Phil Collins Summer Camp Urban Legend

Face Value was the first CD I ever purchased and the second CD I ever owned (the first was UB40) and to this day I can’t help but feel like a kid again banging along to the beat of the song “In the Air Tonight.” What I didn’t realize about this song until recently was that it has kind of a long history with urban legends that have been made up to explain the meaning behind the song. The legend, according to, dates as far back to the pre-Internet early ’90s, which would have been around the time when I used my allowance money to buy Face Value at my local Bradlees (I was 11 or 12).

The legends vary, but many of them involve Collins witnessing a drowning as a kid and inviting the person responsible for not rescuing the kid to a concert where he shines a spotlight on him during the concert. Others involve rape and murder and most involve the perpetrator getting arrested or committing suicide after being exposed by the spotlight at the concert. The one that first alerted me to the legend only recently involves a camp counselor at a summer camp Phil Collins attended as a kid. Outside of legend, it appears as though Collins, who is British, likely did not attend summer camp or holiday camp as the British equivalent is called.

An uninformed Zack from Trenton posted his version of the summer camp version of the legend on Song Facts:

This song was wrote (sic) about how when phil collins was at camp as a kid his best friend was drowning and the camp counsellor was not paying attention and the kid died. Phil Collins remembered the counsellors (sic) name and when he first played this song he gave the man tickets to the first concert this song was played. And during this song he shined a spotlight on the man throughout the whole song. That night the counsellor went home and commited (sic) suicide after realizing what he had done.

For the complete rundown on the legend, check out the entry on

Matt Ralph

Matt Ralph

I'm the editor of Summer Camp Culture and also blog at and I live in the Philadelphia area and went to camps and camp meetings growing up in Ohio, Maryland and New Jersey.

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