Why WAS Johnny Depp cuddling a badger called Freddie Mercury in a Kent village? Answer: He’s rebuilding his life with a British odyssey almost as bizarre as THAT trial, writes ALISON BOSHOFF
On a chilly Sunday night in Sheffield’s busy city centre, as boozy patrons spilled onto the pavement outside The Slug and Lettuce, attention came to focus on a particular figure in the throng.
Could it be? Wearing dark glasses — at night — and dressed in his trademark multiple layered shirts, bracelets and bandanas, and flanked by two burly bodyguards, the figure looked very much like a certain actor much in the news lately.
‘That’s never Johnny Depp!’ said one drinker. The exotic stranger looked out from beneath the brim of his fedora and replied with a smile: ‘It certainly is.’ He then posed happily for selfies with the crowd, mostly students, who were out drinking.
And so began an improbable adventure in the UK for Depp, 58, who, up until last Friday had been in court in Virginia for his blockbuster defamation trial with former wife Amber Heard. Now he’d swapped the courtroom to join his best friend, and guitar legend, Jeff Beck on stage for his UK tour.
Beck introduced him on Thursday night with the words: ‘There’s someone here… you might not know who it is.’ And the audience roared. Depp is due to join him for the rest of the tour — to Birmingham, Manchester and York — concluding on Tuesday.
Johnny Deep made an appearance at Folly Wildlife Rescue while on his ongoing tour of the UK following the conclusion of his defamation trial with Amber Heard
As you might expect, the spectacle of a Hollywood A-lister out and about in British cities has created a stir. Tickets for the shows are suddenly in short supply and decent-sized crowds have been gathering outside the modest hotels where the actor is staying.
There were around 250 fans outside the Hilton in Gateshead on Thursday night hoping for a glimpse of Depp, his reputation restored by a court in the U.S., where he won his libel case against Heard.
He spent the hours waiting for the verdict at a pub in nearby Newcastle, drinking Guinness and eating fish, chips and mushy peas — to the astonished delight of punters and staff.
He went back to the Hilton to watch the court proceedings on Zoom.
Sources close to the star say he is ‘still regrouping’ after the stunning verdict, which requires his ex-wife to pay him about £8 million, which she does not have. ‘This is a huge moment for Johnny and he is still trying to take it all in,’ says a friend.
It is possible that he will choose not to execute the debt, which would save Heard from bankruptcy. However, it’s too early to say whether that’s an act of chivalry he will entertain.
The Hollywood actor (centre) was pictured with singer Sam Fender (centre right) and guitarist Jeff Beck (centre left) at a pub in Newcastle after the verdict
Depp and his team retain some anger at Heard and her side, believing the trial brought forth a second serious attempt to destroy him.
Meanwhile, he is travelling with Beck and his drummer, cellist, bassist and keyboard player, plus support act Sharon Corr. After playing at the Royal Albert Hall on Tuesday, there was a backstage party attended by Depp’s former girlfriend Kate Moss, who had given telling evidence at his trial via video link.
I’m told it was a low-key affair lasting a couple of hours and involved sandwiches and champagne. TV presenter Sharon Osbourne was also there.
But what is Depp up to — and why?
Firstly, his pursuit of a music career is nothing new. He says: ‘I’ve been a guitarist all my life,’ and formed a band, the Hollywood Vampires, in 2012 featuring Alice Cooper on vocals and Aerosmith’s Joe Perry on guitar. But his association with guitar icon Jeff Beck is a different matter. The two men have written an album together that will be released in July, and are close friends of long standing.
It can be revealed that Depp is so committed to making music with Beck that he quietly flew back to the UK during a week-long hiatus in the trial in order to rehearse with him to be ready for the tour. He stayed with Beck and his wife Sandra at their 16th-century farmhouse near Wadhurst in East Sussex and spent his time off playing guitar.
Indeed, he’s a regular in the Beck spare room, spending months at a time at their home, which he quaintly says is ‘in the English sticks’.
He’s even gracious about the British weather, which he describes as ‘very beautiful and wet’. Although he owns a number of properties across the globe, all more expensive and flashier than Beck’s place, by choice he is the world’s most A-list sofa-surfer.
A friend says: ‘They are extremely close friends and Johnny stays with him a lot. He’s spent months there over lockdown, and since then, too. He’s basically been living there on and off for a long time.’
The pair released a cover of the John Lennon song Isolation during lockdown in 2020.
