‘The day I snorted heroin with the Rolling Stones… and how Mick asked me for a threesome with Ronnie’: Just two of the many revelations from the startling memoir of the Norland Nanny hired to look after Jade Jagger – but who ended up managing the band!

Tending to a bloodied Keith Moon when he erupted from a wardrobe, arms and legs flailing, wood splintering. Turning a blind eye to the very intimate antics of Anita Pallenberg and Ronnie Wood on board a private plane. Fending off the unsubtle advances of some of the most famous men in 1970s rock . . .

To former children’s nanny Sally Arnold, such hair-raising episodes were all, quite literally, in a day’s work.

The first female tour manager to some of the wildest rock bands in history, Sally was spectator at — and sometimes active participant in — a music scene that has since come to define the word hedonistic.

But, as she recounts in a new memoir, it was her qualification as a Norland Nanny, one of an elite brigade of childcare specialists favoured by royalty and celebrities, that made her the perfect woman for the job.

Mick Jagger in New York with his then wife Bianca in 1977 ahead of her birthday party at Studio 54

After all, the attributes that made her so fitting for childcare — patience, impeccable organisational skills, strictness tempered by kindness — were exactly what you also needed for life on the road with a bunch of rackety, drug-fuelled musicians.

‘Most of us were in our 20s when I started back in the 1970s, but looking after rock bands was like nannying overgrown kids,’ says Sally, 73.

‘I took care of them. It was my duty to make sure they were safe, secure and happy, and got to the next gig on time. I’d phone them to wake them up, tell them when to pack their bags and check out of the hotel, what time to get on to the tour bus. I was supervising them every step of the way, exactly like five-year-olds.

‘You have to be in control and quite bossy. And as the eldest of four children, I always was. Sometimes I even wrote them coded messages about sniffer dogs waiting at airports.’

Sally Arnold with Who guitarist Peter Townsend. Sally was the the first female tour manager to some of the wildest rock bands in history

Yet even the most recalcitrant toddler could not have taxed her patience as much as some of the rock stars. She recalls her first meeting with The Who’s mercurial drummer Keith Moon.

‘I went to their dressing room after a concert in Oxford and heard loud banging. My first sight of Keith was when he — quite literally — burst out of a wardrobe, planks of wood, splinters everywhere, screaming and shouting “Everybody f*** off out of my way!” But he became polite and charming when he’d calmed down. “My dear girl, how very nice to meet you,” he said.’

Placating irate hotel managers was very much part of her remit, too. At the Portobello Hotel in Notting Hill, West London, she was called by one in the early hours pleading: ‘You have to take all these mad people out of here. One of them has just strangled our cat and thrown it out of the window.’

Sally drove round London looking for the culprit, Bob Burns, drummer with the Southern American rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd. ‘I was thinking, “Where the hell has he gone?” I found him in Hyde Park, completely stoned. I couldn’t get him out until the morning as the park had been locked. He left the band soon after that [in 1974] thank God.’ She laughs.

Warm, funny and engaging company, Sally belongs to that hearty breed of intrepid, upper-middle-class women who are fearless pioneers and (almost) unshockable with it.

Her memoir, Rock N Roll Nanny, describes how she began her career in 1971 as the nanny to new-born Jade Jagger — the only child from the seven-year marriage of Mick and Bianca Jagger. It was after she left that post that she was invited to join the touring office of, among other bands, The Who and the Rolling Stones.

‘I was with Jade, who was adorable, 24 hours a day and she was getting too attached to me. When I was asked by Mick Jagger — via his assistant Alan Dunn — if I’d like to be tour manager instead, my initial response was “Why me? I’m a nanny” and they said it was because the boys in the bands liked me and their wives trusted me.’

Sally fulfilled her remit with brisk efficiency. She would also chastise any band member who had the temerity to make a pass at her if she knew their wives or girlfriends.

‘I was visiting Mick [Jagger] at his house in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, and Woody [Ronnie Wood] was there too. They both said “Come upstairs” and I said, “Don’t be so stupid. It’s me, Nanny, your tour manager.” Mick said, “Come on, baby girl. You know you want to.” I thought, “I’m not going to fall for that tired old line” and I never did.

Sally Arnold pictured with Who singer Roger Daltrey and artist David Oxtoby 

‘Men are so funny. They think every woman should fall into their lap. I preferred to be the one who didn’t sleep with the rock stars, even though there were hundreds who did.’

She admits to a couple of lapses: a ‘drunken fumble’ with Pink Floyd’s Dave Gilmour when he was separated from his wife, and a brief fling with Artimus Pyle, the drummer who replaced Burns in Lynyrd Skynyrd. But it is an abiding sadness that the real love of her life, Skynyrd’s stage manager Dean Kilpatrick, died when the band’s private plane crashed in October 1977. Lead singer Ronnie Van Zant was among the six who died.

Sally and Dean had just become engaged. Her sorrow lingers, even 45 years on. ‘Sometimes, it still feels like it happened yesterday,’ she says. ‘I still look back with terrible sadness and think about what my life would have been if I’d married Dean.

‘I adored him and we would have had a wonderful life. I don’t think we’d have had children. The band were my children and I’d have looked after them for ever.’

She was married, briefly and unhappily, in the 1980s to music promoter Paul Loasby — ‘I knew it was a mistake pretty much straight away’ — but now lives alone, modestly, in Devon where, until recently, she sang the descant parts in the church choir. She never did become a mum.

I ask if she kept a tally of the men — unattached obviously — that she slept with and she laughs. ‘I wouldn’t dare. I’d shock myself! I had flings with lots of roadies [band technicians and crew], especially, because they were lovely guys.’

