Tony Hadley: ‘Why did I leave Spandau? Ask the Kemps and watch them squirm’

Tony Hadley - Stuart Bennett
Tony Hadley - Stuart Bennett

Tony Hadley, in town from his home in Buckinghamshire for the day, has just been to see his mum Josephine, who turns 90 this August. She still lives in Islington, the north London neighbourhood in which the singer was born, raised and met the other future members of Spandau Ballet. Mother and son had tea and digestives (his favourite biscuit) while Hadley – dapper in blue fine-check suit-jacket (Italian), pocket square (pink), scarf (jaunty), crisp shirt (also pink) – showed her a copy of his new book.

My Life in Pictures is an equally well turned-out collection of 40 years’ worth of images from a life in pop – both as a member of the band and now very much as an ex-member of the band – complete with extended captions written by the man himself.

Here, then, is 19-year-old Hadley in a central London squat, wearing a German leather riding coat bought in Camden Market for £30, looking just a bit tomorrow-belongs-to-me. But to be clear: “I’m not a Nazi or a fascist!” he chuckles gamely. “I call myself a conservative communist: everyone’s equal, but I like making money. Yeah, there was a lot of flirtation with that look going on. There’s later pictures with us in Saint-Tropez wearing leather boots. Looking at it now, it does look a bit weird.”

Here, too, are the band on the set of the video for 1980’s debut single To Cut A Long Story Short, wearing the New Romantic clothes that came, however erroneously, to define them – a bracing mix of British military and Highland wear.

This, Hadley says, gave rise to one of the oddest rumours of their early 80s reign. “People said I was in the Scottish army! Another one was that I was having an affair with an Italian contessa’s daughter. I'd never even met her. Italian paparazzi mate, you don't want to even go there.

A pre-Spandau Tony Hadley, as seen in his new book
A pre-Spandau Tony Hadley, as seen in his new book

“But the thing is, because Steve Norman wore the kilt,” Hadley continues, poking a big finger at the picture of the band’s saxophonist, “everyone thinks it was me. But I just had tartan trews on.”

Then there are stills from the video for 1983 hit Communication, with that leather coat again making an appearance and Hadley cradling a “massive camera with a huge lens that was meant to look like a gun. A phallic symbol-type thing.”

The idea, as best he can remember, was for “a bit of an action adventure” set in London’s then-regenerating Docklands and starring a second-hand, three-litre automatic Capri, alongside with actress Leslie Ash and boxer John Conteh.

“Videos in the 80s, mate,” says Hadley, his north London vowels undimmed by four decades’ high-flying, “were something else… So there we were, me and Leslie, sitting pretty close on a sofa in a crappy house in Kings Cross, cameras all around us. I’ve got my shirt undone quite low. And the director wanted a bit of dialogue. Now, I’m not an actor. I said to Leslie, ‘I’m really nervous, I've never done this before.’ And she went, ‘Oh, don’t worry about it, darling.’ And then put her hand just inside my shirt to calm me down! Of course that didn't calm me down at all!”

Flicking through her son’s photo album, his mum had different feelings, too. “It’s obviously bringing back loads of memories for her, because my dad’s in there, and her mum’s in there, and they’re no longer with us. You have to detach yourself when you're putting a book like this together, because otherwise it’s too emotional.”

Hadley knows of what he speaks. “There’s all these pictures reliving the past, which is quite dangerous. But then also: the Spandau pictures – I can look at them really fondly and not go, ‘Oh, there’s been all this angst and anger in the band,’” he notes of a warring band who’ve had not just their day in court but a subsequent, hatchets-buried turn on the reunion carousel – and then, hatchets excavated, another seemingly irrevocable split. “Because we had some fantastic times together as a band.”

We’ll get to Spandau’s band fandango and legal contretemps presently. For now, sitting in a pub near Oxford Street, Hadley is excellent company – clubbable and bubbly and, within pouting distance of his 62nd birthday in June, as full of hair and of voice as he ever was. He’s in the midst of a UK tour with his TH Band, a run of shows also celebrating four decades in music. He insists he is as hungry for all this as he ever was.