They met in 2014 when Depp was in Tokyo making a film at the same time Beck was touring, and the actor knocked on his hotel room door to introduce himself. He idolises the 77-year-old, who’s replaced Rolling Stone Keith Richards as a father figure for Depp.
Beck, raised in suburban Wallington, Surrey, is known for being an innovator and a guitar master but is not one of the easiest men in the world.
Depp, pictured here on stage with Jeff Beck at the Royal Albert Hall, has joined him on his UK tour
Indeed, he is rather famous for his bad temper and rivalries with other musicians. He was fired by the Yardbirds after failing to turn up for gigs, due to his ‘sensitive’ nature. Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason confessed he was too scared to ask Beck to join the band after Syd Barrett dropped out. Beck also, famously, was asked to join the Rolling Stones but left the hotel they were meeting at after deciding that it wasn’t for him.
And yet it seems this very particular musician has found something in Depp — who is not remotely in his league as a guitarist — to enjoy.
Both men place emphasis on artistic integrity above all else, which is a bond. Depp has come to dislike the Pirates Of The Caribbean films that made him so famous.
He also — as we saw in those notorious videos of him smashing kitchen cupboards — has a temper. They share a taste for the surreal and quixotic, and both take politics and culture very seriously.
They also seem to ‘get’ each other’s sense of humour. Beck once said: ‘One of my touchstones is humour. I have to have people around who are of a certain strain of humour. I can’t deal with people who have no humour.’
It is a measure of the actor’s commitment to the musical venture that he is travelling in the humble manner you might expect of Jeff Beck rather than Johnny Depp.
In London, for instance, he spent Monday and Tuesday staying at the Queen’s Gate Hotel in Kensington, West London. It’s an upscale hotel in a handsome Victorian building, handy for the Royal Albert Hall, and costs around £200 a night.
But it’s a world away from the £10,000-a-night butlered suite at the Corinthia where he stayed when he was in London for his appearance at the High Court in 2020. This week he has been travelling with the rest of the band in a large silver van, and even carrying his own luggage. The careless financial excess that saw him spend £4 million on firing writer Hunter S. Thompson’s ashes into space (he played the writer’s alter ego in the 1998 film Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas) and dropping £25,000 a month on wine appears to be a distant memory.
Depp, pictured here with bar manager Lauren Whittington at the Bridge Tavern in Newcastle, was mobbed at the pub on Wednesday night
He seems to enjoy the low-key delights of East Sussex, and is often spotted at Beck’s local pub, the Middle House in Mayfield. Last month he took a tour of the Folly Wildlife Rescue animal centre in Kent, of which Beck is patron, and was photographed cradling an orphaned badger named Freddie Mercury.
He was, however, mobbed at the Bridge Tavern in Newcastle on Wednesday night. Naomi Holliday, a trainee assistant manager at the pub, said he walked in unannounced around 5pm: ‘He just waltzed in. He sat at the table in the corner, ordered fish and chips with his brown ale, and had a Guinness after that as well. He was really sweet.’
As word spread and crowds gathered, Depp and friends were moved to a room upstairs for privacy.
Ms Holliday said: ‘Nobody was bothering Johnny inside, but there were some people waiting outside, which you can understand. People were just excited he was here.
‘I got to chat to him in the outside area. He was asking about Newcastle because he had never been before and he was interested in the Tyne Bridge and the pub. He seemed genuinely interested, and for him to come here was amazing.
‘He was the soundest bloke ever and happy to stop and chat to people. There was no mention of the court case or anything like that. We are Geordies so we like to keep things casual. We probably won’t ever have another shift like that.’
General manager Janine Latchford said: ‘He was the loveliest man I have ever seen. My assistant is heavily pregnant and he was telling her how beautiful being a parent was. He was really down to earth; he was lovely. It has been the most surreal day of my life.’
After the tour Depp will enjoy some time off, most likely in Sussex with Beck, and catch up with his children Lily-Rose, 23, a model based mostly in Los Angeles, and Jack, 20, who splits his time between London and Paris.
I’m told his agent has already been fielding numerous offers of work in films and TV, although he’s likely to take his time to decide what he wants to commit to.
‘This has been a huge trauma for Johnny and he’s going to take a while to process it all,’ says a source. ‘The music is very important to him and he’s committed to it. It was in the diary as something that he would definitely do. After that, he’s going to take a break.’
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