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Simon Le Bon - The Face Interview

Duran Duran by Fiona Russell Powell

It's the day before Christmas Eve and I'm on my way to The Savoy hotel, 15 minutes late already for my interview with Simon le Bon, the man who once said: 'If I was rich and I wasn't doing this, I'd pay to do it! Just to get up on stage and have all those people looking at you! And some even listening to you

For a lot of girls, six hours spent with the singer of Duran Duran would be the perfect stocking filler, but although Simon is a fairly charming person, Martini adverts just aren't my cup of tea. My late arrival went unnoticed because Simon was screaming over a newly-discovered spot during the early stages of his make-up session: 'Oh God, a spot! It travels all around my body; three weeks ago it was heading south down my back towards my bum. It's the bane of my life!'
We are introduced. Si doesn't let my hand drop for about five minutes and the first thing he asks me is whether I'm wearing tights or stockings. He then tells two jokes, one vaguely racist and one vaguely anti-semitic, neither of which I get, so there is an embarrassed silence after the punchlines. Undaunted, he turns round and says 'Bison Melon' followed by 'Eno Slim Nob'... Pardon? 'I'm just making anagrams of my name,' he explains. 'Eno Slim Nob,' I reply, 'that's not what I've heard.' He looks astonished for a second and then grins as I continue. 'Now you've got an idea of what my line of questioning is 8°ing to be!' And so have you.
Down the corridor now to the photo session which takes forever and nearly all of my allotted interview time. I learn all sorts of things about Simon and other people while I fit in and watch. For instance, did you know that Simon's favourite parts of his body are his eyebrows and his feet? And he likes to make his hair fluff out because otherwise he looks like 'a pinhead'but he doesn't like to wear too much hairspray because it 'makes you look a bit dilly (puffy)'.
Only ten minutes left and I haven't asked him the colour of his underpants! But Simon smoothly chips in and says: 'We'll go to the soundcheck in a cab together, come back to the hotel after ami if you 've still got any questions left, finish the interview in my room.' That's fine by me. I'm sure I'II have run out of questions on the way back. Si and I make our way to the lobby and for some peculiar reason he dawdles all the way behind me until we're sitting down waiting for our cab ...

FRP: Your mother left England didn't she? When did she move?

SL: She went to Florida about two years ago.

And your father's still living in London?

Yes.

So your parents have split up?

Well, um - the taxi's here now.

At this point we are summoned to the front door of The Savoy where a black cab is waiting to take us to Wembley Arena. Simon's security guard follows behind in another cab. We slip past the 30 or so waiting fans who have kept up a long vigil outside the hotel, clutching flowers, chocolates and other gifts for the band. Travelling slowly through the heavy Christmas traffic, we continue the conversation ...

You were about to elaborate on the break-up of your parents marriage.

Ah well, I miss my mother a lot, but I miss the whole familybecause I don't see them much. Jonathon - he's my youngest brother - he's always going off sailing in the Caribbean ... I come from a very middle-class family.

Why did your mother move so far away from her three children?

Just to get a bit of head space and to get a better job I suppose.

From the interviews I've read, you're obviously very attached to your mother. Do you hold with the cliche that children who are nurtured from birth for showbiz stardom by their parents miss out on a normal childhood?

Oh no - my mother did get me a lot of acting work when I was a kid but I object to the suggestion that 1 was moulded. That's a bit of an insult really. I wasn't a 'child star', I wasn't forced to go to stage school or anything like that. I just did the work because I had a pretty face, I suppose. Before she got married, my mother was involved in acting but when she had three kids it was a bit difficult for her to carry on with it.

So she pursued her ambitions through you?

I'll admit that if it wasn't for her I certainly wouldn't have carried on doing drama and if she hadn't pushed me I wouldn't have gone to university to study drama.

Do you believe in the sanctity of marriage?

I believe that if you make big promises like that, you should keep them.

And you're marrying your girlfriend Clare soon, aren't you?

'Here I made a gentleman's agreement with Simon not to reveal his denial.)

Do you expect a nuclear war within your lifetime?

I expect a bomb will go off but I don't expect a world-wide holocaust.