Sally earned respect and affection from whomever she worked with; she even had songs written for her. The 1977 hit Lay Down Sally’ was Eric Clapton’s ode to her (though they didn’t work together, she became good friends with him and his then wife Pattie Boyd). ‘It’s about you,’ he told her. ‘It’s all upbeat and bubbly — just like you are.’

In her memoir Sally recalls how she began her career in 1971 as the nanny to new-born Jade Jagger — the only child from the seven-year marriage of Mick and Bianca Jagger (pictured)

Yet she was completely unfazed by celebrity. ‘I wasn’t a fan. I don’t think you can work in the industry if you’re starstruck. I’d never bought a Rolling Stones’ record before I worked with them. I preferred classical music and I sang with the London Symphony Chorus. It was my sanity in a mad world.’

In 1976 she was on a 41-date Rolling Stones’ tour of 22 cities in nine countries. ‘Exhausting,’ she says. ‘During that tour I’d go to see the Berlin Philharmonic or the Paris Opera. I usually went on my own. It was a bit of peace and quiet away from the noise and eternal requests of the boys, although Charlie Watts [the Stones’ drummer] came with me once.’

Contending with the chaos of their drug-taking was routine. ‘On this tour there were covered amps on stage behind the band, hidden by drapes, and one side was for the heroin, the other for cocaine.

‘Keith [Richards] and Woody [Ronnie Wood] also smoked “dirty” cigarettes. They’d empty out some of the tobacco and replace it with whatever drug they were using.’ She recalls overhearing Princess Margaret observing at the Stones’ Earl’s Court show: ‘Ah, cocaine. Such an amusing drug, don’t you think?’

Did the princess take it? ‘I’ll never know,’ says Sally, who occasionally used the drug herself (if she needed to keep awake) and once inadvertently took heroin.

‘We were all in my bedroom at a hotel in London and I was sitting at my desk doing the accounts,’ she recalls. ‘The boys — Keith and Woody — took a picture off the wall and put a line of white powder on it. I assumed it was cocaine. Actually, it was heroin. I’d never seen white heroin before and I’d never have taken it if I’d known. I had a huge line of it and was horribly ill. Both Keith and Woody were so kind. They stayed with me for hours, just looking after me long after everyone else had gone.’

She recalls staying with Bill Wyman and his then partner Astrid in the South of France after the tour, going for a pizza with Princess Caroline of Monaco and having lunch with the artist Marc Chagall. She adds that Bill never took drugs. She recalls how on the Stones’ private jet she woke from a narcotic-induced slumber to see Anita Pallenberg, then Keith Richards’ partner, giving him oral sex.

‘This was just the sort of thing you’d see on rock’n’roll tours on private planes. I was so bored and uninterested I just went back to sleep.’

Mick Jagger gives Bianca a kiss during her birthday party at Studio 54 in New York 1977

It all seems a world away from the privileged respectability of her childhood as a wealthy farmer’s daughter in Wiltshire. She was raised in a Tudor farmhouse and attended a girls’ boarding school.

But there were dark episodes in her teens; she narrowly escaped being raped by the French teacher.Then, while working as an au pair in St John’s Wood, before she began training with Norland in 1968, she became friendly with the young woman who looked after the children of Clement Freud.

The Liberal MP and TV chef, who was later exposed as a habitual abuser of young girls, maltreated Sally, forcing her to have oral sex with him. She was just 16.

‘He’d become a bit of a mentor; he seemed clever and amusing and he taught me about food and how to cook. But one day he sat behind his desk and told me, “Come here. Kneel down.” And he held my head down and forced me to perform oral sex on him.

‘It was sickening but I had no idea I could complain. And despite this I stayed friends with him and he’d take me out to meals and teach me how to eat caviar and other exotic food. But he used to enjoy intimidating people; there was a very menacing side to him.’

It wasn’t until 2016 — when a TV programme exposed his paedophilia — that she realised the depths of his depravity. ‘And this upset me very much. I didn’t dream that he was predatory with under-age girls.’

By the mid-1980s she was running a drugs rehabilitation charity, The Double O, for The Who’s Pete Townshend. Much later — in 2003 — when Townshend faced charges of accessing a child porn website (no images were ever downloaded) she was able robustly to defend him.

As a Norland Nanny she’d been trained to recognise inappropriate behaviour from adults towards children; it was, she says, ‘monstrous’ to accuse Pete of wrongdoing. Although he was charged, cautioned and put on the sex offenders’ register for five years, he maintained he had viewed the website only to research child sex abuse.

‘Pete was sexually abused himself, by one of his grandmother’s gentlemen callers. There is a correlation between an absent father figure and childhood abuse; he was also trying to research the connection between drug-taking and abuse and he stumbled across these weird sites.

‘But he was far too honourable to be involved in viewing child porn. I know from the charity work he did, from the way he behaved around children — his own and other people’s — that the charges were absolutely untrue.’

Allegiances shift in the ephemeral world of rock ’n’roll, but Sally remains a loyal friend to many. She keeps in touch with Mick Jagger’s assistant Alan Dunn; he passes on news of Jade Jagger, now aged 51.

But perhaps her most surprising encounter was with Anita Pallenberg, the Stones’ muse and mother of three of Keith Richards’ children. Having known her during the excesses of her rock chick days, Sally encountered her 15 years ago when they were indulging a mutual passion for botanical painting on a watercolour course. ‘We spent the week nattering about the old days.’

Today, Sally’s most self-indulgent pleasure is a very far cry from the hedonism of the 1970s. ‘Going to the cinema in the daytime,’ she says, ‘feels the most decadent treat of all.’

  • Rock N Roll Nanny by Sally Arnold is published by SilverWood Books, rocknrollnanny.co.uk.

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