grace Jone in all her androgynous glory, and it’s likely that the first images to come to mind will be the covers of ‘Nightclubbing’ and ‘Warm Leatherette’. On both sleeves, her hair is cropped to a flat-top fade. It’s one of her trademark styles, but the idea came to the artist late one night.
It just so happened that legendary stylist Christiaan Houtenbos lived in the same New York apartment block, and so “she yelled out of the window at midnight that she wanted a haircut,” he recalled. Big lockdown vibe. He grabbed his razor, and the rest is hairstory.
She doesn’t believe in luggage
Unlike us mere mortals, Grace Jones probably doesn’t ever have to worry about getting charged vast sums of money for the privilege of taking a small suitcase onto a plane (cough: Ryanair) but like the most thrifty of travellers, she’s anti-excess baggage. In her case, she simply can’t be arsed.
“Travelling is a pain in the ass now,” she told The Globe Mail in 2015. “It’s so horrible. It’s a conspiracy! An absolute conspiracy to get people to go to the airport early and buy stuff. So now, I don’t travel with anything. I have no bags to pack, I will not check a bag anymore.”
In order to make the whole experience slightly more bearable, Jones added, she has commissioned a couple of bespoke outfits in the style of Amelia Earhart (the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean): “I just travel in a uniform. It’s a flying suit – you know, like Amelia Earhart? I have all these zippers on my flying suit, it’s an Issey Miyake flying suit. I have three different versions.”
Grace Jones has strong feelings about bread
Grace Jones might travel light, but on visits to France early in her career, there were a couple of essentials. Firstly, butter. Waiters would often refuse to serve it alongside bread in restaurants, she writes in her memoir. It pissed her off so much that she lobbed baguettes at waiters in protest and, says says, “I started to take my own butter with me.”
And France in general
And after a French taxi driver refused to give Grace Jones a ride when she was eight months pregnant – admittedly a dick move – she made a pledge to carry another vital baking ingredient: eggs. “I also used to carry eggs with me to throw at the taxi drivers when they wouldn’t stop,” she writes. “They used to ask you where you were going before they agreed to take you… I would slam them against the taxi if it didn’t pick me up and then scream, ‘Now you have to go to the car wash!’” She adds: ‘I was armed and ready.” Sacre bleu!
She’s not a fan of being imitated
From the styling of Rihanna’s ‘Rude Boy’ video to the reinventions of Lady Gaga, Grace Jones’ influence is keenly felt in modern pop music today – and though they do say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Grace Jones certainly doesn’t feel that way. “People say, ‘Well, you should be flattered,’” she told the New York Times in 2015. “And I’m like, ‘No, I’m not.’ Because my whole view is being unique and finding yourself, from your own suffering or your own upbringing or your own happiness. For me, it’s all piggybacking.
“I have been so copied by those people who have made fortunes that people assume I am that rich,” she writes in her memoir. “But I did things for the excitement, the dare, the fact that it was new, not for the money. And too many times I was the first, not the beneficiary.”
“There’s a lot of that around at the moment. Be like Sasha Fierce. Be like Miley Cyrus. Be like Rihanna. Be like Lady Gaga. Be like Rita Ora and Sia. Be like Madonna. I cannot be like them, except to the extent that they are already being like me.”