Have you taken any precautions like installing a bunker at the bottom of the garden?

No, certainly not. If there was a war and if England was involved in any way, 1 wouldn't like to come out of my shelter six months later to find a totally flat, black land. I just wouldn't want to survive.

Do you support the CND?

(Carefully) I believe that disarmament will never happen. I think there's a lot of other facets of CND which I wouldn't like to associate myself with. They're not just involved in getting rid of nuclear weapons - they bring party politics into the issue which they shouldn't do.

Would you do a charity gig for the Greenham Common women?

Err... we're not going to do any charity gigs for a long time! I think the Greenham Common have got a lot of guts and I've got a great deal of admiration for them but I've heard that they won't let any men join the lines. I'm not sure if that's true, but if it is, I think they're a bit silly.

The last charity gig you did for Mencap didn't come off too well, did it?

No, it was just a major fuck-up on a lot of fronts basically. What really happened was that we over-estimated the amount of people that would come to the show. It was at Villa Park, Birmingham, and we thought we'd be getting people from all over England but about 90% of the people there came from within a 40 mile radius of Birmingham, so we actually had about 7 000 people less than we'd hoped for and those 7,000 were the ones that were going to make the profit for Mencap.. . We ended up giving Mencap a lot of money out of our own pockets; all in all, with the band and our two managers, it cost £70,000 between the seven of us.

In your current tour programme, there is a listing of events connected with the group. For June this year, it says you stayed in the South of France getting ideas for the new LP, playing tennis, attending the Cannes Film Festival and 'reflecting on the nature of life'. What conclusion did you reach?

There are some funny things in that programme. That sounds very intellectual and philosophical, which isn't us at all.

What an odd thing to write.

No, really, we were just mixing business with pleasure

And rubbing your fans' noses in it. So, what is the meaning of life, Simon?

(laughs) Um, well, for me, very busy - for some others, not so busy!

So basically, Kaspar de Graaf, who wrote the tour programme, was just being pretentious?

I think it's one of his little jokes really; Kaspar's got a big sense of humour.

Therefore he's making fun of thirteen-year-olds and you're condoning it.

It doesn't worry me,

What happened behind the bike sheds?

What!! How do you know about that?

You mentioned it in a Flexipop interview just before 'Planet Earth' was a hit.

That was a long time ago and only me and two other people know about it, and one of them only a little bit. I'm not going to give those kind of secrets away!

You were obviously still at school so you must have been very young.

I wasn't very young. I mean, I was old enough!

Is it true that Nick Rhodes (real name Nick Bates) was nicknamed Master Bates at school so he decided to name himself after his favourite synthesiser?

Ha ha: It's a piano actually, not a synth. A Fender Rhodes piano! I think he liked the name Rhodes because of the Greek island connection and also because of the music business connection as in Bernie (laughs at what must be an 'in' joke). If I was going to change my name I think I'd call myself something like Jet Cane or Peter Smith or something.

Have you ever been gobbed on?

Gobbed on? Don't you mean spat at? Well, actually yes, quite a few times, mostly on stage.

Really? I can't quite imagine all those sweet young girls in the front row -

We did the Hazel O'Connor tour and there weren't so many little girls in that audience, let me tell you. I usually see it coming and I tend to get out of the way in time. In fact, I've never had a direct hit.

Do you like Test Department?

Pardon?

I said: do you like Test Department?

What's a test department?

Oh dear, how long have you been away? (Simon looks -worried) They're part of the latest craze that's sweeping the country...

(At this point, dear reader, you may fast-forward the interview button, because of course we all know who Test Dept. are.)

Oh yeah, I think I've heard a bit about it. I have heard some music like that but quite a long time ago; you used to get bands who used washboards and brooms with bits of string tied to boxes, things like that...

You mean like The Chevalier Brothers. No, it's not like that, let me explain it to you again.

(I try to capture the essence of Test Dept., SPK and Einsturzende Neubauten in a nutshell which is rather hard and Simon still looks blank).

Er, yeah. What I think about Test Department is this: Great, if that comes from it sounds good or they can get good tunes or music from it - fine, but it sounds a bit gimmicky to me.

