OPINION - Tracey Emin: David Bowie was my rock when I lived among paedophiles and fleas

 (Tracey Emin)
(Tracey Emin)

Fashion turn to the left

Fashion turn to the right

We are the goon squad and we’re coming to town

Beep beep

 (Tracey Emin)
(Tracey Emin)

The words “breathe in, exhale” are spoken by the machine in a soft soothing way. A little emoji face lights up above me, opening and closing its out-of-proportion triangular mouth, its little eye looks like it could be winking.

My arms are placed above my head (I feel like one of my drawings).

 (Tracey Emin)
(Tracey Emin)

My body is pulled through a giant Polo ring.

“Breathe in, exhale”. The cannula that’s in the top of my hand feels awkward and keeps pulling.

The nurse holds my wrist and tells me that she’s about to inject the contrast dye, that I will feel a warm sensation that will flood internally all over my body. That it will only last for about 30 seconds. As it rushes through my veins it feels somehow orgasmic, a sensation of the deepest internal warmth, it finally ends like an arrow at my clitoris.

The giant Polo spins and revs around

me I feel like I’m Kubrick’s 2001, a Space Odyssey.


More and more Bowie lyrics boomed through my mind.

Since I was a teenager whenever I was really afraid the lyrics would come.

 (Tracey Emin)
(Tracey Emin)

Will you stay in my lovers story

If you stay you won’t be sorry

I try not to be afraid but my mind takes me to dark places, I keep saying to myself I wouldn’t be here if I

wasn’t in pain. I have no fear of death only pain.

I push my mind to the limits so not to feel trapped by my physical self. I want to feel good, I want to feel fully alive.

I want to feel sexy, I want to feel beautiful, I want to feel loved.


The kind of cancer I had was the nastiest, the most aggressive, it could move faster than any chemotherapy, than any radiation, than any new super-drugs.

Five, four, three, two, one

This is Ground Control to Major Tom

Since my surgery three years ago I have had so many scans. Every time I have a fear that the cancer has returned

This is how a CT scan feels. Since my surgery three years ago I have had so many scans. Every time I have a fear. The same fear that the cancer has returned, that’s its creator in through the back door crept in when I was happy and not looking.

It’s not just me that feels this it’s all of us who live and survive.

Yesterday I was trying to be brave to be care-free, nonchalant but the internal fear can take over.

When I left home when I was 15 with my Bowie albums tucked in my bag, like my prize possessions, I had no idea what life would hold ahead of me.

I knew every Bowie lyric off by heart.

 (Tracey Emin)
(Tracey Emin)

When I was 14, I’d drunk a whole bottle of sherry listening to Rock’n’Roll Suicide off by heart. (David loved that story).

I eventually projectile vomited across the entire distance of my bedroom floor.

in good old suicide fashion. I then hoovered it up wet, somehow avoiding electrocution.

Maybe subconsciously at that young age I wanted to die. If I think back to how unhappy I was it’s not surprising.

Our house was alive with fleas.

They nested in the carpets and floorboards, then hatched out.

I always cite the fleas as the main reason why I left home. But actually it was the paedophiles that lived in our house.

My mum had left a long time before but these people, men somehow stayed on. There were smells that made me feel sick. A cheesy sweatiness that would hang in the air. I learnt to protect myself. One of them is dead now. He died in prison.

My friend and ally was David Bowie. I’d sing his lyrics and project myself to another place.

There are so many ways to live without fear, it’s just a case of doing it.

 (Tracey Emin)
(Tracey Emin)

Tracey Emin is an artist.