SUNDAY MIRROR WOMAN’S EDITOR
No pictures, she said, and I can see why.
SHE flew into London amidst a torrent of trouble. The BBC banned her from their airwaves. And her critics accused her of being scruffy, overweight and generally past it.
Debbie Harry, the former queen of pop, is making her debut as a movie star. She is currently promoting her new film, Videodrome, which went out on general release last week.
And it looks as if Videodrome could be as controversial a venture for her as Trafford Tanzi, the Broadway play she opened in last year. The show closed after just one night.
“I wasn’t panned by the critics,” she told me. “I was totally destroyed. But I didn’t let it destroy me. I just said to myself, ‘Well, I lost. And that’s the end of it.’
“When something like that happens, you just have to grit your teeth and get through. You can’t let it stop you.
“I think in retrospect I got a lot of credit for doing something in the theatre. I don’t think anyone expected me to try that.”
If Trafford Tanzi – a feminist farce depicting a woman’s life as one long wrestling match – was an unexpected departure for this Marilyn Monroe look-alike, then Videodrome was a total surprise.
As a glamorous international celebrity, she could have had her pick of film roles. Instead, she chose to appear as the depraved heroine of a feature film which has been described as a video nasty.
For the second time in a year, the critics have savaged her.
“If this had happened to me a little while ago, I would have been in a very bad way indeed. I would have been crushed. I would have taken the whole thing personally and it would have affected my work. In the past, every time someone was nasty about me, it made me distracted and self-conscious during my performance. In the end, I told myself I just couldn’t let this happen.
“So I grew a thicker skin. Now whatever people say about me simply doesn’t touch me, because I can’t let it. Anyway, if you work at something hard and long, you have to stand up for yourself, don’t you?
“Frankly, I think a lot of the criticism of Videodrome is exploitative. It’s sensation for sensation’s sake. And it’s an insult to the producer and the director of this film.
“But the people who are tearing things apart are just being destructive. And that’s their problem.
“You see, in the long run it’s going to do nothing but help the film. They’ve created a controversy and everyone’s going to rush to the cinema to see what it’s all about.”
Whether you love Videodrome – this week’s biggest box-office earner – or hate it is very much a matter of personal taste. Debbie Harry herself is harder to criticise.
Her performance is as immaculate as the cut-glass perfection of her on-screen looks. Which is why I was somewhat puzzled when she refused to have any pictures of herself taken when I went to meet her.
On closer acquaintance, I realised why.
Her skin, which she hadn’t bothered to cover with make-up, was the dead colour of pale putty. Her blonde, overbleached hair was unstyled, with the black roots unashamedly growing through.
She was definitely overweight, and the fleshiness concealed even the perfect bone structure of her normally pretty face.
Debbie Harry will be 40 next birthday and the years have not been kind to her.
Yet despite the fact that the lady no longer looks like a sex symbol, her private life is remarkably happy.
After a turbulent, promiscuous youth, she fell in love with her guitarist, Chris Stein, and went to live with him.
That was 10 years ago, and the relationship is still going strong.
“When life is disappointing, I tend to lean on Chris. He leans on me, too.
“I don’t know if I could survive if I didn’t have him to go home to at night.
“I’ve been with Chris for so long I somehow forget what it’s like to be without a good man.
“Maybe,” she says, patting her rumpled trousers over chubby knees, “this is a pretty short-sighted attitude.” She admits she is a terrible housekeeper.
“Our house is a mess,” she laughs. “Having a business and keeping house is very difficult. I find it impossible to concentrate on maintaining a beautiful environment, because for me it’s like another full-time occupation.
“And if you work, keep house and have a family, then you have to be ultra-talented. It would exhaust me.” Which could explain why Miss Harry is still unmarried.
“If I had children, then I would like to think seriously about marrying Chris. But we just haven’t decided to have a family yet. Anyway, we have a good relationship, so why marry?
So the two continue to live like rich gypsies in a pop-star style mansion in Manhattan. And if they miss the patter of tiny feet, they can always console themselves with the clank of the odd Nazi uniform.
Together with a couple of skulls which they use for interior decoration, Chris prides himself on his collection of German wartime memorabilia.
“The Nazis had absolutely terrific style,” says Debbie. “With their Bavarian ornateness the Germans were the best outfitted.
“If they had put all the materials and effort into the war that they had put into their uniforms, then they could have won.”
It is the kind of remark one would expect of the star of a film like Videodrome.