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Sunday 2nd June 2013

with Debbie Harry

Photographed exclusively for Fabulous by Ruven Afanador


Sex, drugs, fame and fortune – Debbie Harry has experienced the lot and lived to tell the tale. Now aged 67, the Blondie singer is only just hitting her stride


The pout is just as perfectly heart-shaped, the iconic choppy peroxide bob as fierce as ever and those cheekbones? They could still cut glass. And the charisma is unmistakable. When Debbie Harry walks into a room, you know about it.
At 67, the Blondie front woman is still making it magnificent – oozing sex appeal and effortless cool, she arrives at our New York studio having eschewed the offer of a chauffeur, preferring to drive herself in her Mustang. Even without a scrap of make-up, she is ludicrously beautiful.
Not that she sees herself in quite the same light.
“My mother told me that you always think of yourself as being young,” she says. “And I think I’ve always thought of myself as in my 20s, because that’s how I feel. Like, I’m still the same old idiot that I always was.
“But when I see photographs of myself now, I go: ‘Oh, woah. Oh God, what are you doing?'”
“Yeah, it’s always very evident in photographs. When I look in the mirror I think: ‘OK, you’re looking all right, everything looks OK’. But then when I see a photograph, it’s like: ‘Ooh, now I can really see the ageing.”
Debbie, who is now preparing to go back on the road again with her Blondie bandmates, guitarist Chris Stein, 63, and drummer Clem Burke, 57, says she probably took her extraordinary looks for granted when the band were in their late-’70s multimillion-record-selling heyday and she was the sex symbol of a generation.
“I probably didn’t realise exactly what value was placed on them or how much I could have done just based on looks. Back then, I didn’t want to think that the only reason we got attention was because of a good-looking frontperson, because we had so many other things to offer.
“But I think now the more that I’m losing my looks… the better I am at making use of it all.”
Debbie was already in her early 30s when Blondie achieved commercial success after spending years on the punk scene, playing at New York’s famous CBGB music club and rising to fame alongside The Ramones, Talking Heads and Patti Smith.
Blondie went on to sell 40 million records worldwide, including the definitive album Parallel Lines and classic singles such as Atomic, Hanging On The Telephone, Heart Of Glass and One Way Or Another, which was recently covered by One Direction.

Debbie herself was groundbreaking. A sexually confident female lead singer in an otherwise male band, she was magnetic, opinionated, ridiculously talented and blazed a rock-chick fashion trail that is still envied and copied to this day.
She rolls up to our photo shoot wearing a snakeskin-print skirt, a Social Distortion band T-shirt (which she describes as an “ancient treasure”), red leggings and socks with open-toed wedges. It shouldn’t work, but she totally pulls it off.
She also paved the way for the likes of Madonna, Gwen Stefani and most recently, Lady Gaga, who have all cited her as a major influence.
“I did have some very happy times back in the early days because it was just so romantic,” she says. “The whole music scene really was crummy and honky and everything else and it was pretty romantic.”
However, despite everything she did for women in the music industry, Debbie – who once asked: “How can one be a woman and not be a feminist?” – doesn’t think society will ever see complete equality between the sexes.
“We’ve achieved freedom and independence, but I think men are very wary of women that profess any kind of strength or demand a bit more space in the world. I think there’s an idea that women in our modern society are a commodity, and so I don’t know if we’ll ever have equality,” she says.
“It’s built into the hormones of each sex and I don’t think that’ll ever change. Intellectually, we’ll probably be more willing to accept different aspects of the opposite sex because we understand them more, but we have these directives deeply implanted in the hormones of each gender. It’s survival. That’s how the survival of the species is based, on the differences between men and women.”
What has she learned about men over the years?
“Ha! That they’re all crazy.”
Debbie’s love life has been a mystery since the ’80s, when she broke up with long-term partner and Blondie bandmate, Chris Stein. He remains the greatest love of her life – they got together in the early ’70s when she was a struggling singer and he an art student.
She famously cared for him after he was diagnosed with pemphigus – a rare autoimmune disease of the skin – in 1983. The condition nearly killed him and it also signalled the end of Blondie. Debbie and Chris’ relationship survived their drug addictions, the band’s split after 15 years together in 1989.