Have you ever been told that you look like a young ElvisPresley?

Yes, I've also been compared to the bloody bloated Las Vegas Presley - that was a down-right insult... do you think I do.

Actually, yes.

(looking glum) I think it must be because we pull the same expressions when we're singing. I must admit I've never been a big Elvis fan, although I think what he did for music was brilliant, but I don't like his voice that much. I think the best things he ever did were 'Jailhouse Rock' and 'King Creole'.

Are you planning any similar film ventures?

Well, I'd like to do films but not like that.

What's your sexual fantasy?

I'm a bit shy about it to be honest... I don't think I'm a pervert at all, not compared to some of the stories I've heard.

Is it a recurring fantasy?

No, they change all the time.

I noticed in a list of likes and dislikes, you once wrote for likes: women, rubber, water and leather.

Women - yes, but I've definitely gone off rubber. I don't like the smell very much. When I used to go caving and pot-holing, which I'm sure must have awful connotations, I used to have to wear a neoprene suit. The fantasy at the moment is definitely a hot one because of all the cold weather. Have you ever seen the film Walkabout? There are some amazingly erotic scenes in that with trees. There's some beautiful trees that only grow in Australia and they look just like women's parts; the way the branches split is incredibly erotic. I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm not into trees, I really like women, I just find the imagery erotic ... I'd like to make love in a poppy field and eat strawberries at the same time and then ride away on two dapple-grey horses.

It sounds just like one of your videos!

(Laughing) Yeah, okay, 'Hungry Like A Wolf just happened to be one of my fantasies!! Whafs your fantasy then -you did promise you'd tell me.

Oh I've got do many! Mostly bondage, buggery and water sports with greasy bikers. (Of course, I was only joking).

(Eyes gleaming, mouth grinning) I'm fairly dominant! As the band has developed over the last three-and-a-half years, I've become a lost more confident in many ways, including sexually!

John Taylor was once quoted claiming you wrote the video storylines just so you 'could get to work with more chicks'. Is that true?

I think that was a kind of a joke. But take 'Girls On Film' for example. When we first talked about making a soft-core porn video, 1 must admit that one of the, er, attractions of doing it, would be to actually see it being filmed and to actually be there.

Why does every member of the band, with the exception of Andy Taylor, go out with a model? Isn't that a bit of a cliché: popstar-goes-out-with-brainless-beauty?

Doesn't Battersea Power Station remind you of an upside-down table with those legs? I really like it, it's the oddest-looking building there is.

Talking about legs -

Have you noticed that they've wrapped up Big Ben? It looked just like a big Christmas present, It's great. Apparently they're cleaning the clock-face because its eroding.

Would you like to do a duet with somebody?

Vocally? I'm not at that stage yet. I'd love to work with Dolly Parton though; I think she's so funny. I'm not really into that song, the one she did with the old git with the grey hair, but she's so funny in the video. She looks great and she has the most incredible bosom. What else can you call it? That's a bosom if ever I saw one- I think all that working with other people, like The Assembly and Paul McCartney with Michael Jackson, is a bit naff... I think they're doing it because they're running out of ideas and they want other people to help them basically. You can't deny it's working in a very sweet way with McCartney and Jackson, but I grind my teeth whenever I hear "The Girl Is Mine'.


Which member of the band are you closest to?

It changes a lot. In the studio, I'm closest to Nick, we do a lot of work together... Socially, I'm probably closer to Andy or John.

How would you describe them individually, given one word each?

Nick - desperately intelligent; John - desperately sociable; Andy's like that as well but he's got a very dry sense of humour, he's very cynical sometimes. He can be really mean to you one moment and then the next he'll come up and say he didn't mean it. Andy's a really nice guy. Roger - John once said 'he's the earth that cannot be shaken,' but I see him as the branch that cannot sink.

How does it feel to know that you are the masturbation fixation of thousands and thousands of pubescent girls all around the world?

No-one's ever put it that way before! It sounds quite exciting; it doesn't appeal to me but it does flatter me. There's pros and cons to that; the public property thing can get too much. When everybody thinks that they know you personally, they can get really fresh and forward with you. I mean, I know I do this for a living and I go out and give a lot of myself on stage and on record, but I don't give that much. Ifs very disconcerting when somebody comes up to you and grabs your arse or something. I may be public property but there are some parts of me which aren't, and thaf s one of them.

