The day Simon Le Bon came round to my house

My ex-husband said that, if I told the story of my time with Duran Duran, no one would believe me. Luckily I have pictures to illustrate it! This story appeared in the Guardian in 2014 – but here are more details.

I was an obsessive Duran Duran fan – I just loved the music so much. It inspired me to want to become a singer-songwriter. So when I had to leave school in 1996, aged 16, and the deputy head told me I’d have to work out what to do with my life now, I replied ‘I know what I’m going to do. I’m going to go and find Duran Duran.’

I found out where the band were recording, thanks to a fellow fan I knew called Mandy, and started hanging out outside the studios. One day, Simon Le Bon turned up on his motorbike. We became friends, bonding over the fact that we both came from Pinner.

He said ‘I’d like to go back to Pinner sometime.’ He took my home telephone number (I didn’t have a mobile back then – neither did most people). The next day, he phoned me up and, to my utter disbelief, asked if he could come round.

Simon arrived at my house on Friday 7th March 1997 (yeah, it was 22 years ago, but it’s the sort of thing you remember when you’re a massive Duran Duran fan!). I was in raptures. He was riding his motorbike, was dressed all in leathers, and had brought along a spare helmet for me. The bike ride we would go on that day was one of the most thrilling experiences of my life – but before that, he would come into my house for about an hour.

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I made him a cup of tea. He sat at our kitchen table, picked up my guitar and played me a song he’d written, ‘Already Gone’. It was beautiful and delicate, but he said that Warren – Duran Duran’s guitarist at the time – said it sounded too much like ‘Wonderwall’, so the band weren’t going to use it. It didn’t sound like ‘Wonderwall’ to me, though it had a similar chord progression – but how many songs have the same chord progression as others? Millions. It’s a real shame that it was never released, because it has the loveliest melody.

My dad wandered into the kitchen and said hello to Simon. He seemed to take it for granted that a major rock star was sitting in his house drinking tea! Though my dad didn’t know anything about pop music, so he probably didn’t realise what a big deal it was. At the time, he had a massive black eye from an operation. After he’d left the kitchen, I apologised to Simon for his slightly frightening appearance, as my dad looked as though he’d been in a pub fight. Simon shook his head and said, ‘He looks cool, like a boxer!’

Then he asked if I owned a cassette player. I did, and he got a tape out of his leather biker jacket pocket and played me the band’s newest track, ‘Electric Barbarella’. I love electropop, though the lyrics and video are pretty unreconstructed (but that’s ’80s pop stars for you).

We went up to my bedroom so I could play Simon a song on my Casio keyboard, though I was extremely embarrassed about all the Duran Duran posters all over the room. In fairness, I was a teenage girl though – and what superfan doesn’t have posters of their favourite band all over their walls?

Later, as we were leaving the house, Simon stopped by a map of ancient Persia by the front door, and asked about my origins. I explained that I was half-Parsi Zoroastrian, and he seemed fascinated.

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I was so scared about getting on his motorbike. I’ve always been physically risk-averse, but I rationalised, ‘If I have to die, there’s no better way than this.’ I held on so tightly to his leathers around his waist, I’m surprised Simon didn’t loosen my grip as it must have been painful! We zoomed up to Croxley Green, where my first boyfriend lived. I will never forget his jaw dropping open as he saw us riding up his road on the bike (a top-of-the-range bright red Ducati 888).

Simon came round again a week later, so I could play him a reworked version of ‘Already Gone’, but didn’t stay for long.

Those days are in the few sweet memories from my childhood, and I will always be grateful to Simon for making my troubled teenage life so special.

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This post has been made possible by my awesome Patreon supporters Peter Weilgony, Ricky Steer, Marc Alexander, Sammy and Jelly, Charlie Brooker, Mary and Tim Fowler, Steve Richards, Alan Brookland, Mark Ormandy, Oliver Vass, Keith Bell, John Fleming, Mark Bailey, Rebekah Bennetch, Matthew Sylvester, Brian Engler, Jack Scanlan, Aragorn Strider, Lucy Spencer, Dave Nattriss, MusicalComedyGuide.com, Mark White, Dave Cross, Graham Nunn, David Conrad, Rob Turner, Shane Jarvis, Emily Hill and Marcus P Knight.

If you enjoyed this blog, please check out my songs at arianexmusic.com and support me on Patreon from just £1 a month, and you’ll get to read a lot more of my writing.