“Because I like what I do,” he says plainly as he starts opening an IPA. “You have to pinch yourself every now and again. Number one, it doesn’t seem like 42 years. But if you really love what you do,” he adds, sipping and shrugging. “I’m not remotely qualified for anything else! You wouldn’t want me to be your plumber! Or your electrician, given that my dad and my brother are sparks. The travelling is the only thing that gets you down,” adds this twice-married father of five who clearly dotes on his kids, who range in age from 38 to 10.

“But even when I was 20 that wore you down. I always say to the audience, when To Cut A Long Story Short first got a few radio plays, we were so excited as young guys. Now at 61 I’m still so excited that I’m getting played on radio! T’rrific!”

'People said I was in the Scottish army!': Tony Hadley with Spandau Ballet in 1980 - Virginia Turbett/Redferns
'People said I was in the Scottish army!': Tony Hadley with Spandau Ballet in 1980 - Virginia Turbett/Redferns

My Life In Pictures trips the light poptastic across the 80s. We see a snapshot of the moment that started Spandau Ballet’s blockbuster phase, an image of the band during the recording of their breakthrough third album, 1983’s True, at Chris Blackwell’s Compass Point studio at Nassau.

“One of the reasons we went there was that we’d heard it was a brilliant studio – and it was in the Bahamas, so that was always good! Plus, if you made your album out of the UK, you got a tax break on the profits from the album.”

And those profits were about to be very tidy indeed. “If I’m honest, I didn’t think True was the single,” admits Hadley of the title track, “because that was such a departure – [compared to] the Journeys to Glory and Diamond albums, all of a sudden, we're a blue-eyed soul, laidback kind of thing. Then Simon Bates played True on Radio 1, then he played it again, and he said, ‘If this is not number one, there’s no justice in the world.' And at that point, we all went, ‘OK, let’s release it as a single.’”

True flew. It gave Spandau Ballet their first – and only – UK Number One, a feat it repeated, says Hadley, in 21 countries. “And top five in America for four weeks. That then changes the whole picture. We’re selling hundreds of thousands of albums, the venue’s get bigger and we’ve got this massive scream-teen fanbase.

Spandau Ballet in Nassau, where they recorded True in 1982 - Getty
Spandau Ballet in Nassau, where they recorded True in 1982 - Getty

“Prior to that, our audience was club-goers, quite grown-up, really. But all of a sudden, between us and Duran Duran, we’re now appealing to 14- and 15-year-olds, who are screaming and going mental. The whole dynamic changed.”

As for the alleged rivalry between New Romantic’s two frilly-bloused titans, one whipped up in the pop press: fake news. The way Hadley describes it, everyone got on. “The Durannies were always good fun. There was one point where [Duran Duran bassist] John Taylor said to me, ‘Is it true what you said about us?’ I said, ‘John, no, I'm a big fan.’ But it was all a load of old nonsense. Generally speaking, most artists got on alright.”

He rattles through a gaggle their Top 40 peers. “Paul Young, great mate of mine. Rick Astley, lovely fella. The Westie boys [Go West], we were signed at the same time. Iron Maiden boys, brilliant. All the Queen boys, fantastic. Rod Stewart, wow. Elton has always been pretty cool. Frankie Goes to Hollywood – we had some nights out with them! Flippin’ hell. They were hardcore!”

Then there was Def Leppard. Sheffield’s heavy metal titans, an arena-filling concern in the US, were “a terrific bunch of lads” with whom Spandau Ballet had more in common than you might think; both bands were in tax exile in Ireland at the same time.

Tony Hadley in 1982 - Getty
Tony Hadley in 1982 - Getty

“Tax was horrendous!” exclaims Hadley. “We were all still living in flats, and we were hoping to one day have a house. The misconception is that you make millions and millions of pounds. You don't. You make a certain amount of money, you’ve got debts to pay back to the record company, and you've got to split it five ways.”

