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A night for Lethal Lisa, big momma of the Brits

Plummy voice, size 18 and a match for Michael Jackson's choreographers. David Lister meets the woman who brought the awards global recognition
  • @davidlister1
When Jonathan King sends round robins to key figures in the music industry complaining about vote-rigging at the Brit awards, a constant target of the barbs in his highly entertaining missives is a woman he calls Lethal Anderson.

For Lethal read Lisa. She can be lethal and had to be last year when Jarvis Cocker took the michael out of Michael Jackson. Jacko's choreographers, far more burly than choreographers have a right to be, tried in choreographic parlance to land him one. Cocker attempted to flee the building. Choreographers gave chase. Lisa Anderson weighed in and kept the warring artistes apart.

The Brit awards tonight will not just celebrate the best of British pop. They will also make pounds 300,000 profit for the Brit School for young musicians and be televised across Britain and America. Anderson can take a lot of the credit for that success, yet outside the record industry she is almost unknown.

She was the first woman to head a record company when she became managing director of RCA in 1989. When she was sacked after some internal politicking, the major record labels asked her to replace the ubiquitous Jonathan King and become executive producer of The Brits.

After six years of Anderson, the Brits is now an internationally known brand name, the voting structure has been democratised, it brings in pounds 300,000 a year, compared with the pounds 10,000 it made in 1990, is televised across the UK and America, and is the rock event of the year. She switched the television contract from the BBC which didn't pay, to independent television, which did, and had the brochure magazine sold in 2,500 shops.

Last year's Jarvis v Jackson spectacle was probably one of its greatest moments. How did she deal with it? "I'm a big woman with an imposing voice," she explains. Which is probably more than enough to frighten Michael Jackson.

Actually, while she does harp on about her size rather, Anderson does not come across as big at all, more like the elegant but perky 45-year- old mother that she is. "Oh, come on," she chortles, shaking her black curls, "how can you be elegant and a size 18? And I'm wearing a vest."

The vest can be put down to living in a 15th century Kent mansion with David Campbell, former manager of UB40, currently house-husband, and their children Hereward ("yes, he loves the name") and Hannah.

The children are deprived of only one adolescent prerequisite. Mum tends to rave about the latest bands even before they do. "It's a bit of a problem for me. Your first rebellion is finding a piece of music and you hope your parents don't like it. But I like the same music as my kids."

With a plummy voice and hearty, infectious laugh, she does not always sound like a music industry person. She certainly does not talk like the woman whose duties have included marketing the Sex Pistols.

"I know," she acknowledges, "when I came in to the industry 20 years or so ago everyone still found it necessary to speak like David Bailey. But I just couldn't be bothered with all that. I talk posh. I'm middle class. That's the way I am. I'm not going to disguise it."

She did make one pledge. "I made a decision not to suffer from guilt about leaving the children or from jet lag."

Is it a sexist business, I wondered? She rolled back in her chair with a characteristic guffaw and waved her hands aloft. "Oh, yes, oh yes, oh yes", affirmations delivered as a crescendo.

Perhaps she was thinking of the sales conferences she had to attend preceded by the statutory soft porn videos. "They would say to me, `Where's your sense of humour?' I said, `Evidently not in my cock.' It's like a club. It's all geared to going into a clan, into a posse. And generally speaking women don't do posse. Someone said that in the music biz either you are a babe or an ersatz boy, unless you're over 35 in which case you're an old dog. It's so true.

"During my record company years it was going on all around, lots of bonking on sofas and other extra-curricular activities. But I never got involved in all that. When Richard Branson tried to throw me in the swimming pool, I simply glared at him and said, `No, Richard. I've been to public school. I've done all that, been there. Don't.'"