What it’s really like appearing on the radio

After I blogged about what it’s like doing live telly, lovely Twitter follower @mrjacktanner asked if doing live radio is different:

So here’s the answer: in my view, doing live radio is far easier than doing live telly, because no one can see you. You could literally be scratching your arse throughout the whole segment and no one would know. Of course, as it’s live, there’s always the chance that you’ll inadvertently say something stupid, which can give rise to nerves.

If I’m at the end of a phone line or alone in a separate studio (and not actually in the studio with the presenter), I generally get around this fear by writing down exactly what I’m going to say – or, at least, having a few pages of notes in front of me, because you can never predict exactly what questions you’re going to be asked. If I’m in the studio with the presenter, then I don’t take in the notes – I just prepare and rehearse beforehand and hope what I’m saying makes sense.

There’s not really much in the way of rigmarole when it comes to doing radio – you enter the studio quietly, making sure your phone is on silent, sit down at the desk, put your bag underneath it, put the headphones on and come close to the mic. Make sure you have some water nearby in case you have a coughing fit. If it’s before the show or the adverts are on or some music, the presenter will greet you; if not and they’re talking, they’ll just nod and smile at you. Your view of them can be blocked by monitors or mics, but you should be able to wheel your chair around for a better view.

I’ve done lots of radio in my pants on the end of a phone line (LBC in particular have lots of phone-in guests) and have also done radio in a studio by myself. It’s much more fun and glamorous when you’re in the studio with the presenter though. The last time was a couple of weeks ago on BBC Asian Network with Mobeen, talking about my experiences of cyberflashing and what we can do about it. It was the hottest day of the year and the New Broadcasting House studio was air-conditioned, which was very pleasant indeed!

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Generally, radio is a lot more low-stakes because of the lack of visuals and the lack of budgets. At my level, you rarely get paid for radio appearances, and nor do you get taxis. (It’s ironic that the more successful you are and the more money you have, the more you get!). During the Atheist Bus Campaign, I was asked to appear on a popular radio station halfway across town, and a celebrity friend suggested I ask the producer for a taxi. So I did, and was met with the coldly-asked question: ‘Do you have mobility issues?’ That put me in my place!

Another time, I was asked to do a few drafts of a page-long radio script and then come into a central London studio and read it out – so a day’s work, in effect. The princely sum I received? £66!

At the same time, radio can be a lot of fun. One of my favourite memories is appearing on Talk Radio’s The Ian Collins Show back in summer 2009, which basically entailed two hours of on-air flirting with Ian. I managed to relax, and the result was lots of witty repartee. We actually met up a few weeks after that, but by then I was dating Lily’s dad (though she was only a twinkle in his eye at that stage).

I was also interviewed about the Atheist Bus Campaign by George Galloway on Talk Radio in 2009. He was quite nice, despite not hiding the fact that he was a believer, and finished the interview by saying in his Scottish lilt, ‘Ariane, I hope you see the light very soon!’. I was going to make a quip about there being a lamp post outside, but I didn’t.

My most starry radio appearance was on Radio 4’s Loose Ends last October, where I promoted Talk Yourself Better. The show was presented by the wonderful Arthur Smith and Clive Anderson, both of whom I managed to convince to be in my next book, How to Live to 100. As a telling sign of a great show, there were pastries galore in the green room!

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I was on that episode of Loose Ends with lovely Hollywood actress Andrea Riseborough (who starred in the brilliant but terrifying Black Mirror episode ‘Crocodile’) as well as Northern Irish actor Colin Morgan and US million-selling author Michael Connelly – and music from British rapper Kojey Radical. It’s fair to say I was definitely the smallest fish in that pond! We all sat around the table together (except for Kojey, who was performing) and went for pizza afterwards, and Andrea emailed me a free download link to her new film Nancy. You can listen to the show here.

Lastly: in early 2009, I got to make radio history by giving Radio 4’s first atheist ‘Thought for the Afternoon’ on the iPM programme. It was considered such a big deal that it got its own Guardian news story, though they did describe the Atheist Bus Campaign as ‘controversial’. What is the world coming to when ‘There’s probably no God’ is seen as controversial in the UK, where at least 52% of the population is non-religious?!

You can hear my Thought for the Afternoon below. (They describe the campaign as controversial too, but then R4 are more old school.)

