Peter Andre: We know it’s chilly. But where was his six-pack when the lights went on?

I AM TRAVELLING to Radio One in the back of a white limo with teen pop sensation Peter Andre, his PR, a camera crew, the Observer‘s photographer, and Andre’s road manager. Luckily, the limo is of the stretch variety and, for a heartthrob famed for his abdominal “six-pack”, Andre is very slight. Even with his legs and arms flung out as wide as they can go, and wearing a jacket that a small child could use as a Wendy house, he only takes up half an inch of space. Andre is so titchy that I keep worrying he might slip down the back of the seat like loose change. Then I would have to fish him out by his trademark sticky-up fringe, which usually resembles an octopus doing the can-can, but today looks very limp and jet-lagged.

Hardly surprising, really. Andre has only just flown into London from Amsterdam, where he was hanging out with a lot of “really nice” pop stars at the MTV awards. (To “endure” in the pop world you must be “humble”, according to Andre.) Later tonight, he will be flying off to Australia to visit his sick grandfather, but, before that, he will, among other things, switch on the Oxford Street Christmas lights.

(“A great great honour,” says Andre, his eyes glistening, possibly with terror at the thought of following the Spice Girls, who did it last year.)

At all times during the evening. Andre will keep his top on. thus confirming his new “serious” image. Or maybe he just feels cold.

Andre’s new album, Time, further underlines the “mature” route the 24-year-old has taken. In contrast to old hits like ‘Mysterious Girl’, ‘All About Us’ and ‘Slava’, it features collaborations with Coolio, Diane Warren, the Fugees, and Montell Jordan, all of whom “dig” Andre’s vocals big time. “They’re only interested in vocals in America,” he says, slightly wistfully, as if this were a blow to his ambitions as a mime artist. Having watched his Just For You: Live At Wembley video, I can reveal that Andre has a decent enough voice, and can kick-box with the best of them. Indeed, it is the most impressive blend of pop and martial arts I have witnessed since ‘Kung Fu Fighting’. Unfortunately, it is also the only blend of pop and martial arts I have witnessed since ‘Kung Fu Fighting’.

And, lest we forget, there is the fabled six-pack. According to press reports, Andre, a Greek Cypriot like George Michael, first developed this extraordinary musculature as a means of scaring off racists when he was growing up in Australia. Now, it is all a question of personal taste, but I don’t like the effects of body building — I think it makes people look like they have been squeezed out of icing bags. The fact is that Andre’s teeny-bopper followers do like it. So aren’t they going to be cheesed off by his coy new image (which, judging by his press shots, will involve lots of walking along beaches in buttoned-up tops)?

Some minxish characters with cars and mobile phones outside his hotel (teeny-bopper stalkers are so organised these days!) certainly weren’t slow in complaining that Andre hadn’t “got them out” for a while. When I tell him this, Andre smiles lasciviously, and says that his “live shows would not disappoint”. What does he mean by that, I ask?

“Ahaaa!”, says Andre, smirking mysteriously. All of a sudden, I feel totally exhausted. Who, over the age of 12, cares if Peter Andre takes his top off ever again? Not him, definitely. Time is full of ultra-grown-up outpourings about his emotions, his spirituality, his capacity for luurve. Depending on your taste in music this could be seen as a good or bad thing. I thought it was like being slowly drowned in treacle, but then I am of the opinion that anyone who mentions the word “love” more than once in a song should be tortured by having Barry White sit on them. Earlier in the day, at the Regent Plaza Hotel, Andre patiently outlined his new mature image to the vivacious Indian TV presenter of TeenAsia, who nonetheless introduced him to her viewers as a “Natural Born Thriller”, and made him wear a garland of tinsel, and a necklace of penny sweets.

In the course of the interview, Andre revealed that he had enjoyed his visit to India, occasionally fell asleep when he was eating, and considered his new single ‘Lonely’ to have a positive message. “It’s like don’t say goodbye to the things you love because you could just end up lonely,” he whispers softly, from somewhere within another huge jacket. The presenter nods brusquely, and asks Andre to make rude noises to represent his feelings about stuff like Bay Watch, picking your bogies and eating them, the Spice Girls, and wearing the same underwear for over a week. She then shows off a Peter Andre doll’s moulded pants.

Even as I secretly applaud the presenter’s “Embarrass the Bastard” interview technique, not for the first time I feel terribly sorry for her victim. Not only was he now about to endure an excruciating corporate video interview, during which he would be called upon to schmooze the prime movers of Mushroom Records (his Australian label), but his new “mature” routine had got off to a bad start.

Here he was, doing his damnedest to lose his teeny sheen, and people were still asking him about eating bogies and trying to get him to show off his abdomen. The fans outside were even worse — telling me about Andre’s alleged nose job, and sniping that he looked much better with his hat on.

Indeed, on a general note, one of the great things about boy pop stars is the way their stalker girl fans humiliate and objectify them. In some small way, it seems to make up for centuries of female oppression.

Just as I am feeling really sorry for Peter Andre (in the back of the limo, he actually flinches when I ask him what it feels like to be universally dismissed as “bland and boring”), I remember that this sweet-faced, polite young man with the long curly eyelashes is not a babe in arms deserving of my maternal urges. He is a rich pop star who is about to switch on the Oxford Street Christmas lights.

Moreover, Andre is about to commit the cardinal sin of pop music: getting “serious” on us. However much his publicity people rant on about this “surprising” new twist in his career, the fact remains that it is about as surprising as a Duchess Of York spread in Hello!. Ever since Andre’s big hero George Michael disbanded Wham! and grew a bad beard, teen pop stars have been itching for their own shot at churning out “mature” albums with tasteful covers. While I wish Andre all the best, I cannot help wondering why a 24-year-old with the world at his feet would want to be “mature” anyway.

Just as I am leaving, Andre makes a point of poking me in the arm. “Y’know,” he “grins”, through gritted teeth, still obviously stung by my “bland and boring” enquiry: “I bet I have I have a lot more fun than most people”.

A fiver at Ladbroke’s says he doesn’t.

© Barbara EllenThe Observer, 9 November 1997

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