I’d only been seeing Ronnie for a couple of weeks when he went off to New York with the Rolling Stones in 1977. I wasn’t sure if that was the end of our affair, but then he called from America and invited me to Paris. I managed to get there and find the hotel, only to be told that there was no Mr Wood in residence and, in any case, they were fully booked for Prêt-à-Porter Fashion Week.
I must have looked desperate, because the man on reception eventually took pity on me and said I could stay in one of the maids’ rooms. I had no money, so I lay there all night wondering how I was going to get out of there the next day without getting caught.
At 6am I got a phone call from reception.
‘I felt a bit sorry for Mick as I think he had his photo taken so often he could live without the attention, but the rest of the Stones never minded’
On tour in the US with Ronnie’s band the New Barbarians, 1979: ‘That’s after a gig. It would have been taken by “Chuch”, Ronnie’s roadie. Chuch was with Ronnie until the day he died. He had a heart attack on tour in 2003. He was found dead on a flight case with the guitars underneath him. He was only 54’
In Paris with baby Leah, 1979: ‘This is a Polaroid taken in the apartment we rented just off the Champs-Élysées. We went back a few times when the band recorded at the Pathé-Marconi studios’
Keith Richards with saxophonist Bobby Keys (right) in his bedroom at the rear of the Rolling Stones’ private jet. ‘Keith commandeered the room and he’d lie there as the plane took off. We’d all congregate on the bed once we were flying’
‘Is that Mademoiselle Karslake?’
‘Yes. I mean, oui.’
‘We ’ave a Monsieur Wood down ’ere asking for you. Shall I send him up?’
‘Yes, that would be wonderful.’
I put on my sarong and, before I knew it, there was Ronnie at the door with a big smile on his face, telling me he was sorry. Concorde had blown an engine and they’d had to make a landing in Ireland.
While he’s saying that, some other bloke shoves past us into the room. He didn’t even look at me, just sat on the floor at the end of the bed, rummaging in a doctor’s bag.
He pulled out a silver spoon, a bottle of pills and a lighter. In a few seconds he’d filled a syringe and injected himself straight through his jacket. There was a tiny pause while the drugs hit his system and then he looked up at me and said, ‘How very nice to meet you, my dear. I’ve heard such a lot about you.’
And that’s the story of how I met Keith Richards for the first time.
There’s a photo in my book of Ronnie and me in Paris (see above). It was the first picture of us together, but definitely not the last – so much so that I’ve been able to fill a book with photographs and mementos from my life with the Rolling Stones.
Wherever we went, I always liked to carry a camera. In the early days I used a Polaroid. The only problem was that you didn’t get a negative, which meant if you lost the picture, it was gone for ever. I shudder to think what I’ve lost in transit.
Not long after we started going out, Ronnie bought me a ‘proper’ camera, and I took so many pictures that he started to call me the Shutterbug. I felt a bit sorry for Mick as I think he had his photo taken so often he could live without the attention, but the rest of the Stones never minded.
I used to drag carrier bags full of film canisters to the developers whenever we got off tour. I can imagine them printing those pictures, expecting them to be somebody’s boring holiday snaps and then suddenly realising they were looking at the Rolling Stones and their mates. I made sure I used photographic shops that I trusted because, obviously, there was all sorts of stuff going on in the pics.
I’d been in front of the camera as a model, so it was fun to be the one taking the photos. When I first met Ronnie in 1977, I was 22 and living in London during the week, running around doing auditions and shoots while my mum looked after my little boy Jamie back home in Essex.
Ronnie had walked straight up to me at a party in Kensington and started chatting. He said, ‘Do you know who I am?’ and then whipped out a copy of the Stones album Black And Blue, pointing himself out on the cover. I just thought, ‘Oh my God, this guy deserves to be put in his place for being so full of himself.’ So I told him I worked in Woolworths on the broken biscuit counter, and he spent hours the next day standing on Oxford Street waiting for me to finish work, before somehow tracking me down at my flat.
