Jo Wood interview: pictures of life on the road with the Rolling Stones

Jo Wood's new book, Stoned, includes 500 never-before-seen photos from life on the road with the Rolling StonesJo Wood's new book, Stoned, includes 500 never-before-seen photos from life on the road with the Rolling Stones
Jo Wood's new book, Stoned, includes 500 never-before-seen photos from life on the road with the Rolling Stones
Guitarist Ronnie Wood's ex-wife shares never-before-seen photographs in her new book, Stoned

When Jo Wood, former wife of Ronnie, went on the road with the Rolling Stones, she always took a camera. She snapped away as the band travelled the world, from Buenos Aires to Tokyo and places in between – “I don’t know where we were in some of them,” she says and laughs. Or when – she goes by her hair – if it’s curly it’s the 80s. “I wouldn’t have any memory of it if I didn’t have the pictures. It was a whirlwind, touring, partying, just madness.”

First with a polaroid, then a ‘proper’ camera Ronnie bought her, “to keep me quiet”, she captured thousands of candid behind-the-scenes shots from her three decades married to the Stones guitarist. Along with images of the band and close ups of the rock and roll lifestyle, were the personal pictures every family has; births, birthdays, bathtimes, family holidays, hanging out with friends, the only difference being that the pals are the likes of Jerry Hall, Brad Pitt, Chuck Berry, Peter Cook and Kate Moss. And being a bit of a magpie as well as a hoarder, Wood also filled diaries, scrapbooks and boxes with mementoes.

500 never-before-seen photographs

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Jo and Ronnie in July1979, two years after they first metJo and Ronnie in July1979, two years after they first met
Jo and Ronnie in July1979, two years after they first met

Now she has whittled down the 150 plus boxes of photo albums to 500 never-before-seen photographs, included diary entries, artworks and souvenirs and released Stoned: Photographs and Treasures from Life with the Rolling Stones.

As well as stadium shots of the band from her vantage point behind the amps, there’s Ronnie with his mum backstage – “she liked a Guinness”, bromancers Ronnie and Keith, Mick and Bill playing backgammon, Ronnie, Keith and Charlie truculent in tartan for the She Was Hot video, pages from Jo’s jail diary when she and Ronnie were locked up on the Caribbean island of St Maarten and some of Ronnie’s beautiful drawings of his wife.

Three decades of Jo's favourite images

“They’re just my snaps, and I didn’t think of them as anything else but some great old pictures I took years ago – I’ve got thousands, and old diaries and stuff I put in scrapbooks. No-one ever looked at them,” she says. “Then one day last year I was going through a little shoe box of photos – to put on Instagram – and my friend the rock journalist Jon Bennett asked if he could have a look. ‘Oh my God,’ he said, ‘they need to be seen, you’ve got to do a book’. So I got everything out of storage, chose my ten favourites and off we went and got a publishing deal. It all happened really quickly.”

One of Jo Wood's behind the scenes snaps, of Ronnie, Keith Richards and Charlie Watts not really rocking the tartan on the set of the She Was Hot video, 1984One of Jo Wood's behind the scenes snaps, of Ronnie, Keith Richards and Charlie Watts not really rocking the tartan on the set of the She Was Hot video, 1984
One of Jo Wood's behind the scenes snaps, of Ronnie, Keith Richards and Charlie Watts not really rocking the tartan on the set of the She Was Hot video, 1984

Her book is all five star hotels, turquoise swimming pools and villas in Mustique, but when we speak Wood is sitting in a car outside a reclamation yard in Northamptonshire, taking refuge from the freezing cold while her new partner haggles over some rusty iron gates for their recently-bought rural home. She’s bubbly and sounds happy, having recently turned the page on a new chapter in her life when she met Carl Douglas on an online dating site. This was the catalyst for the move from her Camden townhouse to a new country home and prompted her to sort through years’ worth of memories.

“I’m such a magpie, “ she says. “I realised that on this move. I thought ‘Oh my God, I’ve got so much stuff it’s ridiculous’. I chucked a lot.”

Fortunately, not her photographs or scrapbooks, or mementoes like the leather pouch she used for keeping all of Ronnie’s guitar picks, or the tour T-shirts, many of which she designed.