 

This post has been made possible by my awesome Patreon supporters Peter Weilgony, Ricky Steer, Marc Alexander, Sammy and Jelly, Charlie Brooker, Mary and Tim Fowler, Steve Richards, Alan Brookland, Mark Ormandy, Oliver Vass, Keith Bell, John Fleming, Mark Bailey, Rebekah Bennetch, Matthew Sylvester, Brian Engler, Jack Scanlan, Aragorn Strider, Lucy Spencer, Dave Nattriss, MusicalComedyGuide.com, Mark White, Dave Cross, Graham Nunn, David Conrad, Rob Turner, Shane Jarvis, Emily Hill and Marcus P Knight.

If you enjoyed this blog, please check out my songs at arianexmusic.com and support me on Patreon from just £1 a month, and you’ll get to read a lot more of my writing.

The time I nearly got into S Club 7

As a teenager, I was desperate to be a pop star. I couldn’t sing very well, but that never stopped the Spice Girls, right? So I wrote songs, and practised singing them (and cringed at the sound of my own voice. These days it’s a lot better and stronger though, so practice does pay off).

I spent my late teens scanning the ‘Auditions’ pages of the newspaper The Stage, hoping to spot the advert that would lead to my big break. A lot of the ads I circled were searching for singers for pop groups. And thanks to an ad placed in 1998 when I was 18, I almost succeeded in getting into a famous pop group: S Club 7.

The advert in question was for ‘singers and presenters’, and was an open casting call for boys and girls aged 15-19 at Pineapple Studios in Covent Garden, Central London. So I dolled myself up and turned up at Pineapple to find half the teenage world already there.

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[Me. Nice teeth, shame about the earrings.]

There were literally hundreds of equally glammed-up girls and spruced-up boys queuing in line. Eventually, a woman from the production company came out of the main hall.

‘We’re not going to be able to audition everyone, as there are so many of you,’ she said, ‘so if I point at you, you’re to come into the hall, and if I don’t, then apologies and thank you for your time.’

She started pointing at teenagers – and, to my delight, she pointed at me. I walked into the hall gleefully.

We all sat on the floor in a group in front of a tall blonde woman, who explained that her production company were putting together a TV show featuring a girl-and-boy pop group. She went round the hall and asked us each to sing something. My mind went blank, so I sang ‘Happy Birthday’!

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[I’ve only just realised that my vest says ‘Jesus’.]

Then I remember being asked to interview a beautiful mixed race girl. I asked her a question about her love life, and she said ‘That’d be telling,’ and I replied ‘Yes it would, so tell me!’ The blonde woman seemed to like that, and smiled approvingly.

I hadn’t brought along a CV or photo (not that I’d have had much to put on a CV at that age, other than winning Miss Harrow!) so the blonde woman gave me her card and asked me to post my photo and CV to her. I remember her saying ‘And do post them, as this is going to be big.’ The name on her card was Heather Alexander, and she was from 19 Management – which I realised excitedly was Simon Fuller’s production company (he managed the Spice Girls).

I posted the CV and photo off ASAP, and got a call soon after from the blonde lady for a ‘recall’ – also to take place at Pineapple Studios. I turned up and there was a short queue of pretty girls who all looked similar to me: dark hair, dark eyes, and tanned, beige or olive skin.

I had to do a piece to camera and say who I admired most in the world. I remember saying something about Duran Duran, which they probably didn’t expect from someone my age. Then I’d prepared a song, ‘Fever’ (I was singing jazz standards throughout my teens and playing the piano too, though I sang a cappella during the recall). I think in retrospect they would have preferred a chart pop song.

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[Me, making friends with a fence.]

They thanked me, and I never heard back. I guess I wasn’t exactly what they were looking for after all. Soon after that, I started dating a much older guy called Simon (not Simon Fuller) who was the band Shed Seven’s manager. The Sheds were signed to Polydor, and when I told Simon about the audition, he said ‘Ah, that must have been for S Club 7.’ ‘Who?’ I asked. ‘They’re the new pop group Simon (Fuller) has put together,’ he explained.

The next year, S Club 7 hit number 1 in the charts with their debut single ‘Bring It All Back’, which was released on Polydor, and I felt extremely wistful and envious. I realised that I and all the other dark-haired olive-skinned girls at the second audition must have been in the running for Tina’s place in the band.

