Why David Bowie deserves to be hailed as Britain's most influential artist –  Susan Dalgety

In 1979, David Bowie emerged from his lost years in Berlin, where he had fled in 1976 to escape an unhealthy obsession with cocaine.

David Bowie performs with guitarist Mick Ronson at The Marquee Club in London in 1973 (Picture: Jack Kay/Daily Express/Getty Images)
David Bowie performs with guitarist Mick Ronson at The Marquee Club in London in 1973 (Picture: Jack Kay/Daily Express/Getty Images)

A couple of years ago, I stood in silent homage outside 155 Haupstrasse, where he lived with Iggy Pop in what must be the coolest flat-share ever. Iggy apparently was pretty messy and had a bad habit of raiding Bowie’s section of the fridge.

The anonymous apartment is now a historical landmark, complete with a plaque, testament to the influence David Bowie had on contemporary culture. So it was hardly a surprise to read that he has just been named Britain’s most influential artist.

Bowie may be best remembered for his music. Heroes, which he wrote while living in Berlin, has become a national anthem for all manner of events. And Space Oddity, his first hit back in 1969, is the backing track for humanity’s fascination with the universe.

But he was far more than just a popular musician with a good ear for a hit melody. He changed society. He challenged gender stereotypes by wearing dresses in the early 1970s, at a time when men were still blokes, and women most definitely were stuck in the kitchen.

He celebrated same-sex relationships long before it was regarded as perfectly normal to be gay, coming out as bisexual in July 1972. The father of one told music magazine Melody Maker, “I’m gay. And always have been,” in a revelation that stunned drab, post-war Britain.

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Teenagers like me were ecstatic at his flamboyance, and his courage. He showed us there was another way to live, whether we were gay, straight, or just loved dressing up.

And while his homosexuality may have been more cultural than sexual, he was a key figure in gay liberation. An openly bisexual man on Top of the Pops, much to our parent’s consternation and our delight.

Today, as I read about the scared young people confused about their sexuality and convinced by the prevailing culture that they are “living in the wrong body” and so need to change their sex, I think back to Bowie in 1972.

He showed our generation that you could love who you liked, dress as you wished, and live as you wanted. If only today’s teenagers felt they had the same freedom.