THE HESTER LACEY INTERVIEW: GARY GLITTER
Plenty of rock'n'roll on stage, less of it off - that's what's kept the grandfather of glam rock on glittering form. And yes, the quiff's still real
Sunday 24 November 1996
On the table there is a bowl of bananas, tangerines, apples and grapes, hastily assembled by a PR minion just before his arrival. He ignores it totally, of course; Gary Glitter in full fig would not pause to nibble daintily on a piece of fruit, at least not in public. But his booze and drugs days, he says, are long over. "There's nothing better than a 10 or 15-mile bike ride. You just feel so good," he roars enthusiastically. "That's how I keep fit. Plenty of rock'n'roll on stage, and less of it off. I don't drink, I don't do drugs. I don't need it. I'm as high as a kite after a good bike ride, I can tell you. And, you know, that's it, really. It's taken me years to come to it, but that's where I'm at."
Fit he may be. Certainly he doesn't hesitate to leap up and do a few microphone-whirling motions, to demonstrate how he (accidentally) knocked out Roger Daltrey during rehearsals for the Prince's Trust concert in Hyde Park earlier this year. But is there any truth in the vicious and abiding rumours that in fact under the quiff he is a bit of a chrome-dome? "It's absolutely not true," he insists. "Let's say, I have some fashion accessories that enable me to look as good as I possibly can, and this is the way I like to look." Close-up he is wearing foundation and powder, and the permanently surprised eyebrows have been helped with pencil. His make-up lady, his constant companion, zooms in to powder his nose at intervals. But if the quiff is a complete fake, it's been cunningly made to include realistic streaks of grey.
He is working on a new album, to be released early next year, and tomorrow his first single in years comes out - his first ever cover version, "House of the Rising Sun". "We've completely changed it, we've given it the Glitter stomp," he says jubilantly (it's true the 10 choruses of "Yeh, oh yeh, oh yeh, oh yeeeh. Yeh, oh yeh, oh yeh" pretty much transform the old Animals hit). And at the age of 52, he is girding his loins for yet another Christmas tour - his eighth or ninth, he can't remember. The Who's In The Gang? shows kick off in Newcastle on 7 December. Is he getting a bit long-in- the-tooth for such shenanigans? "I have a love-hate relationship with going on the stage. When I'm on that stage, I absolutely adore it. Once I'm out there, it feels like home," he says. "The minute I walk in to the place, I want to get up there, but then you have to go through the process of getting ready and everything else, so I feel like a bit like a caged animal." Not, these days, a panther, it must be said; probably something more like a bear.
He was born in Oxfordshire, now lives in Somerset, and says he is still "very much a country boy at heart". Part of his childhood was spent in a childrens' home. "My mother was an unmarried mother, and in those days, society didn't accommodate it very well. But she did her best for us. I've got a younger brother, probably my closest friend, and we get on really great. And I adore my mother, she's 83 now. We talk about our aches and pains together."
He knew early on that he wanted to be a performer. "Every Christmas, we used to have a family fancy dress party, and none of us were allowed into that party unless we dressed up in crazy clothes. So that's where the dressing-up comes from. And then my uncle John used to sing. He was a prisoner of war in a Japanese camp, he had come home via America, and he'd picked up a load of country blues songs. All the women in the family used to absolutely adore Uncle John, I think part of that rubbed off on me, I just wanted to be adored by all the women."
He made his first record in 1959, when he was still at school. "My real name is Paul Gadd and Decca Records changed it to Paul Raven, because they thought it would be more glamorous. I thought `well, okay' - all I wanted to do was have my name on the record, so I could go to school and to see if I could get to first base with some of the girls around there. That's all I ever wanted to do. After that, I was Paul Raven for quite a few years. I was in Germany from 1964 to 1970 as Paul Raven and I earned a really good living in the clubs in Europe and Germany."
But his British career really took off with glam-rock in the Seventies, in his most famous incarnation. "We were always playing around with new names - Terry Tinsel, Horace Hydrogen, Vicky Vomit. When we wrote ``Rock and Roll Parts One and Two'', Mike Leander, my co-writer, said, `We need a new name'. Somebody had sent me an Yves Saint Laurent diamante star - even people who couldn't get into full glam would wear a little diamante star, and I'd got one really early on. I said, `Well somebody sent me a Gary Glitter star here,' and Mike said, `That's the name'. I said, `No way! I'm not going through my career with the name Gary Glitter. Are you crazy?' He said, `It's you'. So that's how that came about."
He made a lot of money, drank a lot, took a lot of drugs, and eventually went bankrupt, while touring in New Zealand with The Rocky Horror Show. He then went walkabout in Australia ("the longest holiday I've ever had"); then one of his former tour managers booked him a few dates. "I got a gig at the Camden Palace - it was during the punk period, people gobbing at you, horrendous. By the time it was over, I'd just worked out how to combat that fashion. We were going to put two giant fans on stage and every time they decided to gob, they'd get it straight back in their mouth," he says fastidiously. Then he ended up playing the university circuit, "over and over and over again" - and unexpectedly, he caught on in a big way. "It was fabulous. Tickets would sell out in an hour. It started out as a bit of nostalgia, and it went beyond nostalgia, everybody really got into it, and honestly, that's what gave me my comeback." And now he packs out Wembley Arena, and has the time and money to devote to his beloved sailing - this year he bought his first yacht. Will he ever think of retiring? "No. Why should I? I do sometimes think, `Well, I don't know, maybe I'm getting a little bit older', heaven forbid, but that's when I'm being Paul Gadd. He's 53 coming up, but, Gary Glitter is, of course 27-and-three-quarters forever." Paul Gadd, he says, is always with him. "I have to keep Paul Gadd, in order to keep my sanity, because Gary Glitter is far bigger than me."
While Gary will always be a free-and-easy bachelor, Paul Gadd married and divorced young. "My son Paul is now about 32, and we're like brothers, really. At the moment, he's sailing quite a bit, and when he was much younger, we used to go fishing together. We've always managed to find something we can relate to without sort of killing each other, because it is always not easy being a parent. For some unknown reason, I can get on with everybody else's kids, but we always have these moments - I don't know, it's probably because I say to him, `Don't put your feet up on the settee' or something ridiculous".
He thinks he would make an excellent grandfather. "My brother's a grandad, and he said `It's the best moment of your life. When you're a father, you've never got the time to bring up your children, and when you're a grandfather, when you spend the time with the grandchildren, it's pure quality time'. So, I'm looking for that quality."
Awwww. So do we want to be in his gang? Yes, we probably do. Oh yeh.
The nationwide Who's In The Gang tour starts 7 December. See local press for details.
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