Unlikely – 0.5
An extremely tall, physically robust elderly woman is standing in the portico front of Romney Bay House Hotel. She smiles beatifically and wipes her large hands on her gingham pinafore whilst gazing out to the Littlestone dawn light.
She reaches for a small pouch of tobacco in her apron, pulls out a dark brown liquorice cigarette rolling paper and expertly rolls a cigarette without once locking down.
She lights and inhales, blowing out the smoke through her large fleshy bulbous nose.
Romney Bay House Hotel is an attractive 1920s seaside house that was first designed by architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis for the American actress and gossip columnist Hedda Hopper.
Now a 10-room hotel set just paces back from Romney Bay, it delivers nostalgic charm and uninterrupted views over the Channel.
It is also owned by this unusually tall and physically imposing lady. A lady who once led a very different an unconventional life but as this is Romney Marsh and some things are just normal for Romney Marsh nobody enquires as to what this past may have been. All but the most keenly observant would have recognised Gladys Mills as she once was or now indeed as she was now. Not least of course because in all conventional senses of reality, she was supposed to be very dead indeed.
Gladys Mills, as we shall reveal in her most earthly and recognisable incarnation, finishes her cigarette and waves to her hotel guest. A certain very short Japanese man who is dressed as a bumblebee as he sets of from the hotel along Madeira road, heading off towards Greatstone.
She has warmed to Trash Kawasaki. Although he shared little knowledge of English language, he was clean, polite and respectful. Gladys Mills didn't ask questions of Kawasaki and he asked none of hers – but for a quizzical eyebrow he raised at an old photograph kept in the hallway.
There was something oddly familiar about this photo. Indeed in 1967 when it was taken, Gladys Mills or Mrs Mills as she was known then was very famous indeed.
This photograph was a revelation of this past life. As time had passed Gladys Mills had amused herself with this revelatory clue; almost as if to test the theory that is was indeed possible to hide in plain sight.
While working as the superintendent of a typing pool in the office of the Paymaster General in London, Mrs Mills performed as a honky-tonk pianist in the evenings and weekends. She was spotted by a talent scout while playing piano with a semi-professional band at a dance at the Woolford Golf Club in Essex. At the age of 43, in December 1961, she made her first television appearance on The Billy Cotton Show.
By the end of January 1962, she would be a household name, rising to fame during the same period as her stable-mates The Beatles, with whom she had shared space at Abbey Road Studios. It was here that she was introduced to the delights of initially Marijuana and later to industrial quantities of LSD.
She was signed to a management contract by Eric Easton, who later went on to manage The Dave Clark Five and The Rolling Stones, and then signed a recording contract with Parlophone.
Mills was also a successful recording artist overseas in territories where there were large numbers of expatriates from the UK, including Australia, Canada and Hong Kong. As an older and somewhat genial but physically imposing lady, she became an extremely reliable and efficient provider of psychotropic narcotics to many in the world of show business.
Her oeuvre consisted of British and international standards, plus cover versions of contemporary hits. Her covers included “Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend”, “Hello, Dolly!”, “I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles” and “Yellow Submarine”, all of which were re-released by EMI in their 2003 compilation The Very Best of Mrs Mills.
However, the circumstances of the photograph in the hallway of Romney Bay House are almost completely unknown until now.
In April 1967, Mrs Mills by now had undergone a profound psychological, spiritual and philosophical change from her experiences with potent LSD, Ayahuasca and Peyote buttons.
Gone was the desire to make yet another light entertainment album of honky-tonk piano.
Earlier that year Mrs Mills had won a significant asset (won in a game of bridge with a bitter Rolf Spießer), which is proudly displayed on an album cover for an album that was not to be released or as we shall reveal here, made to disappear.
“Look Mum, No Hands!” proclaims the photograph, an album cover found in the hallway of Romney Bay House.
Mrs Mills is pictured – arms aloft, in full psychedelic revelry, in front of a Theremin and behind her gleam the lights and loomed cables of an enormous Moog Synthesizer.
When the album was submitted to EMI/Parlophone in 1967, the radical artistic shift from light Honky Tonk piano covers to...
To a full blown synthesizer interpretation of György Ligeti's Lux Aeterna was, to be frank, too radical a change in artistry, even for the heady days of swinging 1967.
Mills of course was broken and devastated at this rejection of her finest artistic statement, having poured months of work in to this masterpiece and insisted that she would not record Honky Tonk piano favourites again.
There then followed a year of stand off and legal threats. Mills, having signed a deal with EMI had certain contract obligations and debts to fulfil.
But what Mrs Mills also had was a certain cunning, shrewdness and an address book filled with her many, many clients of some of the finest narcotics in the business.
As a settlement, out of court, out of sight and out of all public knowledge, she was paid a substantial amount of money and given a new identity as the proprietor of Romney Bay House Hotel. A remote coastal hotel where she would simply disappear.
Buried deeply in the vaults of EMI, there may just be the original master tapes of what Mrs Mills intended “Look Mum, No Hands” to be.
Instead, aware of a loss of a ready market for Honky Tonk arrangements of popular favourites, Mrs Mills was replaced by a body double who re-recorded “Look Mum, No Hands” with only the album title remaining to hint at what could have been. No trace of psychedelic experimentation of dalliance with one of the most important avant-garde composers in the latter half of the twentieth century.
Mrs Mills crumples her rolled cigarette underfoot, smiles to herself beatifically, and returns to the warmth of her hallway. She delicately brushes a thin layer of dust from the photograph.