Today, the two are still creative partners and great friends. Chris married actress Barbara Sicuranza, 38, in 1999, and Debbie is godmother to their two daughters, but there is no significant other in her own life at the moment.
“I’m sort of dating, but not really,” she says. “I have a lot of friends and I think I would love to be in a man-woman kind of relationship, but I’m also a very independent person who’s had a career and it takes a special kind of guy to say: ‘Oh, I can accept that.’
“I’m set in my ways, but yeah, I’d love to have a great relationship, a great partner. I just don’t want to scare anybody off.
“Do I believe in monogamy? Well, these hormones, they run our lives. They just run us into the ground! And they direct men to do a certain thing and that is to make babies, basically. That’s in there.
“They can’t stop that [urge], but every man handles it in a different way. Look, I’m not a man, how the hell do I know anyway?”
She says she still has strong desires and feels just as sexy.
“Yes, I do, fortunately. I think sex is a really great thing and I encourage anyone to try it! Having sex is very important and although it’s not the end of the world if you don’t have it, it’s part of what human behaviour is about, isn’t it? Most people need it in their lives.
“It’s about so many different layers of feeling, whether it’s just pure sex or whether it’s having that physical contact,” she says.
Having explored her own sexuality over the years – she has said in the past that she’s enjoyed relationships with both men and women – Debbie takes heart that young people today are able to be more open about experimentation than they were in the past.
“Kids today are more curious about their sexuality and understanding themselves and the shades of difference that are within each of us,” she says.
“Sex is so important when you’re a teenager and your hormones are raging. I know some kids, I won’t say who, but one week they’ll say they’re gay, the next not gay. Then they’ll say they’re bi, and then they’ll be more rigid. And I think: ‘Wow, that’s incredible freedom and so smart’, because to find a partner that you can share your time with, whether it’s a man or a woman, is difficult. It takes a lot of give and take and understanding, so good luck to everybody!”
She giggles. And her face actually moves. Not that she’s anti cosmetic surgery. Debbie has always been very open about the facelift she had in the early ’90s, which she says was a “business decision” rather than based on vanity.
“It’s a part of showbiz, really,” she says. “It’s become very common, so what the hell. I don’t feel the urge to have any more surgery right now. I don’t feel decrepit. Well, sometimes I do, but it’s mostly mental!
“I can still frown and snarl and do all kinds of stuff. A few needles in the face? It’s not a major thing. What offends and horrifies me more is bad surgery. When I see somebody that’s permanently changed everything about their face, it’s like: ‘Oh my God, were you so miserable about yourself before?'”
She sighs. “It’s such a complicated issue and it’s about how people treat you and respond to you according to how you look. That’s the bare truth off it.”

Any suggestion that Debbie fears getting older is met with laughter. “No I don’t, because I have plans. Big plans!” she says, before adding cryptically: “But I’m not telling what they are. They’re my secret plans!
“I honestly don’t feel much different to when I was younger, except I can’t go out and party all night long. I have limitations of endurance. I still go clubbing, just not like I used to, but I do love to go out and dance.”
Debbie never had children, although she has spoken in the past about the possibility of adoption.
“No, not adopting,” she says now, before joking: “Stealing, perhaps! Stealing other people’s children – kidnapping, yes!
“Seriously, though, I’m probably too old to keep up with a one or two year old. But I do have a lot of children in my life.”
She might say she’s too old to keep up with a toddler, but clean-living Debbie has been on a health kick for the last few years, which has put her in great shape. She sees a personal trainer twice a week (to, in her words, “fight the battle of the bulge”) barely touches booze and knocked her drug habit on the head in the late ’80s – she has previously admitted she was “a junkie”, however briefly.
“I’m fighting fit and fit to fight,” she says now. “I train, work out and I’ve been trying to get my body in good condition. I’ve been doing that for a while. I’m probably stricter about it than I was when I was younger.
“I’m not a good drunk. I enjoy a drink, but I’ve never had the capacity for alcohol. I’m not that kind of person, although I wish I was sometimes and that I could keep drinking all night and party on. I don’t like to be out of control. Those days are long gone when I was, wow… everything.
“But I can’t say that I regret having a wilder time in my life, and I certainly would encourage any young people who want to freak out to go right ahead.”
Does she ever miss drugs?
“No. I don’t. But I’n glad I had that time. I guess I’m sounding like some kind of old fuddy-duddy. But I guess I live a pretty conservative life.”
In many ways, “conservative” must be preferable to the turbulent ’80s, which saw Debbie battle through some of the toughest times of her life. Not least when, despite all the success, she was left virtually penniless thanks to an astronomical tax bill that wiped out the band.
“When the record label dropped us and Chris was in hospital dying and the government was taking away the house – all that stuff happened at the same time – that was pretty dark. But you put it behind you and move on/”
If she could travel back in time and give the younger Debbie Harry some advice, what would she say?
“I don’t know if I would give her any advice. I think she had it. So maybe I would say: ‘Just live it, keep doing it.’
“That was a great time in my life and a very interesting period historically, musically. My God, New York at that time was just an amazing place because it was virtually no-man’s-land.”
During the band’s 17-year break, Debbie released several solo albums to critical acclaim, if not the commercial success she’d enjoyed with the band. But then, in 1999, Blondie burst back on to the music scene with single Maria, which went to No.1 in the UK – always a rich stamping ground for them. Their comeback album No Exit came out that year and went to No.3 over here. Blondie then released their ninth studio album, Panic Of The Girls, in 2011.
“The UK has been great for us, incredible. I think some of our stuff has been used for football chants, which is very flattering. Clem is a diehard Anglophile, and both he and Chris had travelled to the UK long before Blondie because they wanted to go there, so it’s kind of magic that it worked out.”

