Adam Ant: Adam And The Fall

STUART GODDARD is one of the most gifted – and most troubled – pop stars this country has ever produced.

The artist known as Adam Ant, namechecked these days by a swathe of influential new bands from Kaiser Chiefs to the Bravery, has agreed to talk to me for an hour – the first interview he has granted since the tumultuous events of 2002 to 2003, when he was arrested and hospitalised in bizarre circumstances, not once but twice. But he will only talk on the phone.

There was considerable comment made during Ant’s annus horribilis about his appearance. The gorgeous dandy highwayman and swashbuckling pop pirate behind such original and inventive number-one hits as ‘Stand and Deliver’ and ‘Prince Charming’ had lost his looks.

So is Ant, responsible for some of the most arresting images in pop, uncomfortable about being seen? “No, this is just fitting in with my timetable,” he says. “I’m having a few days out of London. It’s the most expedient way to do the interview. Normally I’d do it face to face. I don’t have a problem with that.”

He sounds by turns lucid and weary, the result, perhaps, of the medication he’s taking for depression. Some things he instantly recalls, others he doesn’t remember at all. His cover version of Neil Diamond’s ‘America’, a charity record for the New York fire-fighters, doesn’t ring any bells, nor does his 2002 single ‘Big Trouble’, a snippet of which was played by Nicky Campbell on BBC Radio 2. “No,” he says, vaguely, “that wasn’t me.” Then there was the improbable re-recording, in 2003, of ‘Stand and Deliver’, re-titled ‘Save the Gorilla’, with royalties intended for the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund (Adam has loved gorillas since childhood). “Yeah, that was the last time I went into a studio,” he says, more brightly. “I think what’s going on with gorillas is pretty bad. The fact is that you can buy gorilla meat in London any day you want it.”

Ant’s problems began in December 2001 when, during a Christmas party at London’s Regency Rooms, he had to be dragged from the stage after he refused to leave following a set of strange renditions of his 1980s hits.

It got worse. One Saturday afternoon in January 2002, he walked into the Prince of Wales pub in Kentish Town wearing a combat jacket and a white cowboy hat. Some locals made fun of his outfit and tauntingly whistled the theme from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Taking the credo “ridicule is nothing to be scared of” (from ‘Prince Charming’) too far, he later returned to the scene and threw a car alternator through the pub window, hitting a man on the head. He then pulled out a replica Second World War revolver and threatened to shoot approaching staff.

He was arrested, charged with intent to cause fear of violence and criminal damage, and released. But by the Monday night, a psychiatric team had come to his flat, and he was sectioned. “I’ve been abducted,” he told a reporter. “The whole thing’s a conspiracy.” After appearing at the Old Bailey in October 2002, he received a £500 fine and a 12-month community rehabilitation order.

But he wasn’t out of the woods yet. In June 2003, after several months in and out of hospital being treated for depression, Ant found himself once more in a secure ward. According to witnesses, after he hurled stones at windows near his Primrose Hill home, Ant headed off to the nearby Curly Dog café where he “ranted about children” before pulling down his trousers and curling up in a foetal position in the basement and saying he wanted to sleep. When the police arrived, he refused to come out.

“I just had a bad day, really,” Ant says in flat cockney tones, when I ask about the incident. “I’d been in hospital, I’d come out and I was just very unwell.”

In July 2003, Channel 4 aired The Madness of Prince Charming. With his assistance, it detailed Ant’s history of mental illness (at 21, he was diagnosed with Bipolar Affective Disorder), anorexia and suicidal tendencies. It was one of the station’s most-watched programmes that year. “It was quite a heavy thing to do,” he says of the documentary. “But it got the best reaction of anything I’ve ever done. Everyone I meet says I’m really glad you said that, because someone in my family has got a mental illness.”

I ask him if he thinks torment and creativity go hand in hand. “I don’t know. I’m a rock and roll singer. I’d feel a bit pompous saying creative people are prone to that. What came out of the documentary is that everybody has got someone in their family who has either suffered in silence or has experience of the illness, and they never get their point of view aired. And the point I wanted to make,” he says, more assuredly now, “is that most people think pop or rock or whatever is a bowl of cherries, and it ain’t. It can be very taxing, very exhausting. It chews ’em up and spits ’em out.”

Ant’s experiences in the music industry have been far from happy. His first band, Bazooka Joe, had their thunder stolen during a gig in November 1975 at St Martin’s School of Art by support act the Sex Pistols. When Adam and the Ants emerged during punk, they were reviled for their S & M imagery, and Adam became the whipping boy of the press, who regarded him as inauthentic. In 1980, Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren lured the original Ants away to form Bow Wow Wow, who borrowed Ant’s brainwave – a Burundi-drum approach to rock rhythm.

Even when Adam and his new band of Ants became the hottest pop act since T.Rex, racking up nine hits in 18 months and enjoying 91 weeks on the charts in 1981 alone (a record unbeaten for 15 years), the critics remained largely unimpressed.

It was no less difficult when, in 1987, his biological father Les (he was brought up by his mother and stepfather Tony) was found guilty of gross indecency on a junior. The tabloids had a field day.

Then in 1989, following a move to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career, he found himself pursued by a stalker, Ruth Marie Torres, whose erratic behaviour – poisoning his fish pond, trying to kill his dogs, shouting obscenities while naked in the street outside his house – sent Ant over the edge. He suffered a breakdown and admitted himself to Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre. When he got out, he moved in with aspiring actress Heather Graham (following previous relationships with Amanda Donahoe between 1977 and 1981, and Jamie Lee Curtis in 1983), but when that relationship fell apart he moved back to London – and the attentions of yet another stalker. “They must like me,” he says. “I’ve no idea why. They just come along out the blue and they find out where you live. And then the fun starts. Then they start messing around with your life.”

The only good things in Ant’s life these past few years have been his daughter with Lorraine Goddard, Lily, born in 1998, and his music. He is currently working on some “very personal” new songs, for an album with the projected title Fist in the Skull.

Does he sympathise with Jackson’s plight today? “Well, yeah, having to go to court every day, you feel shitty and you look shitty, and yet you’ve still got to do this thing. The problems he’s got he’s going to have to get himself out of. It’s very easy to be judgmental about people in that situation. But I think the guy’s a genius.”

How about Adam Ant, is he a genius? “No, I have to work too hard to be a genius.” Do people judge you? “Well, no one’s come up and said, ‘You’re nuts,’ or anything like that. People tend to keep their distance.”

© Paul LesterDaily Telegraph, 9 April 2005

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