I Remember: Tony Hadley

Simon Button 15 July 2022

Tony Hadley came to fame as the lead singer with Spandau Ballet. He looks back at his time with the band, performing at Live Aid and meeting Frank Sinatra

One of my fondest childhood memories was when my cousin Rob very kindly gave me his 24-inch bike—I was around eight or nine. It was my pride and joy and I really looked after it, although I fell off loads of times.

I shouldn’t really still be here because I would do stupid things like going downhill with no hands. One time I ended up in hospital with a concussion.

Dad was an engineer for the Daily Mail and I loved visiting him in the machine rooms in Fleet Street.

Mum was a housewife for a long time, then when we kids got older she worked for Islington Area Health.

They were very much post-war parents who instilled in us the idea of “you can achieve anything you want”. They were very pleased when I got into Dame Alice Owen’s Grammar School.

Black and white photo of Tony Hadley as a young boy in a woolly jumperTony Hadley's love of music was inspired by his parents' collection from a young age

I got hooked on music when Dad would play his Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Jack Jones and Ella Fitzgerald records in the run-up to Sunday lunches.

I grew up listening to swing music, which is one of the reasons why I still love it.

I was also massively into punk but Mum told me, “If you want to be a singer you should listen to all types of music, not just Johnny Rotten and Billy Idol.”

"Mum told me, 'If you want to be a singer you should listen to all types of music, not just Johnny Rotten'"

Spandau Ballet were initially a school band. I’d been singing at Pontins holiday camps, winning weekends away for my parents and my brother and sister.

I already knew I wanted to be in the music business and it was just by chance that Steve Norman, who was at the same school as me, said he was thinking of forming a band. I said, “You’re looking at your lead singer.”

We were called The Roots, The Cut, The Makers, Gentry and finally Spandau Ballet.

We were a punk band for a while, but once punk had had its day we switched to electro. After doing lots of gigs around London, we signed with Chrysalis Records and had a UK number five hit with “To Cut a Long Story Short” in 1980.

In those days if you went Top 75 with your first single the record company were happy and with Top 50—they were even happier. So reaching number five was incredible.

Spandau Ballet band members lean against a car on the shore in New YorkSpandau Ballet followed up their first album Journeys to Glory with a visit to New York

When we went to New York to perform at the Underground Club we managed to stop the traffic on several occasions because of how we were dressed.

We took a load of people over with us, like the writer Robert Elms, the photographer Graham Smith, various designers and people who were quite influential in London.

New York in 1981 was a pretty dangerous place and we weren’t viewed with the friendliest of faces because we looked like something from Planet Zog.

Our first album Journeys to Glory did well but we weren’t setting the world alight. Our second album Diamond was viewed as a bit of a turkey and it wasn’t our finest hour.

The True album changed everything, though. It was number one in 21 countries. Suddenly you’re on private planes and in limousines and the world is your oyster.

Performing at Live Aid was amazing. All my heroes that I used to watch on Top of the Pops as a kid were there, like Queen, David Bowie, Phil Collins and Paul McCartney.

There was a fantastic atmosphere backstage and I didn’t see any massive egos flying off the handle.

We all felt part of something that was making history, although when we recorded the Band Aid single “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” we never imagined it would lead to something as huge as Live Aid.

We met Prince Charles at a charity event for the Prince’s Trust. We presented him with a gold disc for our single “True” dressed in what looked like our mums’ blouses.

I’ve since met him on several occasions and he’s always been absolutely delightful, plus I’m a big supporter of the Prince’s Trust.

Many years later, in 2015, I met Her Majesty The Queen at a champagne reception for charity fundraisers at Buckingham Palace. She was absolutely lovely and my wife Alison and my mum were so proud.

"Everybody thinks singers are supremely confident but we’re not. We have moments of doubt like everyone else"

I knew Freddie Mercury really well. We met many times over the years and he gave me some very sound advice as a young singer.

Everybody thinks singers and artists are supremely confident but we’re not. We have moments of doubt like everyone else but Freddie told me: “As the lead singer it’s your responsibility to carry the band. You’re the focal point and it doesn’t matter if you’re feeling under the weather or a bit tired, your job is to communicate with the audience.”

Getting to play the Royal Albert Hall was a dream come true. When I  was 17 I was backstage at a Frank Sinatra show there. The security pushed me away but he asked what was happening and I told him, “I just want to shake your hand and let you know I’m a big fan.”

He said, “It’s great to see young people in the audience”, and when I told him I was in a band he wished me good luck.

I also told him that one day I’d be performing at the Royal Albert Hall myself and I have, twice—first with Spandau, then as a soloist.

Black and white press shot of musician Tony Hadley Tony Hadley never revealed why he left Spandau Ballet, but he went on to start releasing solo material in 1992

When I was asked to do Jesus Christ Superstar for a BBC Radio 2 live show they asked me who I’d like to play Judas. I said Roger Daltrey, and that’s exactly who they got.

Tim Rice, who wrote the lyrics, came along and he was over the moon about the performance.

Later I played Billy Flynn in Chicago, which was more of a challenge because I’d never acted before or done an American accent. I thought it would be a piece of cake but the hardest thing was remembering all the dialogue.

While I was learning it I’d wake up in the middle of the night panicking, but I ended up having a fantastic time.

Doing Reborn in the USA was hilarious. I went around America with my mates Leee John and Peter Cox, finding great restaurants with fine wine while only having to perform a couple of songs a week.

Getting to go to places like Philadelphia, Nashville and Memphis, where some of the best music ever originated from, was the icing on the cake.

"All you want when you sign that first record deal is to be doing this for as long as you can"

I'd done jungle treks for Action Medical Research so being in the jungle for I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here was a doddle. It gave me a whole new audience as well, with a lot of young kids going, “He’s the bloke who sings ‘Gold’!”

Me and Lady C weren’t exactly the best of friends but I didn’t let it get to me. I thought it was a gas and there’s so much of it they didn’t show, like us building Cotswold stone walls and teepees.

Alison and I got married at Cliveden House in 2009. At the time we were recording a Spandau album just down the road and I only had two or three days to spare. I had the weekend off, then we were back in the studio.

It was a beautiful day, a private moment for the two of us, then a couple of weeks later we had a big family party at a great pub in North London.

She’s been an absolute brick, we’re blessed with two wonderful kids and I have three wonderful children with my first wife too. I consider myself to be a very lucky man.

When I step out on stage now I marvel at the fact that I’ve even survived. Music is a tough business to be in and all you want when you sign that first record deal is to be doing this for as long as you can. Every gig I do now is a highlight.

I’ve never said why I left Spandau Ballet. It’s really complex. Things happen in life and you just have to take it on the chin but I’m still really proud of what we achieved and I wish them all the best. 

Read more: 10 Live Aid acts we'll never forget

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