Mandy Pellatt interviews Hazel O'Connor:
I wish that I was as cool as my husband. He can proudly claim that the first single he ever bought was Eighth Day by Hazel O’Connor. Mine, on the other hand, was Really Saying Something by Bananarama and Fun Boy Three.
It could have been worse, I suppose. The former Specials were pretty cool, but let’s be honest, this particular record wasn’t one of their best.
But there’s one thing that Fun Boy Three and Hazel O’Connor did have common - and that was Coventry. Home of the Second Wave 2 Tone revival and Third Wave ska movement , the West Midlands city spawned some of the most ground-breaking music of the ’70s and ’80s.
And Hazel placed a huge stamp of her own on the early ’80s music scene with her subgenre rock New Wave style, after starring in and writing the entire soundtrack to Dodi Fayed’s iconic film, Breaking Glass, which saw her launched into the stratosphere overnight.
I caught up with Hazel at her home in Ireland, where she was busily preparing for her Greatest Hits / Breaking Glass UK tour.
“So, are you looking forward to touring again?” I ask her.
“Yeah, big time,” she replies with genuine enthusiasm. “This has been the culmination of a couple of years’ work.
“Things like finally getting the film [Breaking Glass] out on DVD, because people have been asking me for the last 10 or 15 years: ‘When can we get the DVD?’ I’d say, ‘Oh, that will be soon,’ which was absolutely not true, because it just kept getting delayed and delayed.”
To the outside world, after Breaking Glass, Hazel appeared to become an overnight success. But was that actually the case?
“I started writing a couple of years before really,” she replies. “Before that I’d been an adventuress; a hippy; a cabaret girl in Japan and then Beirut.
“So I felt I’d had all my adventures in life. I had no pretentions or wishes to be famous in the music business. I just wanted my boyfriend to marry me - and I would have. But he didn’t ask,” she laughs.
“At the end of our time together I thought, ‘Ooh, crikey, what am I going to do now?’
“I was 21 by then. Breaking Glass suddenly came my way, as if by some strange whack of fate. I went to this record company that had given me a quid for a single deal about three months before and said: ‘Look, I know your telephonist is away on holiday. Can I take her job for two weeks, because I’ve got no money to pay my rent?’
“So I was answering the phones when a casting agent phoned up asking to speak to somebody about a singer called Hazel O’Connor.
“And I said: ‘Well that’s me!’ And they said, ‘We’re auditioning lots of people for extra parts in this film - would you like to come in?’ And that’s how it all began.
“I did get catapulted into an area of celebrity that I would never have imagined for myself. And much as I appreciated it all, it was pretty scary.
“And once you’ve seen that come and you’ve seen it go, and it gentles out a little bit, then the question you ask is ‘Oh dear, am I still famous?’
“It doesn’t worry me one way or another. I can walk down the street sometimes and everybody seems to know me. Other times I’ll get in a cab and they’ll say, ‘Oh Sinead!’” she laughs.
Hazel earned her place in history as the first woman to write and perform all the songs for a film, and after Breaking Glass she won the Variety Club of Great Britain’s 1980 Film Actress of the Year Award. In 1981 the singer-songwriter was also nominated for a BAFTA for Best Newcomer, and Breaking Glass was nominated for Best Film soundtrack.
Heady times indeed for a young woman who had gone from stand-in telephonist to superstar almost overnight. Does she find herself harking back to those times?
“Oh God no,” she exclaims. “I don’t mean that like ‘Oh I hated it!’ I just don’t miss it. In retrospect, I think ‘God, that was brilliant!’ It’s just that at the time I didn’t really have time to appreciate it.
“I’ve become less political in my writing over the years. I think myself and maybe my contemporaries age-wise - the fans that come to see me - are all going through the same kind of life stories now. These experiences override the political stuff.
“I do still worry about the world we live in, big time, and I do write stuff about it sometimes. But I think I said what I needed to say back then.
“I’ve lost my mum to cancer and I’ve spent the last four years - two of those taking the cancer journey with her and the next two trying to make sense of the world without her.”
Her experience of which is included in her new autobiography, Breaking Glass Barefoot.
Hazel will be bringing her Greatest Hits / Breaking Glass UK tour to the Subscription Rooms on November 2 .
To buy copies of the new Breaking Glass DVD, or Hazel’s autobiography, go to her website at HazelOConnorofficial.com