FALLEN IDOLS
Adelle and Alistair were once the biggest things in the music business in South Africa, when that country was culturally isolated. Adelle topped the bill at the Swazi Spa in Swaziland; Alistair and his band, the Helicopters, filled stadiums with screaming fans. In the days before change. Now they live in Sheffield, Alistair's home town, in a little terraced house, dreaming of the pool and the Porsche and the life that has gone forever.

Adelle was born in South Africa. "My mother was registered 'coloured', so I was - it was as simple as that," she says. "I've always thought that I looked white. Some of my ancestors came from Mauritius, I think. To be honest, I'm not very sure where they are from. What I do know is that white South Africans would take one look at me and could tell immediately that I was coloured. I've been kicked off park benches and out of trains. 'Get off, you stupid bushman,' they would say to me. We probably suffered more than the blacks. "

Adelle was discovered singing at her gran's funeral. She says she was the first coloured female singer on television in South Africa, so she became "Adelle First". Her manager persuaded her that if she didn't change her surname from Fourie, the coloured people would think that she was an Afrikaner. In 1980, at 17, she recorded "God Bless Africa". It went to number one on six black radio stations. "I was the only happening thing in South Africa. I was the baby of the non-white press - the Sowetan, the Swazi Weekend Observer, the Drum. I toured Lesotho, Swaziland, Transkeii, Botswana. I was on TV. Basically, I was a superstar."

Alistair is Sheffield born and bred, and went to Sun City in South Africa with his group Radiation in 1985. "It was loads of money for walking on stage and not doing very much. I had no qualms, I was a musician. What did I know about politics? Loads of people said to me, 'You can't go to a country like that.' But don't forget, I was the only white person in a lot of black bands in Britain. To be honest, the situation there didn't mean a great deal to me. I loved the place."

Alistair has a broad Sheffield accent with, every now and again, a sort of mid-Atlantic twang. "The music biz over there was wide open at the time. They were 50 years behind the times. I went over there and just cleaned up. They hadn't got to grips with all the hype, all the marketing and stuff that we took for granted in England. I just pulled all the strokes that you do every day of the week in England."

The mid-Atlantic twang was growing more noticeable and he gave a long, hard pull on his cigarette. "Over there, they would just make a record and send a hundred copies out to DJs and sit back and wait. We'd go around supermarket chains, signing autographs. All of a sudden, South Africa had some superstars that were behaving like superstars. We played to 50,000 people in open-air gigs. We were the biggest rock group in the history of South Africa."

Alistair has put on a bit of weight since returning from South Africa: the sparkling blue eyes have dulled a little. But they shone as he recalled how things were. "I had a box full of panties and bras that chicks had thrown at me on stage. We used to create the whole hysteria thing. I suppose we were a bit raunchy. South Africa was deprived of our kind of performance at the time."

Alistair and Adelle met when Adelle recorded an advertising jingle for him. "Alistair didn't like me at first. He thought that I was basically a jumped-up superstar." I asked innocently which of them was the bigger superstar at the time. They started to argue about it. But, for all the success, there was a shadow over their life together; for they lived in a white area of Johannesburg, in constant fear because of Adelle's coloured status. "We had the house burgled," said Alistair, "and Adelle was very scared when we had to call the police, because this was not an area for 'coloureds'. The only advantage we had was that we were superstars, so they didn't touch us."

Then Adelle had a baby, Samantha. "Samantha had to be registered at the Department of the Interior, and she had to be registered as 'coloured'," explained Adelle. "We wanted to register her as 'white', which is what she looked, or 'British'. But they said that this was impossible. I knew what it was like to be brought up as a second-class citizen. I didn't want the same thing for her."

So they left South Africa for Sheffield. "For six months, I didn't go out of the door," said Adelle. "I was very depressed. We took our last 13 grand out with us. We didn't work for the first 18 months, and we couldn't claim the dole. I couldn't believe what we had descended to. Al suggested that we should do working men's clubs. I couldn't believe it. Al had to hassle me to go back to work. We were nobody and nothing."

Alistair took up the story. "I put a show together, with me on keyboards and Adelle singing. I went out and bought a little van. Adelle couldn't grasp the concept of a working men's club. She was used to five-star hotels. She wasn't even used to carrying her own microphone. When we got to our first club, this beer-bellied old guy said to her, 'Art tha' t' turn, cock?' She thought he was being obscene. But we've had to stick at it, and now we've got quite a big following in Hull and Cleethorpes."

Meanwhile, South Africa has been transformed - but Adelle sees the changes a little differently to everyone else. "There used to be signs saying, whites only, now there are signs saying blacks only. The TV and the entertainments business are dominated by blacks now. And coloureds like me are still left out in the cold," she said.

"Even if you were a superstar," added Alistair, "once."

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