But you do concentrate on your sexuality in the most blatant way possible. Take your first album cover for example; it could be concluded from the group photo on the front that you're well-endowed. I thought it was probably unintentional until I turned over to the back cover, where there's a zoom-in shot of just your crotch next to a car-engine - the symbolism is rather obvious, isn't it?

(Laughs) I noticed that as well. I couldn't believe they'd used that photo. Of course I'm not going to deny that I am well-endowed. It has been pointed out to me before - about the photo I mean. Uh, you know, if s very hard to do an interview about the size of your dick! Look, I've gone all pink.

(Unrelenting) Yet I noticed on the large video screen at your gig on Sunday that your flies were half undone. It wasn't accidental because someone I know who is on the tour with you said the zip was at half-mast every night.

Oh, er, blah, aah, what actually happened is that I did a jump and the buttons popped off. I didn't get around to having the trousers mended until the other day; they have now been altered slightly with a heavy-duty zip.

What do you think about when you masturbate? Don't pretend you don't!

I wasn't going to! If I can't think of anything I just look through my fan-mail till I find something good, I've had some great suggestions from secretaries who want to get me between the filing cabinets.

Do you ever feel limited in any creative way with Duran Duran?

Limited only by my own limitations. No, there's plenty of room for development while if s still huge, it's very difficult to discipline yourself to try not to run before you can crawl, if anything, I only feel limited by my own creativity.

Where did you get the nickname Muscles?

That was really stupid. I was doing a show in London ages ago before I joined the band, and some choreographer started calling me Muscles. The band all call me Charlie, because it's my middle name. Imagine being called Jimmy the Hoover! What a bad-news name for a band. It reminds me of someone I know called Jimmy the Con. He's a bouncer at the Cedar Club, Birmingham; he's a real laugh. Once, he lifted me up above his head and just twirled me round. He's a real funny guy...


We have now arrived at Wembley Arena and the taxi-driver takes us round to an obscure back entrance where there are a handful of female fans hanging around the security fence. It's about 5.30 and the gig doesn't start until 9. As we wait for the gates to be opened, one of the girls recognises Simon who isn't exactly crouching in the corner.
'Ohmigod! I don't believe it, look, it's Simon!'All of a sudden, all these faces are pressed against the window and fists are beating on the roof and thin screams pierce the freezing sir, I've never been in this situation before; it's so unreal, like monkeys in a zoo, but Simon completely ignores the commotion outside and carries on talking while signing his autograph for the taxi driver's two daughters.

Simon carries my coat, bag and tape-recorder into the backstage area, then hands me over to his bodyguard. The sound-check takes about 45 minutes; Duran Duran are doing Cockney Rebel's 'Come Up And SeeMe' which they do so well, it ends up sounding just like a Duran Duran song. The soundcheck over, we climb into the back of an extremely luxurious coach which is going back to The Savoy. About a hundred girls run after us as the coach sets off. I can hear them screaming and part the curtain to watch. Simon shrugs his shoulders- 'The exercise will do them good.'He offers me a chocolate from one of the many boxes lying on the floor.

Were you ever a fan?

Not in that way, no. I didn't start going to concerts until about '76 or '77. The first concert I ever went to was Genesis' 'Lamb L ies Down On Broadway' tour at Earls Court. I think Peter Gabriel's brilliant... I also like The Cramps and Big Country.

How much money have you made this year?
I don't know. We don't find out until about five years later. I'm really bad at business and accounts, that's why we have Andy Taylor in the band.

How important is money to you?

I think it will be one day but it isn't at the moment because we're having a great time just being in the band and it pays for itself.

What satisfies you more than anything else?

Being on stage. If s a really big challenge - if s really dangerous in a way. Every night before I go on, I have a kind of trauma about whether I can do it tonight.

Would you rather have achieved fame through acting than through the (according to some) less credible medium of being a pop star?

