HOW WE MET

Interview with GARY NUMAN AND GEMMA WEBB
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The Independent Culture
The pop singer Gary Numan (originally Gary Webb) was born in west London in 1958. In 1979 he and his band Tubeway Army had their first major chart success, 'Are Friends Electric'; he went on, as a solo artist, to produced the classic hit 'Cars' and two No 1 albums. Earlier this year a tribute LP recorded by a whole slew of Nineties bands paid homage to his role as the forefather of modern electronic dance music. He is also a keen pilot, and collects war planes. Gemma Webb, 29, nee Gemma O'Neill, has been one of Gary Numan's keenest fans since her days at secondary school in Sidcup, Kent - even staying loyal after finishing her education and starting work as a technical officer with British Telecom. She married Gary in August this year

GEMMA WEBB: My big brother Shane was always buying albums. One day I went past his bedroom and saw the back cover of Gary's first Tubeway Army album. I thought, "I like the look of that bloke", so I took the album, started playing it - and I was hooked. I was a huge music fan: him, Toyah, and Siouxsie and the Banshees were my people.

I was 11 and it started as a schoolgirl crush - a big crush. You know, when you're at that age. I first met Gary around my twelfth birthday. My dad worked at Warner Bros, which the Beggar's Banquet label belonged to, and he arranged for me to meet Gary and get a single autographed. I was completely overcome, I couldn't talk - I was crying, and I told him I really loved him.

In the year when I was 14 and choosing O-levels we had a careers talk at school. Me and my friend were the class clowns. She loved David Bowie the same way I did Gary. The teacher went round the class saying, "What do you want to do when you leave?", and we said, "We don't need jobs, we're going to marry Gary Numan and David Bowie." And we were promptly sent out of the room.

As I got older, I started going to the concerts and Gary Numan conventions, but I didn't meet him again properly until about 1986. He was having a birthday disco in Wembley; I had my first photo with him done then. After that it was a bit easier. If you went to the airshows and stayed near his aeroplane he'd walk past. I'd ask for an autograph, or a photo, and I was always very polite - never obsessive or weird. I'd get a little bit embarrassed, keeping on asking. But he knew my name by 1988 - he'd seen me so often, he just knew who to sign the autographs to, I was really happy about that.

Every year when the concerts came round Gary would see me in the front row - I'd talk to him whenever I saw him. Then my mum got ill, in 1992, and I didn't go any more. Gary wondered why I hadn't been around, and found out from his mum, who runs his fan club, that my mum had died. And he rang me to see how I was! I didn't believe it was him. I dropped everything, and my dad came running in to see what the bang was. Gary asked me to go out for the day with him, just to feel better, and I said, "I'd love to, if you're really him." I arranged to meet him at Sidcup station, and I asked my dad to go with me in case it was a weird person. When I saw him in the car, I said to my dad, "Go home!" It's a shame it all started out of such horrible circumstances, my mum would have just loved it.

That day was really cute. We went off in his car, drove up to Shropshire, stopped at a Little Chef for something to eat, it was all really normal and nice. I was so clumsy, I spilt tea on his mobile phone, and spilt dinner down myself - I remember cutting something on the plate and half of it went into my lap, and I was just, "Oh, nooo." Then he took me home, and I was really hoping he'd ring again.

We started seeing each other, just as friends, for a while. I think we went to a dry ski-slope the second time, and on drives out and about and back home again. I thought, "I'll just take each day as it comes", but the schoolgirl crush turned quite quickly into real feelings. I kept my feet firmly on the ground, though - I remember thinking, "This is really, really nice, he's really, really friendly, and it's lovely, but if it stops tomorrow I'm going to be all right about it."

We didn't get serious for nine or 10 months. He had been going out with his former girlfriend for a long time, it was a troubled relationship, and it finished. I would never have done anything anyway, even if he'd tried, but he didn't. We got to know each other as mates first and that's the most important thing. We're best mates now, and that's come from knowing each other first without any sexual thing, although we eventually started going out together properly and it was brilliant. We moved in together in 1994.

