How We Met: Chrissie Hynde & Marie France

'We lived in an apartment – no furniture, no TV, no phone, and everyone slept on the floor'

Chrissie Hynde, 60

The lead singer, guitarist and songwriter for rock group the Pretenders, Hynde (left in picture) has also collaborated with several international stars through her career. She is a spokesperson for animal rights group Peta and lives in London.

About 35 years ago, I was living in London and met some guy on the street, who was French. A few months later, I got a call [from him] asking whether I'd sing in a band in Paris. I said I'd be right over, and I went. The other singer [in the band] was living in an apartment with a big cabaret star named Sabrina, and they let me stay with them.

The apartment was very exotic – no furniture, no TV, no phone, and everyone slept on the floor, but I thought it was the best thing that had happened to me, as I had nothing. We started a little band and through Sabrina I met all the people at Alcazar [a music hall in the Latin Quarter] – and Marie was there.

I was in Paris for six months, and it was a very colourful, amazing time for me, but then I left [in 1976] for London just before punk got started. I was absorbed back into the lifestyle there and never saw anyone from Paris again really.

It was in 2000 that I came back to Paris, as I wanted to find a little place to live. The estate agent took me to this little place and I walked in, and the woman there was a photographer, Louise Maisons, and she said, "I recognise you." We started talking and when I was talking about my time in France, she said, "You must know Marie France." I went, "Yeah but I haven't seen her for 30 years."

And, voilâ, we were reintroduced. Since then we've sung together and we see each other all the time. We like to sit in the streets and have coffee. We see guys in white vans, plumbers etc, and we're like, ooh-la-la.

We're also the only two vegetarians in France! We're still waiting for things to change in Paris – and France – as it's not really animal-rights-friendly here.

Marie's been a huge influence on me. You'd never know it by looking at me, but in my mind I have a sense of glamour, which I would never have had without her, because I'm just from Ohio. I'm from a mall culture and I know I still dress that way – but being around Marie, I've got this other sense, of what's glamorous. You can't buy that in the shops.

Marie France, 66

Algerian-born France had a sex change when she arrived in Paris in the 1960s. She became famous as an iconic cabaret singer and gay-rights activist and also pursued an acting career in theatre and film. She was made a Knight of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres last year. She lives in Paris.

I met Chrissie when we were in our twenties. We were living at a friend's, Sabrina, who later became Sabrino, and I met Chrissie at his place. We were living in that flat like family.

There are so many stories from those times together. I remember one time at Sabrina's, I don't know if a boy had made Chrissie cry or something, but she was sad. I went to her, she was lying on the sofa, crying a little. I said, "Baby, don't you cry." And she smiled. Whenever a boy made her sad, I'd say, "Stop that. You can't be like that about a boy," and we would have a laugh about it.

Then she left and I lost track of Chrissie for a while, though I saw her on the charts and all over the place. She was an international rock star and it was very exciting, but we didn't meet again until about 2000.There was one time in Alcazar, this big cabaret in Paris, in 1986, I think. Sabrina said, "You know what, I went to see Chrissie at the Zenith." I said, "No way, you saw Chrissie? And he said, "Yes, I saw Chrissie, she hasn't changed, she's always the same." And it's true, we stayed very much the same.

Now [when we meet] we have the past to share. And we are both vegetarians – we love animals and we fight for them. There aren't many vegetarian restaurants in Paris. But we are big admirers of Brigitte Bardot [who is a spokesperson for animal rights]. She has been a hero of ours for many, many years. She had an exhibition that Chrissie and I went to in Paris. Brigitte didn't even bother to go. To her own exhibition. We love that about her. Chrissie always says that she is more rock'n'roll than anyone. For one of my albums, [the French illustrators/ photographers] Pierre et Gilles worked on the album cover. [Chrissie and I] sent it to Brigitte Bardot and then she wrote to me. A really lovely letter. She called me, "My beautiful mirror".

I've been inspired by Chrissie. We like clothes, we like music, we like walks in the park, we like friends, we like parties. Sometimes, not often.

Now [my dog] Lili has a passport, we have gone to London with her, seeing Clapham, where she used to live. In the future maybe we can do more; maybe travel around the world...

The duet 'Un Garçon qui Pleure' by Hynde and France features on Benjamin Schoos' album 'China Man vs China Girl', which is out now on Freaksville

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