Ricky Gervais, like many, looked up and idolised David Bowie as a young music fan.
The comedian, who even attempted to emulate his idol with his own pop career which led to substantially less acclaim and fandom before he found his calling in humour, landed dream recognition from the Starman when the two would strike up a great friendship after a chance meeting
A friendship which began early in the comic’s now-iconic career, began shortly after his debut show The Office aired on BBC. The mockumentary arrived as a welcome relief to British comedy and, at the time of release, offered a complete breath of fresh air and remains one of the most influential television shows of the 21st century.
Gervais recalled their first meeting in a column he wrote for Shortlist in 2010, detailing his love for Bowie and how the musician didn’t even know who he was during their initial introduction: “The first time I met David, by the way, was at the BBC,” Gervais wrote. “The first series of The Office had just aired and I was invited to a special performance at TV Centre. Afterwards, in the green room, the then director-general, Greg Dyke bounced over to me and Jane and said, ‘Do you wanna meet him?’ I said, ‘Oh, I don’t want to pester him’. He said, ‘No, come on’. He then shouted ‘Salman! We’re gonna say hello to David‘.
“So there we were, with the head honcho at the Beeb and Salman Rushdie, chatting to Bowie in his dressing room. The next day I was in the pub with a mate and he said, ‘What did you do yesterday?’ and I said, ‘Uh… Nothing. Just stayed in’. It seemed too weird to tell the truth.”
Following their first meeting, Bowie later emailed Gervais to explain how he had devoured the entire series of The Office that he had been sent, a moment which began a pen pal relationship which would last for many years.
A few years after their first encounter, Gervais would convince Bowie to play a hyperbolic version of himself in Extras, a moment that would turn out to be Bowie’s last ever filmed appearance and saw The Thin White Duke performing the hilariously brutal song ‘Little Fat Man’ aimed at Gervais’ character Andy Millman.
During an appearance on The Graham Norton Show, Gervais hysterically quipped: “I sent him the lyrics and I called him up… I said, ‘Can you give me something retro like ‘Life on Mars?'” he explained. “And he went, ‘Yeah, I’ll just knock off a quick fucking ‘Life on Mars?’ for you.”
As a thank you to Bowie for going out of his way to appear in his programme, the comedian agreed to perform at the High Line Festival in New York that the legendary musician had curated the line-up for.
Speaking to Smooth Radio about the appearance, Gervais recalled: “I went over, and it was sold out, and they didn’t know he was going to be there. He walked out in a tuxedo, with a little harmonica, and he just went [makes harmonica noise]: ‘Chubby little loser…’ And the crowd went crazy. And he brought me on. That was technically his last (show) — and Extras was his last filmed appearance, I think.”
Detailing more on his friendship with Bowie, he added: “Sometimes I forgot that he was David Bowie because he was a friend, and he was David Jones, and a normal bloke.
“I don’t know what I expected. I think people think he sits around in a silver suit with his orange hair. He’s just a guy who was brilliant at what he did, and he never stopped — he never stopped creating. He never let me down.”
Watch the glorious footage below of Bowie poking fun at Gervais in what would sadly turn out to be his last ever public performance.