REMEMBER THE TIME – JUNE 1992 by Sharon Davis

We’re jumping into the next decade, from the eighties into the nineties, to catch up with an American artist who began her recording career as lead singer with a group. Once she broke free she mixed her solo career with singing and acting, and within a short space of time, was one of the world’s most successful female soloists.  Yup – come on down and meet Miss Diana Ross!  OK, so a bit of a corny introduction but one which I hope has caught your attention.

The group she steered into international stardom was of course The Supremes, who rose from nowhere to everywhere, while her films were several including her Oscar nominated role as Billie Holiday in Lady Sings The Blues.  Diana Ross has gone from strength to strength, embracing the world stage and triumphantly sweeping across the globe wowing audiences.  When she left Motown in Detroit, Michigan – the record company that first introduced her to the world – Diana’s music was, probably for the first time, influenced by different forces; she was able to experiment more, make her own decisions, and subsequently became all the stronger for it.  

Diana is currently cleaning up across the UK with her capacity–filled arena tour originally organised before the pandemic, plus an unexpected, but much welcomed, headlining appearance at the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Concert, about which she said “I have had the honour of meeting the Queen many times throughout my life, including when I was with my family.  Her Majesty has and continues to be such an incredible inspiration to so many across the world and I was absolutely delighted to receive an invitation to perform on such a momentous and historic occasion.”  Not only that, but during a UK trek that covers arena performances in places like Cardiff, Manchester, Leeds, London, then across to Dublin before moving on to the Continent, Diana will be debuting at Glastonbury on 26 June, alongside a whole mouth-watering list of artists including Paul McCartney who turned eighty this month.  By comparison, Diana is a mere youngster at seventy-eight!

So in view of all this, I thought perhaps we would step outside the box this month to take a trip back to a chat Diana and I had during June 1992, in her hotel suite at The Dorchester, in London’s West End.  This was a glorious period in the singer’s career.  She had released her 19th studio album “The Force Behind The Power” in September which had given birth to no fewer than five hit singles (but not all in the UK).  The most successful of all was the stylish, emotionally powerful ballad so suited to her voice, “When You Tell Me That You Love Me”.  In June 1992 she earned a silver disc for sales of over 200,000 copies for another lifted track, the top ten hit “One Shining Moment”, while the album’s title track hit the top thirty.  However, I guess it’s fair to say, most younger folks will remember “When You Tell Me That You Love Me”, not because it hit the top two, but because in 2002 Irish boy band Westlife released their version that also contained Diana’s original vocals. The promo video was most interesting – and excited Diana fans who clearly weren’t fans of the group, judging by some of the comments at the time – as it featured Westlife and Diana signing together on stage.  They wore dark suits; she wore a long white dress which was later changed to a gold one. 

I’ve just remembered: if “Bohemian Rhapsody” hadn’t been re-issued in tribute to Queen’s Freddie Mercury whose unexpected death from AIDS stunned the world, Diana would surely have hit the top with the song. She was aware of the circumstances and stressed she wasn’t at all disappointed. “I was just happy that the record was in the charts and I was a hit over again.  I haven’t left the hearts and minds of a lot of Europeans but sometimes at home people say ‘when are you going to have a new record out?’ and I say ‘Uh?  I have one out right now.’  In some places it’s not as wonderful as it is here….I’ve said this often, there’s a loyalty here that I don’t experience anywhere else.  Strangely enough, I feel a little loyalty in Japan because they follow the records and stay with it.  No matter what record I release it always seems to go to number one there.

But the loyalty here (in the UK) is what really is so comforting to me. It’s staggering, it really is.  People of our age group have wonderful memories of the songs of the sixties and somehow once they become your fans and friends they stay with you.”

It’s no secret that Diana has always emphasised family is everything to her and at this time in 1992, she admitted she had tried hard to keep her boys (Evan and Ross) away from the public eye. “I’m very proud of my children…..I don’t know what I would have done just having a career and not having them.  However, I think it’s real important to try to keep some balance in their lives.  I was able to do that with my older girls (Tracee, Rhonda, Chudney) so I (was) hoping to do the same with the boys.”

Our conversation then moved to her live performances and we talked awhile about last year’s Wembley dates (1991). I was fascinated at the way she controlled her fans; none more so than when eight thousand people rose to their feet to hold hands to sing “Reach Out And Touch (Somebody’s Hand)”.  Laughing, she answered “Actually in the last couple of years I don’t really have to ask audiences to hold hands anymore.  It just happens and it’s a nice feeling when it does.  As for control” she paused, looking at me as if trying to read my mind, “It’s a funny thing about control.  As soon as you let go of it, that’s when you have it. The most important thing for me is to be there and my mind shouldn’t be anywhere else except in that theatre with that audience.”

I’m thinking most people who have been in her audience will agree with me that we get a feeling that is, erm, almost overwhelming, like a warm, comforting embrace. So much so, I told her, that when she sauntered down the aisle on her way to the Wembley stage, I wanted to stop her to say “Hi!”   “You could have” she replied instantly. “I wouldn’t have minded, but the security people probably wouldn’t have understood.”  Fair comment Diana as I’ve a feeling I’d have been frogmarched pretty damn quickly out of the arena.  “I’ve never had an audience who have wanted to harm me or tear at me.  I’ve been so lucky in that respect.  I don’t know about other performers, but I find the stage is the most comfortable and most secure sort of place for me.  It’s something about the eyes, people being able to see me, and me being able to see them.  That’s a kind of connection, some kind of energy that happens…….it’s something that’s unexplainable.  Maybe it’s because of the number of years I’ve been on stage!”

We spoke further about her touring schedules, leading up to the question of whether it had crossed her mind to ease up on the performing front. I realise that, as I write this in 2022, she had no choice but to ditch her original touring itinerary due to Covid, and is now making up for lost time, but back in 1991 her commitment to her public was also resolute.  “I’ve been given this gift and put in this very special place to do this work and to stand in front of people.  So I feel I don’t really want to throw it away.  I started singing not for – I hate to refer to it as ‘work’ – because I enjoyed it.  I was singing to entertain and I wasn’t making any money.  So, when the day I’m not getting paid for it arrives, I’ll continue to sing….perhaps in a choir or something.”

Well, so much has happened to Miss Ross since this chat in 1992 that it would take another book to do justice to those years.  So I won’t try.  Instead, I’ll retrieve some of my closing comments from our interview that went something like this – “It was a great thrill to talk to Diana Ross without interruption, and I felt I got to know her better. Despite being told she rarely agrees to give an autograph, I bargained with her.  If she would sign my book, she could have the CDs I brought with me in exchange.  A deal was struck!”

Sharon Davis