So, Dublin here we come, where “the funniest thing was going round to [singer] Joe Elliot’s house with all the Def Leppards and Spandau and watching Spinal Tap. It was one of those moments where you realise that we were laughing a little bit more than them. But they did laugh.”

We also see images of New Romantic scenesters like the late Paula Yates and the late Steve Strange. I tell Hadley how Robbie Williams once told me that it was the latter, the club promoter and member of Visage, who introduced him to cocaine.

“Oh really?” says Hadley, with his bottom lip pursed. “I’ve never taken a line of coke in my life. There were lots of drugs going round in the Blitz [club] days: poppers, blues, amyl nitrate, bit of coke, although no one had enough money for that. And I made a vow to my grandmother Rose. She said I had her blessing to be in the music business – bit like the Mafia, my family, sometimes! – ‘but you must promise me you’ll never take any drugs.’ And I never have.”

How hard was that in the 80s? Easy, it seems. “I don’t like not being in control. If you have a couple of pints, you can go: I’ve had now, I’m going home. But if you’ve taken a pill... Listen, I’ve seen stacks of drugs. But Spandau were a bit more of a drinking band. We all liked a pint. I’m not going to talk for the others, but I certainly never indulged.”

Tony Hadley on maneuvers with the armed forces
Tony Hadley on maneuvers with the armed forces

Elsewhere, there are more photographs from video shoots, Top of the Pops appearances, Band Aid and Live Aid (“Why didn’t we do Gold? We did Virgin!” he says of a song they released the following year. “I don’t even do that now!”), line-ups with Prince Charles and The Queen, and snaps of a uniformed Hadley on manoeuvres playing for British forces in the Falklands, Kosovo and Bosnia.

The latter sets in particular play into the image of Tony Hadley as a bit of an Establishment favourite – a sense underlined by his being one of the rare pop stars to historically out himself as a Conservative voter. He remains unabashed in his support, although Partygate, which he deems “appalling”, has dimmed his enthusiasm. “I don’t have a problem with people saying ‘Tory Tone’ or whatever. I don’t agree with everything that that the Tories do. Same as if I was a Labourite. You pick and choose what you agree with. And if you can change it, you will change it."

And then, of course, there’s band politics. Spoiling the party somewhat in My Life in Pictures is the image on page 106: a paparazzi image of Hadley, Norman and drummer John Keeble striding into the High Court in London in 1999 as part of their dispute over royalties with chief Spandau Ballet songwriter Gary Kemp (and by extension his guitarist brother Martin).

Steve Norman, John Keeble and Tony Hadley outside court following their failed legal bid - Phil Coburn
Steve Norman, John Keeble and Tony Hadley outside court following their failed legal bid - Phil Coburn

Why was it important for Hadley to include a remembrance of a dark chapter – not to mention an unsuccessful one – in this celebration of his 40-year career? “Because it's part of my 40-year career,” he shoots back. “It was a big moment. Unfortunately we lost. But I would do it all over again, because I believed I was right. And I know there were certain people within the judiciary who think I was right. And also,” he chirps, “I look quite smart!”

Ten years after that court battle, the band got back together for a tour, a moment commemorated in jolly publicity pictures aboard HMS Belfast on the River Thames: “I'll be really honest with you: it was it was one of the most difficult decisions.” He explains how it was actually the fault, or doing, of “my great pal” Shane Richie, then a DJ on Virgin radio. “He’s a massive Spandau fan. And he was trying to prompt me: ‘Come on, Tone!’

“And just to shut him up, I just said, ‘Yeah, we'll get back together in a couple years.’ All of a sudden, it ended up on the news around the world, that we were going to get back together. And it was John Keeble that said, ‘Look, you know, this has really sort of started to snowball. How do you feel?’ And I’ve just said it as a joke, I actually wasn’t serious.