I honestly couldn't have wished for a better boyfriend if it had been Joe Bloggs next door or whoever. We do things we like. We go to a lot of concerts and we both love films and videos - we like homey things, days out, trips around. We're really happy and lucky. Getting married hasn't changed things, apart from little things: you think, "I'm married now, it's really nice." My dad looked really chuffed and tearful at the wedding, he was really happy. He didn't care about the pop star thing at all, he just cared about it being the right partner for me. Gary is really bright and intelligent, and my dad loves that. He's happy that I'm happy and that Gary is taking care of me.

GARY NUMAN: I don't remember the first time we met. Gemma was about 11, and apparently her dad had arranged it, and she cried, but I have no memory of it at all.

At the time I was doing the usual pop star sort of things - concerts and television all over the world. I had quite a bit of money, so I had lots of toys, a big house, I was living the life. Gemma was one of the first of the fans I was aware of. I knew her name early on, and if she was ever there I always made sure she got her picture or whatever, because I liked her - but in a very distant way to start with. She's always had a lovely face, but it was the way she behaved that made her stand out from everybody else. No disrespect to all the other fans, but Gemma had an air about her, she just stood out. She wasn't cheap, she wasn't pushy. She wasn't someone who wanted to get to you at any cost and do stuff with you at any cost, all that stuff that goes on. Her personality was very genuine and I always had time for her.

We only really started getting to know each other in the early Nineties. Her mum was dying and she was upset, and it was the first time we'd ever really sat down and talked. She felt really guilty for being at the concert, even though her dad had told her to go, and I was just trying to make her feel better about it; I didn't feel I was very qualified to do it, I'd never had anyone close to me die. Funny old way to start, actually, out of tragedy. But I got to know her a bit better even though it was sad, and she was genuinely lovely as a person. She has the most remarkable personality I've ever known in anyone. I've met all kinds of bizarre and interesting people from all over the world, all trying to impress you with how weird and wonderful they are, and she stands head and shoulders above them all without even trying. She's so modest, but she's larger than life.

I felt really sorry for her, and it was a few months after that that I rang her up to see how she was, because I'd heard that her mum had died. And that's how it all started. I just invited her to go along on this radio interview. My relationship was over, give or take a week, and that was horrible. I was fed up about things too, so we kind of fell towards each other. At the end of that day I really started to like her.

It was about a year before I started thinking in terms of a relationship. I'd been with my previous girlfriend for nine years and the last half of it had been pretty grim. I accept that the majority of it was probably my fault but it was still horrible. After this long relationship I didn't want to see one person exclusively, I felt too old to run the risk of another nine years with the wrong person. So I told her I didn't want an exclusive relationship, and if she was prepared to carry on seeing me on those terms, fine. I wasn't trying to have my cake and eat it, if she hadn't wanted to do it we wouldn't have done it. It didn't take long for me to decide she was the one, and I didn't see that many other people anyway.

She's changed me a lot. I'm much nicer now than I used to be, though I've got a long way to go. She mustn't change one bit; all of the changing has to come from me. I think she's perfect - not just with me, but with the friends around her, her family, my family.

I have lots of unfortunate character traits which I work very hard to improve, so I can be worthy of her. I'm not being soft or sentimental, I genuinely believe it. I am not the nicest person at times and I'm trying to minimise those times. There's a lot of pressure on me and I have to learn to handle it better, in a way that bothers the people that should be bothered by it and not those that shouldn't be bothered by it. I tend to live with my heart in my face, if I'm grumpy everyone gets it, and Gemma shouldn't get a moment's grief because of work. There's a whole load of things like that, my abruptness, my lack of patience - well, there's a long list. But I'm doing better, I'm a much nicer person, everyone says so.

It's hard to say why we got married. The only way to describe it is to say it was close to a need, I needed to be married to her. It wasn't because of children, or because of family pressures. But I'm really proud of it. The only thing I regret now is not being with her before. I think I would have had a much, much happier life and been a much better person and possibly a lot more successful - she helps me in my work like no one else has ever done. I'm 39 now, so if I'm lucky I'm halfway through my life, and if I'm unlucky I'm a lot bloody closer to dying than that, and all that time has been wasted. !

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