Ronnie sleeps on as daylight streams in… ‘Ronnie asleep in an extremely messy room. That’s got to be 1981, because that was the messiest tour, and I remember thinking, I never want to be so unorganised again. We used to hang clothes up in the window, because I’d prefer them to be out than shoved in a wardrobe and then forgotten when we left. Note the sunlight coming through the window’
On holiday in Jamaica, early Eighties. ‘I think that’s such a great picture. Leah with a fag in her mouth. Not lit, of course. She was fascinated with her father’s cigarettes. She doesn’t smoke now – thank goodness for that’
Our little girl is sung a lullaby… by Keith Richards! Keith serenading Leah, on tour, 1981: ‘I adore Keith, he is wonderful. He is a very loyal person – loyal to his friends and family. His tough exterior? Oh, that’s just an act’
The thing that got me about Ronnie was that he was very funny. He kept following me from room to room, chatting away. When I went to get a drink, I looked in the mirror and I could see Ronnie in the reflection, jokingly pretending to hump me from behind. I thought, ‘This guy is absolutely nuts.’
When Keith and Ronnie arrived in Paris that morning, I learned that they came as a package. We spent all day chatting and drinking and God knows what time we went to bed. I woke up in the middle of the night, hugging Ronnie, and Keith was there, asleep at the end of the bed. When Keith woke up, he said, ‘Let’s go to my apartment.’ I couldn’t believe he had an apartment in Paris and we’d all been sleeping in this tiny room.
Keith was very naughty. He had a Bentley that we used to drive around Paris in. It was a very different time then, and it’s hard to believe now that it didn’t occur to us that drink-driving might be a problem. We’d just get in the car and drive off at seven in the morning after a night in the studio.
I found Keith fascinating. His sense of humour was, and is, brilliant. We’d go days without food or sleep, then we’d realise we were starving and Keith would say, ‘Let’s go to Fouquet’s’, a really posh restaurant he loved on the Champs-Élysées. We must have looked such a motley crew.
In the early days, I would stay in the studio all night long with the band while they recorded. We often didn’t finish until 11 in the morning, though that changed later on – Mick didn’t like the all-nighters. I built a little club room with a notice on the door saying ‘Jo’s Club’, and I’d have drinks and joints ready for Ronnie and Keith when they took a break.
Ronnie and I had only been together for six weeks when I found out that I was pregnant with our daughter Leah – which was both a complete shock and a total joy. Ronnie and I decided that we would make a go of it as a couple and moved into a rented house in the Hollywood Hills with a swimming pool in the living room. The Stones were touring over there and it seemed the right place to be for Ronnie’s career.
Ronnie feels the heat in the dressing room: On tour in America in 1981. ‘Ronnie’s trick for making sure his hair stayed up was to use fresh lemon juice, followed by a blow-dry. To be fair to him, it worked a treat – his hair stayed right where he wanted it’
My great expectations: Pregnant with daughter Leah, Los Angeles, 1978. ‘I think I was about six months pregnant then. We hadn’t known each other much longer than that, but we didn’t even think about it. Wasn’t even a big deal. It was just, “OK, we’re going to have a baby”’
Get off of my cloud! Mick toasts his birthday with a glitzy mid-air party: On the Stones’ private jet, early Nineties. ‘We made a fuss of birthdays on the road, and Mick loved to have a good party for his. Keith would prefer to stay in’
Jagger’s winning smile: Mick Jagger in LA, 1978. ‘There’s Mick, not long after I met the Stones. All these pictures have been in boxes for years. I’ve got thousands. A friend said, ‘You have to do something with these…’
After a few months we bought a place in Mandeville Canyon and Keith moved in there too. He realised there was a little guest house in the back and thought, ‘That’ll do for me.’
The day that Leah was born, Keith came to the hospital as well. The nurse asked which of Ronnie and Keith was the father and they both said, ‘I am.’
Keith had just given up heroin. He’d been using it for a long time but he’d got busted and he knew that if he didn’t stop they’d put him in jail soon. It’s amazing how determined he was to quit. After going cold turkey, he emerged like a butterfly from a cocoon. It was incredible to see; he was funnier, happier and cooler than ever before.