At one point, my parents and a lot of other people thought I was mad joining a group and psychologically I rebelled against that kind of prejudice. Alot of people think that being in a group is a lower form of art than acting. I disagree with that attitude completely. There's a lot to be said about going on stage and performing what is basically your own script, something that you've come up with totally by yourself. When you're acting, you're work-'ttg with someone else's script and someone else's character and you're being directed by other people as well. There's a lot of pride attached to being able to work the whole thing out yourself... But I'm really looking forward to seeing Sting in Dune. My favourite actor is Donald Sutherland -1 love his face, it's not 9 fashionable or handsome face but it's so charismatic. I'd like toplay a part that I could really get rny teeth into, not necessarily something deep and meaningful, but something with good words in it. I'm very fond of Shakespeare because of the words.

I expect you like Mervyn Peake then?

Yes, how did you know? That's very perceptive, I feel like I've been stripped naked. I love the Gormenghast trilogy - they're my favourite books.

Do you respect your audience?

Yes, I do very much and for a lot of different reasons as well. Because they've got the common sense to like decent music like ours and for sticking by us in the face of great adversity.

How would you define your audience?

If s very widespread. It's not just made up of 13-year-olds.

What does 'Seven And The Ragged Tiger' mean?

It's like a commando team. Seven is a really special number for us because it's the number of the actual unit of our success, the five members of the band and the two guys that manage us who are a very integral part of everything. The ragged tiger symbolises luck and success.

Do you stay on good terms with your old girlfriends?

Some I do, some I don't. Some you end up with big bashes, some you can write letters to.

Have you ever hit a girl?

Yes but I haven't hit a girl, I've smacked one. I would never hit a girl on her face. If I was going to hit one, I'd hit her on the bottom

Before I met you, I was convinced that I was being sent to interview a megalomaniac!

I wouldn't call myself that although I like my one-and-a-half hours of power that I have every night. I enjoy that. If I told them to get up and smash up the place and not go to school tomorrow, some of them would do it unquestionably... You know, I'm really enjoying this interview.

Good. Why?

Because you're so cute and sexy and you've got nice legs. That's why I walked all the way behind you at the Savoy!

The coach has come to a hydraulic halt outside the main entrance of The Savoy. Simon and I descend into a crowd of girls; I get away as fast as possible, and five minutes later Simon escapes loaded with gifts, kisses and phone numbers.

Would you consider seeing a psycho-analyst?

No. I'd rather find out about myself through myself. To start with, I'm very happy with myself. I don't think there's anything wrong with me. It also seems very vain to pay someone else to talk about you. On the subject of ego, I think it's really very important to keep a good balance between what I'm doing for a living, which is like walking a tightrope between charisma and bullshit, and to know what I really am, which is basically the same as everybody else, but just lucky enough to have a decent job ... Have you heard that joke? How many psychologists does !t take to change a light-bulb? One. It takes a very long time and the light-bulb has to want to change.

That's the best one you've told all day.

I like telling jokes and stories. You know, I used to lie a lot when I was young, well up into my teens actually. I used to tell peoplethat my parents were Russian refugees or that I was a gypsy I used to really over-romanticize and over-glamourize everything because I thought I was a really boring slightly overweight youngster, which is what I was. I was so embarrassed when they did my life story in No. 7. It had all my mother's quotes and my mother would never let you think I was boring. Those pictures of me sitting in that bloody tweed jacket - I cringed then and I cringe now when I see it, I had a really hard time at school when I was in the local newspaper.

Have you taken speed to keep your weight down?

I used to but I don't touch drugs now. Heroin is getting so fucking trendy in this country again, it's frightening. And it makes me sick that people are still being led to believe that it's fashionable or glamorous... You can't even enjoy it the first time, you have to do it two or three times before you stop puking up - what's the attraction of that?

How long do you see the success of Duran Duran lasting?

I'm a big optimist. I do believe in the future of the band. A band has to make a very big effort these days to be able to change enough to be fashionable but also be able to please yourself which is more important. You can't approach anything if you're not totally satisfied with what you're doing.

Finally, Simon, can you think of any question which I've neglected to ask, which you feel could be important?

Well, you could have asked about our music.