Bring It All Back[S Club 7’s first single ‘Bring It All Back’. Tina is in the red.]

A couple of years later, I received another call from 19 Management about possibly being in S Club Juniors (later called S Club 8) and travelled down to Battersea to meet the team. However, I think they’d forgotten how old I was, and decided I was too long in the tooth at the advanced age of 20!

So I never got to be in S Club anything. My life could have been so different – but would it have been better? Probably not, especially as I had rarely thrived in groups of kids. Plus I’d never have created the Atheist Bus Campaign, and nor would I have had my wonderful daughter.

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[Me and the Lilster, back when she was six and had cut her own fringe.]

Years after the auditions, in March 2010, I’d get to perform an original song I’d written (below) with Tim Minchin at the Simon Singh benefit at London’s Cambridge Theatre. (Simon was being sued by the British Chiropractic Association for saying in a Guardian column that chiropractic was bogus, so the benefit was a celebrity fundraiser to support him.) The entire thousand-strong crowd sang the chorus along with me – so I got a little taste of what it felt like to be a pop star then – and it felt awesome.

This post has been made possible by my awesome Patreon supporters Peter Weilgony, Ricky Steer, Marc Alexander, Sammy and Jelly, Charlie Brooker, Mary and Tim Fowler, Steve Richards, Alan Brookland, Mark Ormandy, Oliver Vass, Keith Bell, John Fleming, Mark Bailey, Rebekah Bennetch, Matthew Sylvester, Brian Engler, Jack Scanlan, Aragorn Strider, Lucy Spencer, Dave Nattriss, MusicalComedyGuide.com, Mark White, Dave Cross, Graham Nunn, David Conrad, Rob Turner, Shane Jarvis, Emily Hill and Marcus P Knight.

If you enjoyed this blog, please check out my songs at arianexmusic.com and support me on Patreon from just £1 a month, and you’ll get to read a lot more of my writing.

Why Morrissey is wrong about everything

When I was in my late teens and twenties, one of my regular pastimes was arguing with my best friend Graham about music. He thought my favourite bands (Duran Duran and U2) were rubbish; I thought his favourite band and associated artist (The Smiths and Morrissey) had superlative lyrics, but dirgy and discordant melodies that often sounded the same. We only found common ground with Depeche Mode and Pet Shop Boys, two bands we both loved.

Getting back to Morrissey: I also thought ‘Bengali In Platforms’ was up there with The Kinks’ ‘Apeman’ as the most racist song I’d ever heard. Morrissey had written the lyrics:

‘Bengali, Bengali, Bengali, Bengali
Oh, shelve your Western plans
And understand
That life is hard enough when you belong here’

and he was therefore racist.

Graham argued Morrissey wasn’t racist; he was just a provocateur who liked to court attention by saying shocking things.

20 years later, he has had to admit that I was right. He has been horrified by Morrissey’s support for the far-right political party For Britain, and his Islamophobia, to the extent that he’s refused to buy Morrissey’s latest album California Son.

“Can you imagine if Simon Le Bon turned out to be a massive racist?” Graham asked me. “It’s so distressing.” (I said I couldn’t imagine any such thing, especially as Simon’s wife is half-Asian and Duran Duran have been so heavily influenced by bands like Chic, The Temptations and Public Enemy.)

Anyhow, let’s go through and debunk a few of Morrissey’s claims:

Morrissey on For Britain: “For Britain seem to say what many British people are currently thinking, which is why the BBC or Channel 4 News will not acknowledge them, because, well, For Britain would change British politics forever.”

Fixed it for you:

“For Britain seem to say what many racist British people are currently thinking, which is why the BBC or Channel 4 News will not acknowledge them, because they don’t want to entertain racists, and For Britain would change British politics for the worse forever.”

Morrissey on Sadiq Khan: “The Mayor of London tells us about ‘Neighborhood policin’ – what is ‘policin’? He tells us London is an ‘amazin’ city. What is ‘amazin’? This is the Mayor of London! And he cannot talk properly! I saw an interview where he was discussing mental health, and he repeatedly said ‘men’el’ … he could not say the words ‘mental health’.”

What he means:

“The Mayor of London is Muslim and I don’t like Muslims, so I’m going to pick at his London accent as I can’t find anything else to pick on him for. I also have flat Mancunian vowels and Sadiq Khan could well say ‘What is a “bath”? What is a “mug”?’ But he wouldn’t because he’s not that small-minded and petty and understands that the UK is a diverse place with many different equally valid accents.”

