Est. 1999

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I raise my hand and touch the wheel of change
taking time to check the dial

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Courtesy of Chris & Annie Abrams
Written by
Quintin Cooper

Cat Stevens - a Musical Journey Saturday Radio 2

As Cat Stevens,
he had seven top-20 UK hits in as many years,
but 1979 saw a drastic change in his way of life.


The years of the Cat

The hitmaker who changed his name and lifestyle now reflects on his former fame.

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The man who was Cat Stevens finds it "pleasantly strange" that there's still interest in his previous life. In 1979, after 20 hit singles and albums in barely a dozen years, he turned his hack on the music business, having converted to the Islamic faith, changed his name to Yusuf Islam and for more than 20 years largely stayed out of the public eye.

His earnest and surprisingly humorous interview with Bob Harris for Radio 2's Cat Stevens - a Musical Journey is the first time he has collaborated with a programme about his past. "Perhaps I wasn't aware of how much impact my work has had on people", he says, "and doing this also lets me be proactive and dispel some of the myths that have grown up about me in my media absence."

Yusuf Islam's tendency to sprinkle his speech with buzzwords such as "proactive" and "quantum leap" instantly dispels one myth - that he's just another burned-out ex-pop star turned recluse. Like many other troubled souls, he sought spiritual enlightenment. Unlike most, he seems happy with what he found. "I had an amazing career, but I was able to get out and start a new life."

He is aware that the documentary and a new compilation CD will thrust him back into the limelight, but he agreed to meet Bob Harris because "he's great and he's part of my history". Even more so after this: by chance, the two met on the morning of 11 September. "We saw a TV and at first I thought a light aircraft had accidentally hit one of the World Trade Centre towers," Islam recalls." As it continued I realised this was the day that the world changed. Suddenly every Muslim was widely perceived as a potential terrorist because they had a scarf on. We had to shut our schools because of fear of reprisals, which fortunately never came."

It's running those two Islamic schools that he helped to set up in north-west London that has taken up much of his time And they have also provided him with his first number one - the schools currently occupy the top two positions in the league tables for Brent. "That" he says, "is the kind of chart success I can live with."


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