FEATURE: Whitesnake star receives honorary degree

Bernie Marsden
Bernie Marsden

Local pop legend Bernie Marsden has been awarded an Honorary Degree by The University of Buckingham at this year’s Graduation ceremony.

Bernie said: “It’s nice for my family, and I never thought I would ever get a degree, never thought I would have had the chance. You get to my age and you are educationally limited.

Bernie Marsden collects his honorary degree from the University of Buckingham

Bernie Marsden collects his honorary degree from the University of Buckingham

“I’d like to think that, had I gone to university, I might have gotten one, but it is easy for me to say that now. I don’t think it would have been music. I would probably have done something down the journalistic route.”

Bernie, 63, best known for his work with rock band Whitesnake, was inspired by The Beatles. He said: “The Beatles changed everything. I thought ‘hang on, if he can write a song, so can I’.

“I got to know George Harrison really well - he was a lovely guy. And Ringo’s great. He can remember playing at Stowe School. He told me: ‘that’s the only gig we did in the crazy days where they listened to what we did and applauded after the songs, rather than screamed all the way through’.”

But he added: “Jimmy Saville was horrible.

Bernie Marsden collects his honorary degree from the University of Buckingham

Bernie Marsden collects his honorary degree from the University of Buckingham

“You never saw any musicians go near him. Everybody knew, there were always loads of comments. Gary Glitter was the same. We just didn’t know to what extent.

“If we had known that there were 13 year old girls in there, we wouldn’t have put up with it.”

Bernie recalls playing in the town: “Buckingham Town Hall was a big gig to me. It was a couple of hundred people, but I thought it was massive at the time.

“I used to stand in there thinking ‘I’ll play here one day’, and I did.

“Little did I know; the first night I turned pro I would be playing to over 2,000.

“Buckingham has always remained close to his heart. I was born here. I’ve always had roots here. I get loads of emails and texts from people I don’t know who grew up round here, and it’s amazing how many times they start off with ‘not bad for an old boy from Buckingham.”

“When you have done your work and lived in that storm, you don’t need it anymore. Every time I come back to Buckingham from wherever it is, it’s a breath of fresh air.”

Bernie and his wife, Fran, have two daughters, Charlotte and Olivia.

His youngest, Olivia, is studying English Literature at The University of Buckingham.

“When I look out of the windows now it’s strange. There are more people at The University now than lived in Buckingham when it started. This whole modern, unique situation is placed where I walked as a kid.

“Literally where I walked, because I was brought up in a house next to the Radcliffe Centre. I remember when the university first was mentioned and we all thought ‘where are they going to do it?’ The area near Hunter Street was a pig farm. My mother would pick me up and show me the piglets.

“It was really rural - now it’s a University.”

He recalls working at the former milk factory in Chandos Road, which has now been transformed into the country’s first independent Medical School at the University.

“I was employed at the Milk Factory for about 12 minutes. I resigned with much indignity and comedy. I was hired for a specific job and when I said ‘I’m here to do this job’ a very uppity foreman said to me ‘oh no you won’t, you’ll do what I tell you’.

“So I said no; I was always a bit of a rebel. There was a big stand-off - he thought because he was the boss he would win.

“So, I was there for about 12 minutes. But I did bill for the 12 minutes, which intrigued the manager.

“I was remembering this when I was up there recently for John Bercow’s lecture.

“While I was there I was thinking ‘who would ever have thought that Buckingham would be big enough to be watching the speaker of the House of Commons in the middle of where I walked out of a job?”