From rock star lifestyle to healthy living and organic bodycare

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A rare picture of Mick Jagger with a beardA rare picture of Mick Jagger with a beard
A rare picture of Mick Jagger with a beard

Wood always had an interest in fashion and design, starting out as a model from school and she has a keen business head, running her own organic beauty range. After a misdiagnosis of Crohn’s disease in the 1980s saw her adopt an organic lifestyle, she launched the successful Jo Wood Organics range of perfume, bath and bodycare products in 2005, and has written a book about living a healthy life, as well as her autobiography, Hey Jo. She’s also a TV regular from Strictly Come Dancing to Celebrity MasterChef, Celebrity First Dates and The Island, and her charity work includes the People Tree Foundation supporting ethical and fair-trade fashion and the GreenHands initiative in India, which plants trees to combat climate change.

Wood has a young-sounding voice that belies her 64 years, and an Essex accent that makes no ‘now’ and boxes ‘boxis’ and she also has a habit of saying ‘gosh!’, which doesn’t quite sit with her honest, warts and all descriptions and anecdotes from her rock and roll adventures. Funny and authentic, it’s a record of her years with the Stones and Ronnie, and Wood sees it as a celebration, a love letter to that time in her life when she was travelling the world with one of its biggest bands and raising four children, often on the road.

'I’m glad I survived and came out unscathed'

“I had loads of fun and feel very fortunate to have experienced that, yeah… Looking back I feel gosh! “When you’re in it you don’t think about it, you just go with it, but when I look back, number one I’m glad I survived and came out unscathed, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time on the road and backstage. And I adore my friends, Jerry (Hall, Mick’s ex-wife) and Patti (Hansen, Keith’s wife) and Ronnie – I’m still very good friends with Ronnie.”

Ronnie asleep with a beer and his saxophoneRonnie asleep with a beer and his saxophone
Ronnie asleep with a beer and his saxophone

With so many images and treasures to choose from Wood just went with her favourites and after her initial edit, realised she was too close and let the publisher pick around 500.

“The photographs are all so familiar to me, but no-one else has seen them until now. It’s nice to see them organised for once,” she says, talking through some of the ones she loves most.

“One of Keith with his eyes closed and Leah (their daughter) putting her head on his cheek, and I love the one of Ronnie on the bed, passed out with the saxophone and a beer. And there are some pictures in the book where Keith has a little cat around his guitar. My brother’s in one of those as well, and I said to him ‘where were we here Paul?’ He’s got a great memory but even he said ‘no idea Jo, no idea’. You travel to so many different places on tour, they all begin to blend into one.”

Take 1981, for instance, the year the Stones toured their Tattoo You album, criss-crossing the States to play to three million fans, and Tina Turner guested on Honky Tonk Women.“Yeah, 1981, I don’t think I remember much about that at all,” she says. “I got my 1981 diary out and thought let’s see what’s in here. And all I wrote at the beginning of the year was ‘woke up’ and then there was nothing for the rest of the year. I never went to sleep I don’t think.”

Still friends with Ronnie

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Wood has managed to remain good friends with Ronnie now 72, who left her for 19-year old Ekaterina Ivanova in 2008 after three decades together, with Jo divorcing him in 2009. He’s now married to theatre producer Sally Humphreys, with whom he has young twins, Gracie and Alice.

Ronnie giving his hair the pre-stage lemon juice and blow dry treatmentRonnie giving his hair the pre-stage lemon juice and blow dry treatment
Ronnie giving his hair the pre-stage lemon juice and blow dry treatment

“Well,” she says, “I forgave Ronnie very early on, and forgiveness sets you free. If you carry hate around for somebody then you’re sort of bound to them. But forgiving somebody, it’s the only way to do it.

“I had a wonderful life with Ronnie, so I would not want to carry that hate around with me. And I adore him,” she says.

Once the ultimate rock’n’roll chick, Wood is now “gran” to ten grandchildren ranging in age from three to 19. “I’m still waiting for my youngest, Ty, to have children, he’s thirty… em four, god I can’t remember.”

Found new love online

With her choppy-fringed blonde bob, kohl-rimmed eyes and former model looks, you wouldn’t think Wood would have struggled for company, but she says she did.“Yeah, I meet lots of people, but nobody ever asks me out,” she laughs. “I think men feel maybe… I don’t know what! I have no idea. And they don’t readily come up and start chatting me up. Never…

“So I went online and put up pictures I didn’t think anybody would recognise, no make-up, hair in plaits, not glamorous at all. Two days later Carl started writing to me. He did recognise me, but that was kind of nice ‘cos it meant I didn’t have to explain anything. That was over a year ago now.”

