Saturday 25th September 1993 – Page 27
Shedding light on Debbie’s dark side
WHEN her peroxide blonde hair started to fall out and refused to grow any more, Debbie Harry, alias Blondie, knew the end of an era had arrived.
The Marilyn locks set off her wide-apart eyes, translucent skin, severely chisled cheekbones and seriously sexy bee-sting lips – and made her one of the most successful singers of the Seventies and Eighties.
Deborah, as she now prefers to be called professionally, sits before me with her natural brunette hair looking quite conventional.
I wonder if she reminisces about her old colour? “My hair got into bad condition because of the bleach I used. It kept breaking off and eventually stopped growing. No one said I had to change it – I figured that one out for myself,” she laughs, through a mick dead-pan face.
“It was scary at first, confronting the world with my natural hair. Now I’m comfortable being brunette. It’s also easier for me, particularly as I’m an actress now and I’m easier to cast. I’m not frozen into my image.”
As Andy Warhol’s favourite pop star and a role model for a generation after her, Madonna in particular, she revelled in her sexuality in short skirts and lacy underwear.
THE critics told her she was just a passing icon like her hit songs Heart Of Glass and Hanging On The Telephone. How wrong they were.
Not only does everyone fondly remember her songs but, 14 years on at the grand old age of 48, she’s back as a solo singer – with successful album Debravation, a British tour starting on November 21 and a one-off London club gig tonight, the same night as Madonna’s Wembley concert.
But, rather like Madonna, Debbie was always caught between the real Deborah Harry and the sultry Blondie image pasted up in thousands of teenagers’ bedrooms here and in America.
Even now it’s hard to separate the two.
“The Blondie image was part of my own personality and part of me – and still is, to some extent,” she concedes.
“I don’t believe in having a strict code of glamour – glamour has to be personalised. I’m more confident about performing now, but confidence comes from within. It doesn’t have anything to do with looks. Sexuality also comes from within.
“Sometimes I feel glamorous and sometimes I feel distracted. But I’m a past master of glamour. I have a few surprises in store for my tour. It is important to be seen as sexy. Isn’t sex what everyone puts first?”
Although she may disagree, Debbie’s success has depended, and still does, on a carefully-crafted image. She always had a good image, but the myth was somewhat destroyed when she appeared on stage three years ago considerably larger than we all remembered her.
GONE were the razor-sharp cheekbones, the luminous skin was dulled, her golden hair had become dry and strawlike – and her battle against the bulge caused by extra pounds had been lost.
Blondie the band broke up after her then boyfriend and soulmate of 11 years, Chris Stein (they have since split and remain close friends, but she would rather not talk about it now) developed a rare disease, pemphigus. His skin broke out in blisters and Debbie stepped out of the public eye for three years to nurse him back to health.
When she re-emerged as a tragic and bloated figure, the feeling was of sadness at the disappearance of an icon.
While she has managed to pull herself back from the edge, both in terms of her career and her personal life, she still remains sensitive about those cruel photographs. She does not wish to have her picture taken.
Debbie seems slim, although it is hard to tell because she is wearing a rather hippy, baggy black smock dress.
Harking back to her weighty times, she says: “At that point, I never thought I would have a viable pop career again. I thought I was finished.
“It’s a very feminine condition and has a lot to do with being a woman, hormones and self-image.
“The best thing for me is to keep in mind that I must constantly be on the move. Aerobics helps, if I don’t do that, I still try to maintain that level of activity.
“I used to have a compulsion to be as thin as possible. I’ll never be that way again, because I’ve got used to my body. I keep going because I love my work. I love writing and singing. I used to crave fame and ambition, but I don’t have anything to prove any more. I think, as an artist, you have to keep changing. I’m more of a perfectionist than I used to be.”
SHE also stopped taking the drugs (she was famed for LSD, cocaine and other high-profile narcotics) which pushed her to the brink, although she admits there is still a part of her which enjoys living on the edge.
“You experience these things, but I trusted my own judgement with it and stuck with it.
“A lot of people get swamped in acid, but nowadays there are so many groups and help organisations that people have a good chance of cleaning up.
“What people should do is find out why they are taking the substances. For me, it was a case of it being chic and stylish to take drugs. I was younger and I thought I’d try everything, especially because it was a forbidden area.
“The thing is to catch yourself doing it and decide to change it.
“There’s still a part of the old rebel in me, middle-mindedness has never been part of my act.”
Like many icons, Debbie currently lives on her own – in New York. She has one dog, Chi-Chan, and no children – although she never likes to rule out the possibility.
As for middle-age, apart from the change of name and hair colour, Debbie does not feel it creeping up on her.
“I’m middle-aged, but I have no worries about the ageing process. It’s a challenge to me. I love challenges, it’s a simple survival mechanism.”
One that has worked very well so far.