I remember the first thing he wanted to do after getting clean was meet a girl. He’d never shown any interest before, but now he suddenly asked me if I had any mates I could introduce him to. I knew someone called Lil, who was doing some modelling in New York, so I called her and invited her up.
She was keen on meeting him, so Keith hired a chopper and just flew me to New York to pick her up – that was just the way things were. They got on like a house on fire and went out with each other for a couple of years.
Our family holiday horror
In February 1980 we went to the island of St Martin in the Caribbean with the kids. The idea was that we’d have a healthy holiday, but instead we spent six days and six nights in jail. They were the longest six days of my life.
One night at a casino, we met two guys, Franco and Mustapha, and had a bit of a chat with them. St Martin is not exactly a big island and a couple of days later they knocked on our door. It turned out they had lots of particularly good cocaine and the healthy holiday went right out of the window. We stayed up all night and, at six in the morning, they asked to borrow our rental car to drop off a friend of theirs.
They came back, returned our car and left. We didn’t think any more about it, but later that day I looked out of the bathroom window and there were all these police in the garden. Ronnie thought we had the music on too loud, but they swarmed into the house, arrested us and took us off to jail. I was locked up in an awful cell with a concrete slab to sleep on.
It turned out that Franco and Mustapha were big-time dealers. When they borrowed our car, they’d picked up a huge bag of coke, which for some reason they’d stashed in a tree in our garden. A security guard saw them and reported it to the police. We didn’t know any of that and I was told horror stories by the other prisoners that I’d be inside for months.
Eventually, our lawyer got us in front of the judge. He was very stern and asked me if I’d taken drugs. I put on my innocent face and said I’d tried them for the first time that night. He gave me a very stern talking-to, told me off for being silly… and then just let us go. No charges, no cautions, nothing. We were so lucky – he must have realised we were basically victims of circumstance.
How it didn’t end up in the papers I’ll never know. It would have been really difficult to have a drugs bust on our records. I remember it made me really think. I said, ‘I’m never going to do anything like that again.’ And I stuck to that – for a few days at least.
We didn’t see that much of Mick in LA though, as he was always on the move, while Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman stayed in England. But life was great. My son Jamie came to live with us, we had baby Leah and this beautiful house, and there were always loads of interesting people around.
When I finally threw Keith out of our guest house it wasn’t personal, but he had to go as I’d just had a baby! He wrote me an IOU note which I still have, promising to buy me two pistols for my birthday, and while I can’t say I’ve ever had any interest in firearms, clearly the thought was there from him.
The Stones organisation is a big machine, but within it is a family, and we had some amazing times together. Jerry Hall and I had worked together as models, and we’d always got on, so it was great when she got together with Mick around the same time I started to see Ronnie. She was my first girlfriend in the band and I’m still very fond of her.
Patti Hansen came along in the early Eighties and she and I bonded straight away. Keith told us he was seeing someone new and we went to meet her one night after a session in the studio. She opened the door to her apartment wearing only men’s pyjama trousers and jumped into Keith’s arms with a big grin on her face. I thought, ‘This girl is cool,’ and she looked so beautiful. It’s funny how certain moments in your life can stick in your head like a photograph.
Jerry Hall in the guitar roadies’ workstation on the 1989-90 Steel Wheels tour. ‘I always loved taking pictures of Jerry Hall. I met her before I met Mick, on a French perfume commercial. She was already a famous model who had gone out with Bryan Ferry’
Keith and Leah, on tour, 1992. ‘On a plane, obviously after a show, just Leah cuddling with her lovely Keith. This photo is an absolute favourite of mine. We were all one family, especially with the kids on tour’
Going on tour was a whole new world. My first full tour with Ronnie was with his band the New Barbarians, which also featured Keith. It was a mad tour, which cost Ronnie a fortune because he insisted on using private planes wherever we went.
It all seemed to be one big party, one big laugh and adventure. I’d be lying if I said I remembered everything – I look at some of the photos and have no idea where we were. I have to refer to what people were wearing, what my hair was like and how skinny I was to work out when it was.
