Marley had moved to London because he was in mortal danger on his native island. Picture: AP

London - A blue plaque was unveiled last week on a handsome house in Chelsea, in the respectable-looking street where an icon of Edwardian stoicism and valour, Antarctic explorer Robert Falcon Scott, once lived.

The new plaque offers not a hint of attempted murder, adultery, rape, drug-taking on an industrial scale and a fatal show of misplaced pride. All it says is "Bob Marley 1945-1981, Singer and Songwriter, lived here in 1977".

In a way, that’s all it needs to say. Most people know that the reggae legend, neck-and-neck with Usain Bolt as the most famous Jamaican of all time, crammed an awful lot of life into his 36 years. Yet there are a thousand stories behind that English Heritage plaque, many of which involve sex, drugs and wild, decadent excess.

Oddly enough, those that don’t are even more fascinating. Marley had moved to London because he was in mortal danger on his native island. 

Although he preached reconciliation and love, and tried boldly to unite Jamaica’s warring factions, in December 1976 gunmen burst into his Kingston home and attempted to murder him, quite possibly on the orders of the CIA, who wanted to destabilise a country they feared was becoming another Cuba under its socialist leader, Michael Manley.

Five of the bullets intended for Marley struck his manager, Don Taylor. Another hit his wife, Rita, in the head. Marley was wounded in the arm. Miraculously, nobody died, even though, in a deafening fusillade, more than 80 bullets were fired.

Nothing like that seemed likely to happen in or around 42 Oakley Street. Marley loved London. He loved to play football just across the River Thames in Battersea Park, with friends including fellow reggae star Eddy Grant. 

He especially loved living in a country where neither policemen nor criminals carried guns. Feeling safe, indeed so safe that right under Rita’s nose he contentedly carried on an affair with the reigning Miss World, his fellow-Jamaican Cindy Breakspeare, Marley enjoyed one of the most creative years of his short life while living in England. He and his band, the Wailers, recorded their classic Exodus album, which Time magazine would later anoint as its "album of the century".

"This tough, edgy, militant soldier could actually write the softest, most beautiful love songs, infused with pearls of wisdom and bits of scripture so profound they made you weak at the knees and pricked your conscience all at the same time," Breakspeare later recalled.

She was seduced in body as well as mind. Their son Damian was conceived during their stay in London, one of at least seven children Marley is believed to have fathered with seven different women, not to mention the four he had with wife Rita.

Mind you, that seems monastic compared with one of his Wailers, the wryly nicknamed Aston ‘Family Man’ Barrett, who at the latest count was a father of 52. Maybe it was the need to pay child support that explains why in 2006 he sued Marley’s estate for £60-million in unpaid royalties. His challenge was unsuccessful.

Daily Mail