Morrissey on Diane Abbott: “No, I haven’t ever voted. I don’t have sufficient faith in the circus of politics … and … you can see why! It is a moral disaster on every level. Even Tesco wouldn’t employ Diane Abbott.”

Fixed it:

“No, I haven’t ever voted, because I am a moral disaster on every level. Even Tesco wouldn’t employ Diane Abbott because she would be way over-qualified even if she applied to be CEO.”

And one more:

Morrissey on being called ‘racist’: “When someone calls you racist, what they are saying is “hmm, you actually have a point, and I don’t know how to answer it, so perhaps if I distract you by calling you a bigot we’ll both forget how enlightened your comment was.”

Fixed:

“When someone calls you racist, what they are saying is ‘hmm, you are actually a racist’.”

Anyhow, I could do this all day, but the internet doesn’t have enough space for me to refute all of Morrissey’s stupid remarks, so I’ll go and do something more productive now.

Ariane GrahamMe and Big G in front of the atheist bus, back when he loved Mozza.

This post has been made possible by my awesome Patreon supporters Peter Weilgony, Ricky Steer, Marc Alexander, Sammy and Jelly, Charlie Brooker, Mary and Tim Fowler, Steve Richards, Alan Brookland, Mark Ormandy, Oliver Vass, Keith Bell, John Fleming, Mark Bailey, Rebekah Bennetch, Matthew Sylvester, Brian Engler, Jack Scanlan, Aragorn Strider, Lucy Spencer, Dave Nattriss, MusicalComedyGuide.com, Mark White, Dave Cross, Graham Nunn, David Conrad, Rob Turner, Shane Jarvis, Emily Hill and Marcus P Knight.

If you enjoyed this blog, please check out my songs at arianexmusic.com and support me on Patreon from just £1 a month, and you’ll get to read a lot more of my writing.

With a little help from my friends

I only have three close friends: Graham (my best friend since 1997, after he placed a contact ad in Select magazine and I answered – and he’s now my ex-husband too); John Bon Jovial (a good friend since he wrote a blog about my comedy music album in 2014); and Annabel (we worked on Big Brother together in 2007-2008).

Sadly I don’t see Annabel much, as she’s an exec producer on The Great British Bakeoff so is super-busy. And I don’t see Graham much either, as he lives in a tiny remote village in Suffolk. But I see John at least once a week, which is great. Here he is being Jesus:

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And here he is as a little boy. Awww!

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Anyhow, yesterday both Graham and John came round for a late birthday celebration. Graham had crafted me a ‘rubbish present’ – a wooden container for my very pretentious bin! I didn’t have a bin in the office, so now I do. He is very good with his hands (fnarr). No, seriously – he can pretty much do anything he puts his mind to. Here is the bin:

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And here he is wearing a pair of elf ears from my Christmas elf outfit (he is desperate for me to point out that these aren’t his real ears!)

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Yesterday my lodger moved out, so I now have a lot more space (I’m not replacing her). Graham and John got everything down from the loft, opened all the boxes, put away their contents, cut up the boxes, unpacked my new mattress, and moved all the very unwieldy mattresses into different rooms. Then John ferried my daughter across London to a kids’ birthday party, and Graham painted the window sills and helped me put away all my clothes from the loft.

I think this is the very definition of true friendship: your friends help you and you help them, even when it means doing boring stuff, or travelling a long way, or letting you put a picture of them with elf ears on your blog.

This post has been made possible by my awesome Patreon supporters Peter Weilgony, Ricky Steer, Marc Alexander, Sammy and Jelly, Charlie Brooker, Mary and Tim Fowler, Steve Richards, Alan Brookland, Mark Ormandy, Oliver Vass, Keith Bell, John Fleming, Mark Bailey, Rebekah Bennetch, Matthew Sylvester, Brian Engler, Jack Scanlan, Aragorn Strider, Lucy Spencer, Dave Nattriss, MusicalComedyGuide.com, Mark White, Dave Cross, Graham Nunn, David Conrad, Rob Turner, Shane Jarvis, Emily Hill and Marcus P Knight.

If you enjoyed this blog, please check out my songs at arianexmusic.com and support me on Patreon from just £1 a month, and you’ll get to read a lot more of my writing.