It was a friend at her first job who first boosted Sally Blyth’s teenage enjoyment of David Bowie’s music into something more magical, and such has been his impact upon her life ever since that she recently took to the Mastermind chair with the ‘Starman’ as her specialist subject. “It was never posters on the wall or anything like that,” says Sally, “rather a deep appreciation for his art which goes far beyond music.”
Sally too, is an artist, though, just like her hero, dislikes the term. “I do all sorts of creative things though I wouldn’t necessarily call myself an artist,” she tells me. “But it’s the only thing people relate to. Bowie actually wanted to put ‘generalist’ as his occupation in his passport, which covered everything, but said nothing, so he wasn’t allowed. I like to call myself a ‘creativationist’.” Among her many professional specialist subjects are writing, painting, making masquerade masks and running creative workshops. Sally is a wearable arts enthusiast and has had six garments in the Wellington WOW shows in recent years and is working on more for 2016. She tells me some “zany, Bowie-inspired ones” are likely on the cards for the future.
Another of Sally’s passions is quizzes – hence her application to take a seat in that famed black chair. “My subject was a toss-up between Bowie and Talking Heads – my favourite band – but when Bowie died, it just seemed fitting,” she says. Bowie’s final album, Blackstar, released last January, we now know was written and recorded with the knowledge of his impending demise. The record’s dark content carries extra poignancy for Bowie had kept his sickness secret to all but a select few. In typical Bowie fashion, it was a noble and dignified way to check out. “That last album is stunning, especially given that backstory about his death,” Sally says. “He was almost at his very best.”
One of Sally’s favourite lyrics – “it’s too late to be grateful, it’s too late to be hateful” – graces the album Station to Station, but it was a line from ‘Love is Lost’ which kept whirling round her mind while in the green room of the TV studio. “The words are, ‘What have you done? What have you done?’” she says with a giggle. “It’s all I kept thinking.”
Did you make friends with the fellow contenders?
“Well, it’s a strange situation because you’re all obviously there to compete against each other, and it’s four completely different characters. We all asked about specialist subjects then just chatted about how nervous we all were!”
The nerves were not to dim under the glare of the studio lights.
“It’s very hard to think straight,” says Sally. “I describe it as challenging, surreal and extraordinary. Like nothing you’ve ever imagined. It’s not something you can really describe. Suddenly you have lights, camera, action and there is an audience and time limits and every terror-generating questions coming at you. But at least the chair is very comfortable!”
Tune into TV One every Sunday at 7.45pm to see how Sally and the others get on.
Words by Jamie Christian Desplaces