Billy Idol’s bizarre 2002 performance in Sydney was a seminal moment in NRL grand final history. Now, 15 years on, a Sydney journalist has commemorated the event by having Idol’s hovercraft performance tattoed onto his leg. Jamie Wall talks to Steve Zemek about his courageous move to immortalise this piece of rugby league history.
The Warriors – a constant source of disappointment for many New Zealanders, have had precious few moments in the sun. One of them was in 2002, when the team made their first NRL grand final.
However, while the Warriors were swept aside by the Roosters 32-8, that night will always be remembered as being one of the most bizarre in pre-match entertainment history. 80’s rocker Billy Idol was the hotly anticipated act before kickoff, and made his entrance on that most practical of vehicles, a hovercraft.
A stunning entrance, but little did Idol know that someone had forgot to plug in his band’s amplifiers.
It was a seminal moment in grand final history. Now, 15 years on, Sydney journalist Steve Zemek has commemorated the moment by having Idol’s hovercraft ride tattooed onto his leg. I talked to the Sydney-based journalist about his courageous move to immortalize this piece of rugby league history.
Steve, would you describe yourself as a diehard league fan, Billy Idol fan, or just pre-game entertainment enthusiast?
In a way, yeah, I am a diehard league fan. I played the game since I was six. Growing up in Brisbane, watching the Broncos win the 1992 premiership was one my earliest memories. I’m very fortunate in that I was able to go on and carve out a career for myself writing about rugby league. It’s always been a passion of mine. I didn’t get the tattoo because I’m a Billy Idol fan, it’s because the incident itself was just so ridiculous, it kind of summed up rugby league.
So clearly Billy Idol’s big moment in 2002 is something New Zealand league fans will never forget. However, you’ve doubled down on this by having a reminder of it tattooed on your body. What was the reasoning behind your decision?
Rugby league is obviously a part of my life and a passion, and the Billy Idol incident was possibly the most rugby league thing that has ever happened. What do I mean by that? I don’t just love rugby league ‘cause it’s the greatest game of all. What I love about it is the characters, the mishaps, the narratives, the soap opera that surrounds it. Think Nate Myles defecating in a hotel hallway or Julian O’Neill defecating in his mate’s shoe at the casino. “Never change, rugby league” is one of my favourite and most common sayings. Sometimes I think the game and its off-field incidents are scripted – they’re that good. And I think that’s what I was trying to capture with this tattoo, the absurd theatre of it all.
It’s a bit drastic though, did you consider simply buying yourself a hovercraft and listening to White Wedding?
You know, this is going to sound weird, but I’ve kind of always wanted a hovercraft after the 2002 final incident. It was just so absurd, it captured my imagination. Luckily, sanity has so far prevailed and I’ve never really looked into purchasing one. I thought the tattoo was an easier and cheaper way to commemorate this.
What are your memories of that evening on October 6, 2002? Where were you when Idol made his ill-fated hovercraft journey to the middle of ANZ Stadium?
I have no strong memories of watching the 2002 grand final itself. I would have been at my family home in Brisbane (I would have been 19 at the time). But I remember that moment stuck with me. I’m not sure why, but I thought it was the greatest thing ever.
Do you know why his set never ended up starting? What is your take on how/why the power was cut?
As for why Billy never got his power… this is a really great question that I’d love to have confirmed. But as I understand it, the NRL didn’t supply Billy’s band with the proper voltage converters.
Now I’m no musical expert but as I understand it, because Billy and his band are from England, all of his equipment is a different voltage to Australian equipment. The same as when you go overseas, you’ve got to buy a converter so you can plug your phone charger or hair dryer into overseas power sockets. This begs a couple of really good questions. How could the organisers not realise this was going to be a problem and address it? And more pressingly, how was this not picked up in sound check?
Would you rate Billy’s appearance as the most memorable of all grand final entertainment performances?
Billy’s performance is absolutely the number one grand final performance of all time. It tops Meat Loaf absolutely slaughtering his back catalogue at the AFL grand final a couple years ago, Angry Anderson singing ‘Bound For Glory’ on the back of the Batmobile at the AFL final a few years earlier, and the Optus TV exploding and falling to the ground during the halftime entertainment during the Canterbury-Manly grand final in 1995.
Do you think that Billy Idol should one day return to the NRL grand final, on his hovercraft and complete the set?
There is nothing I would love more than to see Billy Idol back at ANZ Stadium on the first weekend in October. Memo to [NRL chief] Todd Greenberg: make it happen. At the very least, next year’s entertainment should come out on the back of a hovercraft.
What do you have to say to Warriors fans here in NZ, who are still waiting for not only Billy Idol, but a grand final win?
OK, here is where this interview is getting contentious: I don’t think the Warriors will ever win a premiership. There is something very deep-seated and wrong within the club. But their failure to win outside the State of Origin period every year – when every Australian club is robbed of their best players – is a disturbing long-term trend. They are the worst underperformers in the competition and it’s been like that for a long time. If the club was located in Sydney, they would have faced far greater scrutiny. If they couldn’t make the top eight with an all Kiwi international spine this year, what hope is there for them going forward? Sorry, but I don’t think I’ll see a Warriors premiership in my lifetime.
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