Wood concedes that Ronnie Wood, legendary guitarist with the Stones and before that with Rod Stewart, is quite a hard act to follow. “I think maybe that’s why I had to find a man with plenty of confidence in himself, and that’s what Carl’s got. He is in sports and business development. And he’s from Newcastle, a Geordie through and through. He’s a lovely man. And no, he’s not the Carl Douglas that wrote that song.”

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Wood is referring to the other Carl Douglas, the Jamaican musician best known for the 1974 disco single Kung Fu Fighting. In Wood’s world it’s necessary to distinguish the celebrities from the civilians because almost everyone Wood knows is famous.

Modelling at 16

Daughter of Michael and Rachel, an architectural model maker and an Avon lady and doll maker, Jo Karslake grew up in Benfleet in Essex and left school to become a model at 16. Immediately successful – she was the Sun’s Face of 1972 – the book shows her modelling cards and black and white shoots, and diary entries, including the night she met Wood at a party.

It was 1977, the year after her divorce from her first husband who she had married at 18 and who is the father of her son Jamie. When she married Wood eight years later she became step-mum to his son Jesse, adding two children together, a daughter Leah in 1978 and son Tyrone in 1983 to their brood.

Meeting Ronnie

“I went to a party and he came up and said ‘Do you know who I am?’ and showed me a picture of the Black and Blue album with him on it. I thought he was full of himself and told him that I worked in Woolworth’s on the broken biscuit counter,” she giggles. “I didn’t but he went there anyway to find me. He was hysterical, very, very funny. I like a man with a sense of humour. Carl’s funny, he’s a Geordie so of course he is.”

Back in 1977 Ronnie invited her to Paris where the Stones were recording Some Girls and off she went, ready for an adventure. “I learnt about music then, watching them play and rehearse and you never lose that. I was new on the scene, Jerry Hall was new on the scene – we were just Some Girls in Paris. I didn’t have a camera then, but I wish I had, because that was a great time. But I’ve got my diaries, and those memories.”

Polaroid and personal

The book format mirrors the diary and scrapbook layout, which gives it a retro feel, on top of which what’s different about Wood’s photographs is their informality. They’re unofficial, unstaged and personal, not the Stones pictures we’ve seen over and over again. Even the live performance shots are a back view of the band and the audience beyond, taken by Jo perched at the side of the stage.

For the digital generation it’s a journey into a world of polaroids, paper tickets, sellotaped drawings and photos that weren’t re-touched or photoshopped; for their elders, a trip down memory lane.

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“Nowadays you’ve got your mobile with a camera, and you delete and alter pictures. It’s not as real as it was back then. It was really real, you captured a moment, because you didn’t have another chance. Now you can say, hold on, do that again, then you just took the picture and it wasn’t until it was developed you saw what it was like. Nowadays so many are deleted, you pick the best, and don’t get such interesting pictures. I used to take 150, 200 rolls of film to the developers when we got back from tour and they’d look at me like I was completely mad.”

Still rolling strong

With the book complete, Wood is enjoying touring its launch and with a house move too, and a pop-up shop opening, this month has been a whirlwind she is relishing.

“Yesterday I was painting the toilet downstairs and getting all mad for it all ‘cos I love doing up houses.

“I just wanted to do something different. My daughter’s missing me terribly, but I can be in London in an hour and a half. I love it here. It’s beautiful to wake up and it’s quiet, to see the sheep and hills.”

She also has a new skincare range to promote next year, part of Jo Wood Organics, so there’s no sign of Jo slowing down. “I’m still a mad, organic person, I’ll always live my life like that. Maybe that’s why I’ve bought a house in the countryside, so I can get my boots on and plant a beautiful vegetable garden. I can’t wait to do that.

“Whenever I feel slightly, ‘oh, I’m getting old’, I think, ‘come on, those guys are running around on stage and nobody gives it a second thought.

"I don’t want to be a woman that is defined by my age. My mum said as she got older she felt like she was getting invisible, and I thought I’m not going to have that.

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I think age is an energy, and if you’ve got a good energy, it doesn’t matter how old you are.”

Stoned: Photographs and Treasures from Life with the Rolling Stones by Jo Wood is out now, published by Cassell Illustrated at £20 (hardback)