Fans set to watch them on their tour dates up and down the UK and Ireland this summer will be treated to a mix of old and new material.
“I guess I just want to keep working for as long as possible. I feel very fortunate that we’re all still playing music, it’s a bloody miracle,” says Debbie.
“It’s always satisfying to be received with enthusiasm and that’s what it’s all about for us – that’s why we do it. That’s why anybody joins a band. It’s for acceptance, love, attention and satisfaction.”
Debbie love One Direction’s version of One Way Or Another for Comic Relief earlier this year.
“Oh, I thought it was fun! They didn’t really do the song, they just used the refrain and it fitted them. It was also fitting fo the charity and achieving things ‘one way or another’, so it was all very positive.
“Those boys have been so successful and that’s from television, I suppose. Being exposed on TV really blows you right out of the canoe on to the cruise ship.”
Ask her how she thinks she’s changed over the years, and Debbie pauses. For quite a while. She takes time to consider everything put to her before answering in her familiar rich, creamy drawl.
“I do wonder about that sometimes,” she says finally. “I think I have more perspective on other people now – and a deeper understanding of myself. I think overall I have more appreciation now. I’m happier.”
She glances down at the shoes out stylist has just told her she can keep – a pair of £17.99 white New Look loafers, no less.
“Aren’t these just the cutest things? Perfect for this season.”
Most of the famous super-bright, graffiti-printed, cutting-edge clothes of Debbie’s past – designed by Stephen Sprouse – are in storage, “relegated to trunks” is how she puts it. What price a rummage through that little lot?
“Some of them are in the present-day cycle,” she adds. “But I don’t know if I have any style. I dress according to my mood and that fluctuates a lot. Sometimes I want to be seen and sometimes I don’t.”
And then she pops on a pair of sunglasses, slings her rucksack on her back, has a cursory look through some of the shots from the shoot – which she greets with a nonchalant shrug of the shoulders – and is gone, still beyond cool.

Tickets for Blondie’s tour this summer are available at

1945 Born in Florida. Is adopted and brought up in New Jersey.
1963 Graduates with an arts degree from Centenary College, New Jersey.
1967 Moves to New York and works as a go-go dancer and Playboy bunny.
1968 Joins folk-rock group The Wind In The Willows.
1974 Forms Blondie with Chris Stein.
1976 The band release their eponymous debut album.
1978 Third album Parallel Lines goes multi-platinum.
1981 Releases her first solo album, KooKoo
1988 Stars in film Hairspray.
1999 Blondie’s comeback single Maria reaches No.1 in 14 countries.
2003 Blondie release their eighth studio album, The Curse Of Blondie.
2006 The band are inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame.
2013 Blondie go back on the road.

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