Nancy Berry: She enjoys the rock'n'roll lifestyle. The trouble is she works in rock'n'roll

The departure from EMI of top executive Ken Berry has led to the demonising of his wife, Nancy. But what is she supposed to have done wrong?
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The Independent Online

Unlike most 42-year-old women, Nancy Berry dares to be brazenly sexy in the office. But then, she is beautiful. With her raven hair and dark eyes, she resembles a modern-day Christine Keeler. And she is clearly comfortable holding meetings barefoot, seductively dressed and oozing sex appeal.

Ms Berry is a senior executive at EMI, although for how much longer is unclear. In the past week, she has taken much of the blame for the dismissal of her estranged husband, Ken Berry, as the powerful chief executive of EMI's recorded music division. The ousting of Mr Berry has led to the demonising of his wife for her self-indulgent, rock chick lifestyle – which is constantly referred to as "her behaviour", as though nobody else "behaves".

The Daily Mail alleged that Mr Berry, who earned £3m last year, was "distracted by the behaviour of his wife", in particular the very public reports that she was unprofessionally close to recording artists such as Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails and Jim Kerr of Simple Minds. The insinuation was that she was slightly out of control.

Hang on though. Wasn't Ms Berry playing out a well-defined role, in its way as traditional as Doris Day, in which male egos are flattered by the fluttering of female eyelashes? According to the stereotypes, such behaviour (although in a raunchier form) is as much expected of a rock chick in the music business as it was of a fragrant 1950s Hollywood housewife.

Annie Nightingale, a veteran Radio 1 disc jockey, contends that the industry relies on the likes of Ms Berry, albeit at a more junior level. "Women have been running the music business for ages," she says. "They dress up; go to gigs. They go backstage and say 'you were wonderful' to the bands. Maybe some of them have affairs with the artists, and maybe some regard that as a perk of the job."

Sasha Taylor-Cox of Slice, a music publicity company, agrees: "You live the life of rock stars. You're with them all the time. You fly around the world and you party." The downside for such women, and for Ms Berry, is that the lifestyle is as relentless, demanding and emotionally draining as it is, supposedly, glamorous. In Ms Taylor-Cox's experience, you find yourself "dipping into the rock stars' lives and then going back to your little basement flat in Kensal Green. Rock stars can lie in the next morning, but you have to go back to the office." She admits that, at the age of 32, she is wondering whether she really wants to do it any more.

Ms Berry is different from many in the music business in that, as a true sassy rock chick, she was a late developer – taking up the lifestyle 10 or 20 years later than most. At the beginning of her career she was known more for simple hard graft than outrageous behaviour.

An American from Detroit, she first met Ken Berry at the age of 19 when he was in New York establishing a US office for Richard Branson's Virgin label and she was working in a record store. They started living together, and she became his secretary at Virgin. After a slow start, the pair began to make an impact in the States, signing Paula Abdul and UB40 and launching Virgin Records America in LA. In 1991, Mr Berry paid the Rolling Stones $42m (£29m) to join Virgin.

The next year, the Berrys became hugely wealthy when Virgin Records was sold to EMI for £560m. "We're all very, very sad," Mr Berry said at the time. "But some of us are also very, very rich." His cut was estimated at £25m.

Throughout the 1990s, the Berrys' stars rose ever higher in the firmament: industry bible Billboard magazine even declared Ms Berry "the Hillary Clinton of the global recording business".

It was during this time that Nancy started to live the rock life. "Her behaviour, which is now much commented on, was not remotely part of her make-up in the Eighties and early Nineties, when everyone else was having a good time," says a colleague. "As her status and career have grown, she has acquired the confidence to do stuff she didn't do earlier. She seems to be making up for lost time."

In 1996, her new image was confirmed when the Daily Mirror named her the "other woman" in a marital split between actress Patsy Kensit and Jim Kerr.

The Berrys called the article "ludicrous, just gossip", and Nancy said: "I don't have sexual relationships with artists. I have friendships with artists." But evenForbes magazine branded her a "groupie turned executive", adding that "her relationships with many performers – well let's say they're unusually close." In 1997, David Bowie declared her "a real rock'n'roll girl".

By taking up her racy ways at a relatively late and elevated stage of her career, Ms Berry was vulnerable to more attacks than most in a business known for backstabbing and malicious gossip. As one friend puts it: "The more she exposes herself, the more exposed she's become." Hence the jibes that she was responsible for her husband's demise at EMI.

They seem unfair. Although Mr Berry controversially made her his deputy in 1997, it was he, by all accounts, who retained power at the top of the company, where he presided over a series of blunders. The latest and most conspicuous was the £50m signing of Mariah Carey in April – described by one industry exec as "one of the biggest deal disasters ever", which quickly went sour when the star suffered an emotional and physical breakdown. An industry executive says the deal was "pure Ken", and yet Ms Berry has been blamed for it. It was Mr Berry, not his wife, who was deemed responsible for the company's failure to grow in America and who was associated with the collapse in value of EMI from £10bn only a year ago to £1.9bn now.

Not that anyone should feel too sorry for him: after 25 years in the business, he retains a reputation as one of the best music executives Britain has ever produced. And he has walked away from EMI with a £5m payoff.

Ms Berry is less fortunate. While she has been catching up with the traditional rock music lifestyles of the Eighties, the business in the 21st century has become an entirely different affair – more corporate, more professional and far greyer than it once was.

"Very late in the day, she is trying to be a star in her own right," says a colleague. "It is as if she sees herself as someone like Elton John." Naively, perhaps, Ms Berry has hired the Beckhams' publicity agent, Alan Edwards, to promote her.

But the world is not like that any more. These days, top music professionals are more likely to discuss brands than bands, and visit more offices than gigs. One senior executive confesses that: "I can't wait to do something where I enjoy my job again, and can live for the music."

A bloodbath is expected over the next year at ailing EMI, with massive restructuring likely. Most would be surprised if Ms Berry survives, as she is a symbol of another age. "She does work hard, and doesn't have much of a life outside work," says a friend. "She is very capable. But her style is old-fashioned now." The fact is that, despite Ms Berry's admirable efforts, rock chicks are on the way out.