Touring with the Stones had its own set of traditions. When we travelled by road, we went by limo, and we always made sure the car was stocked with plenty of alcohol. On the Stones’ private jet, Keith would commandeer the bedroom at the back, and he’d lie there as the plane took off, with cigarettes and drinks to hand and we’d all congregate on the bed once we were up in the air. But the entertainment wasn’t all wild as Mick and Bill would play backgammon on the plane and they used to have tournaments against each other.
You never knew who would turn up backstage – old friends or big stars, artists, sportspeople or film stars – so I worked as Ronnie’s little bouncer. At first I was a bit timid about getting rid of people, but as time went on I had no trouble doing it. You’d throw them out and the band would have time on their own, have a drink and then, boom, stage time.
After the Stones finished touring Tattoo You in Europe, Ronnie and I moved to Manhattan in 82 as LA had become too crazy, plus Keith was in New York and he wanted his buddy there. Mick was there too.
We found a lovely old brownstone house on West 78th Street, a couple of streets down from where Mick lived. We dug out the basement and put a studio in, and we used to get all sorts of interesting musicians coming round to visit. David Bowie hung out there, and Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan and Sly Stone all came round. It was a really good party house.
At Ronnie’s birthday party, Andy Warhol was walking round with this camera he’d painted in different colours, taking photos of people. He took a picture of me and I regret never taking one back of him. I’d love to know what happened to his photos from that night.
My only appearance in a Rolling Stones video came at that time. The song was the 1983 single She Was Hot. I asked Mick if there was a part for me and he said, ‘Let me think about it.’ A bit later he said, ‘Go to make-up tomorrow morning.’ I thought, ‘Woo-hoo! A sexy part in the video,’ but when I went there, they made me up as the old wife of Bill Wyman. Thanks for that, Mick.
We stayed in New York for four years but it was always a bit hairy. You had to be particularly careful if you went downtown. One night, I saw a bunch of kids smashing the windscreen of a car outside our house. I opened the window and screamed at them, ‘What the f*** are you doing?’, and they looked up and held their knives up at me. That was it for me, it was time to go home, so we sold the house for a terrible price and hit the road back to London. Keith was furious that we left, but it had to be done.
There was friction between Mick and Keith in the Eighties, but Ronnie finally got the two of them to talk to each other and that proved to be a breakthrough. He was on the phone to Keith and then to Mick, encouraging them both to speak to each other, and the next thing I knew they were rehearsing together. Suddenly there was going to be an album, called Steel Wheels, and we were going back on the road, this time with all the kids. Whenever they had a summer holiday, it was nearly always touring the world.
Being on the road from 1989 onwards was amazing compared to when we’d last toured in 82. Back then it was rock ’n’ roll madness, and Ronnie would wander on stage wearing whatever I’d brought to the gig. One time we were woken by security because we were late for a show. The band were four hours late going on stage that night and I was amazed that people waited so long to see them.
By the late Eighties it was totally different. Now there were wardrobe and make-up rooms and everything had to run to schedule. Everyone had their own van for getting to and from the gigs, while in the past we’d all bundle in a vehicle with Keith.
I loved touring, but I never found it difficult at the end of a tour to return home. I’d come back, make beans on toast and switch into normal life. It was much harder for Ronnie. He struggled to adjust because he’d miss the adrenaline and admiration that you got every night on the road.
When I started compiling this book and looking through all the photos and mementos I’d hoarded, I had so much stuff that I couldn’t include everything. Now, with the passing of time, I can see what an incredible world I was a part of. I’m not massively nostalgic but when I look at the pictures it feels so long ago, like a totally different life.
There are friends in there who are no longer with us, people like Bobby Womack and John Belushi, but I just feel so lucky to have met them and lived the life I have done. I don’t look at their pictures and dwell on them, feeling sad that they’re gone. I just think of how much fun we had.
‘Stoned’ by Jo Wood is published by Cassell on October 31, priced £20. Offer price £16 (20 per cent discount) until November 19 2019. To pre-order call 01603 648155 or go to mailshop.co.uk. Free delivery on all orders – no minimum spend