In 1960 Gibraltarian Ubi Rhodes-Malin shared an extraordinary chance connection with one of the biggest legends in musical history. Evidence of this whirlwind acquaintance emerged half a decade later with the birth of the Internet, sparking a refreshed ‘who’s that girl’ intrigue around the globe. Here, the avid snowboarder and Fado fan shares the story of her time with ‘The King’.
The fact that she is snowboarding when most people her age might prefer to adopt a more relaxed pace of life pretty much defines Ubi: at 67, she has never conformed.
She attributes much of what she has achieved to her equally remarkable mother, Elizabeth, who on 20 December this year will celebrate her landmark 100th birthday.
Ubi currently manages Portuguese Fado star Mariza’s blog, but the internationally-acclaimed singer is not her first liaison with musical royalty. In the winter of 1960 Ubi shared an amazing whirlwind amity with the legendary Elvis Presley; a bond that has twice captured the attention of the world’s media.
Like most teenage girls in the late 1950’s Ubi loved Elvis, much to her mother’s initial dismay.
This era was something of revolution. Described by some as the world’s first pop-star, Elvis’s early tough-boy style and daring dance moves were seen by more conservative parents of the day as a little too much for their daughters.
“My mum was horrified. The quiff, the hip movements, she was just horrified.”
Ubi was at school in Switzerland when Elvis was posted to Friedberg, West Germany, to complete his military service.
“When he came to Germany I was so determined I was going to meet him. I prayed nightly for two years for my mother to take me to see him”, she says, and eventually, as his last week of duty approached, her mother agreed.
Mother and daughter drove across two countries for Ubi to catch a glimpse of her idol; “Just to be where he was.” Through trial and error they found the street and house in which he was living.
“As we walked towards the house I froze. I got shy. My mum said, ‘We haven’t driven here from Switzerland for you to freeze. If you don’t go, I’ll go and knock on the door’, and she did.”
They were told to return at 11pm that night.
“When we went back there were lots of girls outside; they all had their hair teased into beehives and their make-up on. I was not heavily made up. I was a tomboy, just an ordinary fifteen-year-old and in those days you were your age. I stood to the back of the crowd, in the garden, while mum waited outside the garden fence”, she recalls.
At 11pm Elvis walked out of the house to meet and greet his fans with his two bodyguards. Screams erupted, but none of them from Ubi. “I have always done the opposite of what other people do. I just stood there. My mum said my mouth hit the floor”, Ubi laughs.
Describing her first vision of The King, she said: “At that time he was healthy; handsome like you wouldn’t believe, a smile like you wouldn’t believe. He was like a panther the way he walked, but he didn’t like noise.” Which may have explained why, when Ubi, by chance, struck up a conversation with Elvis’ bodyguard, he came over to see what the chatter was about.
“He came over and said: ‘Hi there, where are you from. Would you like an autograph?’ He posed for pictures with me and then he glanced over to where my mum was standing and without even knowing said: ‘mother and daughter’. My mum instantly fell in love with him.”
With her mother’s seal of approval over the next few days Ubi and Elizabeth returned frequently and each time Elvis made a point of greeting them.
“Elvis loved his mother and she had just passed away, so I think to see a young girl with her mother made a connection. It made him pick me out from the crowd, because we were mother and daughter and I was not just one of the masses.”
Elvis nicknamed the teen ‘Rascal’ and she was even invited inside the house for a tour.
“He showed me around the house, which was just a normal house, and we talked. He did drink Pepsi by the way, because there were bottles all over the place.”
“He somehow confided in me and I don’t have a clue why. I think maybe he felt comfortable with me because I wasn’t like the other girls. Maybe inside I felt like all the other girls, but I didn’t look like them.”
With the end of the week came the end of Elvis’ stint in Germany.
On 1 March, 1960, a major press conference was held at the base where he had been stationed to mark his departure.
“A German reporter said he could take me with him, but I would have to talk my own way in. I got past five military checks by claiming I was a translator.”
“Elvis came in, he started looking round the room and after a bit he spotted me. He leant over and said into all the microphones: ‘Rascal, what the hell are you doing in here?’ I felt like I had been exposed. I said, ‘I’m a translator, didn’t you know?’”
At the end of the press conference Ubi fought her way through the pack to say her goodbyes.
“I said ‘see you later then’, and he lent over to give me a kiss on the cheek. As he did suddenly all the cameras went off and people were shouting ‘another, another’. He gave me two more kisses for the photographers. As I tried to leave everyone was asking ‘who are you, who are you’ but the reporter I had gone with whisked me off and told everyone it was his story. There was no story!”
Returning to Switzerland Ubi “was on cloud nine for about a week.”
“I didn’t feel sad; I didn’t think that I would never see him again. I just felt elated because of it all.”
But it wasn’t until nearly half a century later that the real impact of her chance bond hit home. With the birth of the internet and social media networks such as YouTube, “that kiss” was seen by millions more people than in the 1960’s and the media once again came calling. Writers researching books about Elvis’ life called for her input and international TV channels such as CNN queued to interview the woman who as a young girl was The King’s unlikely confidante.
“It was amazing. He was a revolution. He was blues, country, rock and roll all combined. He was The King. It was unbelievable just to have spoken to him.”
Ubi watched with sadness as the destructive transformation slowly took over the once “soft spoken, healthy and in control” man she had shared company with. “He wasn’t the man I had met.”
In the 1970’s Ubi’s connections with celebrities continued when she went to work in the very first Mary Quant shop, on Kings Road, London, possibly for the first time in her life, defying her mother’s wishes.
“It was the place to be.”
In the shop Ubi rubbed shoulders with the likes of Twiggy (“she was amazing”), Hayley Mills, Richard Harris, Sterling Moss and Ossie Clarke.
Years later, after moving back to Gibraltar, Ubi fell in love with Fado after seeing Mariza perform in Andalucia.
After that initial concert Ubi became a regular at Mariza’s concerts. “I go over the top when I like something”, she says with a smile.
Following yet another chance encounter with the singer herself Ubi became a recognisable regular and eventually became aquainted with the star. This lead to Ubi collaborating on a website dedicated to the singer and today she manages a Mariza fanblog. But Ubi is far from ready to hang up her snowboard boots. Her love of Portugal means she is a regular visitor and as long as she can travel there will always be another story just around the corner. She is not going to conform just yet.