Your Mother’s City: Cape Town’s Rod Stewart

2013-07-31 08:00

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I’ve had his number stored in my phone for a while now.

I bumped into Sidney Becker at the Adelphi Centre in Main Road, Sea Point, sometime in winter last year.

One cannot miss him: the carefully groomed hair, the sun glasses, the pointed nose.

I approached Sidney with determined trepidation. He divulged his digits with grace – his mobile number and his home number – before disappearing into Chico’s, a dimly lit coffee shop with a glass-encased smoking section overlooking a blur of rain and traffic outside.

The Adelphi Centre is a special place. Originally built in 1974, the two-storey mall is paved with the nostalgia of glory days now long gone. It’s not retro enough to be “cool” – nevertheless, its air of decay is laced with gravitas and quirk. The centre houses the saddest Pick n Pay in the world and other endearing atrocities.

The Pick n Pay is the domain of impatient kugels under purple-tinted coifs. It reeks of cleaning chemicals and bears a general sense of hug deficiency. Street children wander its aisles while ladies of the night stop by for cheap wine.

Next door, at the Pick n Pay clothing section, shopkeeper Precious loves to relay how Candice Swanepoel bought swimwear there in December last year. Oh the glamour. “Candice bought bikinis and board-shorts. She was really friendly.” Candice, from Mooi River in KwaZulu-Natal, works as a Victoria’s Secret model in the United States. I interviewed her parents a while ago. They live in Somerset West these days; nice people.

Ever since I got his contact details, Sidney Becker featured prominently on my to-do list – in the most professional sense of the word. In fact, I was dying to meet the man, somewhat of a mythical creature often discussed around braai fires in the social circles I like to inhabit.

Kick-starting this blog was the perfect excuse. Yesterday I dropped Sidney a line.

We set up a coffee date at Chico’s inside the Adelphi Centre. This is his preferred haunt. People don’t harass him here; they don’t ask for his autograph, he explained.

“Will you wear a daffodil behind your left ear?” he asked me over the phone. He is a charmer, you see.

He is also famous and a master at dodging paparazzi. They still manage to get to him, though.

He sent photographers into a frenzy in Buenos Aires – where his picture made three newspapers some years ago, his face graced the cover of a tabloid in Athens once, and then there was that one time in Bangkok ...

“They went berserk in Bangkok, who would’ve thought. My friends refused to take me along on holiday any more!”

Sidney lives in the pale apartment block above La Vie (that restaurant with sublime sea views and seemingly eternally stoned waiters) next to the SABC Studios in Beach Road, Sea Point.

I cycle along the Sea Point promenade past his home and the SABC to the Adelphi Centre, stopping to have my tire pressure checked in Main Road. Givemore from Zimbabwe lends me a hand. We speak of the upcoming elections in Zim. “I would vote for the opposition, of course,” he says. I ask him about Mugabe’s gay-bashing. “No comment. I don’t think gay is right,” says Givemore.

I wave goodbye.

This is ironic, as Green Point and Sea Point is known as Cape Town’s pink strip. I think of a story we covered on Friday, on the launch of an anti-homophobia campaign by the United Nations at Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront nearby. At the event High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillai said the voices of leaders are desperately needed to change perceptions on gay rights. Eish.

At Chico’s my bike gets to wait on the pavement next to loud fruit sellers: “Sweet apples, no more grapples!” (They have the best avos, slightly pricy at R8 each).

Inside was Sidney at a small table, waiting. Sidney was blessed with a rare superpower: he looks more like Rod Stewart than Rod Stewart does himself.

He moans good-naturedly over the attention of misguided fans. But he loves it. The retired window-dresser carefully grooms his straw-coloured locks and dresses the part every day.

Shirts, usually rakishly unbuttoned, tailored pastel pink jackets, tight jeans, and narrow black ties, are some of his wardrobe staples.

It takes hard work to be a celebrity double. And at 76 years old, Sidney is a Cape Town legend. His voice is deep, if not quite as gravelly as that of the singer.

Sidney was born in Aliwal North in the Eastern Cape. His family moved to Port Elizabeth and then to Cape Town, where he got a nose job in his early twenties. “I was terribly self-conscious. As a gift my dad offered me a trip overseas or a nose job. I opted for the nose.”

The operation and hospital care cost R500 at the time. “I went to Dr Davis of course. We are Jewish and Dr Davis basically did our entire family, you know. He was wonderful though and didn’t give you a ‘Dr Davis’ nose, he would give you a nose that suited your face.”

That’s when it all started. People would stare and point. Sidney is seven years older than British-born Rod Stewart, but the resemblance is uncanny.

Cape Town’s Rod Stewart lookalike has sparked interest (and confusion) around the world.

Sidney Becker

Sidney said he was never academically minded. To his father’s disgust, he shunned more traditional career options and became a window dresser at Garlicks instead. “I loved it! I couldn’t believe that it was work!” He later moved on to Edgars in Adderley Street and then to the shop’s Wynberg branch, where he accepted a retirement package in 1998.

He recalled some heady times. “I had to put up lingerie displays, which was very risqué at the time. We had to roll down the window blinds while undressing the mannequins.”

One of his favourite colleagues was Insaab. “I’m a practising Jew and she a devout Muslim. We used to have lunch and go shopping and just laugh so much. We realised our families had so much in common: the parties, the food, the spoiling of the children. We thought, wouldn’t it be nice if everyone else realised this?”

He attended the Rod Stewart concert in Cape Town in 2010 in a limo organised by a local radio station. “There were four beautiful young ladies in the limo with me. Rod was staying at the Mount Nelson at the time, so we drove around there. People were screaming, we had so much fun.”

Today, Sidney still looks after his image, but he prefers to avoid the limelight whenever he can.

His life has grown “quiet” – and he is okay with that.

He posts letters at the post office in Sea Point, as he does not care for emails. His family has passed away. He likes a glass of Scotch at night and is a keen film buff. He recently enjoyed Quartet with Maggie Smith.

He is gay and has loads of friends on the “strip”. “Oh! I invented gay,” he says, between sips of black coffee.

Sidney insists on picking up our tab at Chico’s. He flirts with an elderly lady on his way out, leaving sizzling energy in his wake.

I cycle back down Main Road, the artery that joins central Cape Town and Sea Point with the grand Atlantic Seaboard suburbs of Bantry Bay, Clifton and Camps Bay.

Main Road is a melting pot of slums, tired architecture, and quaint, gentrified pockets.

It is home to rich, poor and dodgy people; and then there are extraordinary people, like Sidney Becker.

And unlike the landmark old Adelphi Centre, Sidney is certainly not past his prime.

The retired window-dresser is more than the sum of his features: high-spiritedness and kindness will always be en vogue.

This 76-year-old is more alive than most people half his age.

In this blog, I want to tell the stories of real people living in the Mother City. They’re out there.

Happy Wednesday, everybody.

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