“But after six months of deliberation, I finally thought, OK, maybe it’s time to try and move forward… So that’s what we did. The last meeting was between me and Gary, in The Flask in Highgate [in north London]. And John was sitting between us! Just in case one of us might, you know... And, yeah, it wasn’t an easy conversation. But we agreed to disagree, to try and move forward and to put the past behind us. And that's what we did.”

Spandau Ballet reuniting in Cannes, 2009 - Getty
Spandau Ballet reuniting in Cannes, 2009 - Getty

Then, 31 pages and six years later, there’s another picture, which Hadley has captioned The Last Supper. It’s the beginning of the end. “That was taken a couple of days before our last show in Hong Kong. And on the day of the show, or the day after, they wanted to have a meeting. It was all to discuss what the future was. And I said, ‘Well, hold it, guys, I’ve done a year and a half. My understanding of the whole situation was that we get together periodically. And then we all go off and do our own things.’

“That didn’t go down very well, ha ha!” he laughs. “You gotta remember, I’ve been a solo artist for much longer than I was ever in Spandau. I had the fabulous TH Band hanging around. I had an album to finish, Talking To The Moon. So I needed to move away from them.”

That’s why he cannily sought to put some clear, reality TV water between him and his former bandmates, booking passage on I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here in 2015. “Because that then focuses everyone’s attention on me as a solo artist again. I needed people to know that. But I said: Look, we’ll keep things open...’ Anyway, it went from bad to worse.”

Why was it not acceptable to the Kemp brothers that the band reconvene periodically? “Actually, Gary understood completely. I think...” He stops. “I don’t quite know, I think they thought we were on a roll. And I thought we’d played everywhere, we'd had a film [2014 documentary Soul Boys of the Western World]... You can't carry on. You have to give people a break.”

In the seven years since that Hong Kong fury, it seems like the enmity between Hadley and the rump Spands – specifically, really, Gary and Martin – has deepened. In 2020’s spoof BBC Kemp brothers documentary The Kemps: All True, Gary revealed a painting habit that had resulted in a wonky portrait of Hadley complete with fangs and horns.

“That bit was funny – I laughed my head off,” Hadley admits cheerfully. “And also the bit with Rag ‘N Bone Man, when he asked them if they'd mind signing something – and he had a Tony Hadley album. That was hilarious. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a prude in that sense. But I didn’t like the scene between Martin and Shirlie.”

What, the jokey interlude where Martin alluded to a three-way marriage with wife Shirlie Holliman and Pepsi deMacque-Crockett, her former fellow Wham! backing singer? “Yeah, I didn’t find that funny. I found that uncomfortable. Because I know Martin, Shirlie, Pepsi. That to me is not comedy.”

Which begs the question: what actually happened? “I've never said, and I'm not going to say now,” Hadley says, shrugging. “But they entered on a course of action. And they’ve been on TV and they’ve been interviewed and the say, ‘Well, things just weren't [right].’ But I really wish someone would just say, ‘What did you do to Tony to make him leave the band?’ I didn't want to leave the band.”

OK, I say – why don’t you say it now? “I’m not gonna,” Hadley answers, with just a hint of a pout. “It’s not for me. It’s for them to say what they did to me. The ball’s in their court. And I really do wish that a journalist at some point would say, ‘Come on guys. Just be honest. Why did he leave the band?’ Because you don’t leave a band like Spandau Ballet on a whim. It’s a big band. It’s a brand. Anyway, ask them one day. Have an interview with Gary, or Martin, and see ’em squirm, ha ha!”

What would it take now to initiate another reconciliation? “Nothing. I’m not a terribly nostalgic person, which sounds really weird considering I just made this book. But I do not go back and listen to old Spandau Ballet records. I don’t go back and listen to Tony Hadley records. Once I’ve done it, and once I’m happy with the mix, and I think I’ve done a good job, then I’m moving on to the next project. I’ve got hardly any memorabilia at all.

“I just look forward to tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow. I’ve never been any different. I mean, in some ways, I don’t think I’m the full ticket!” Tony Hadley chuckles. “But you got to be happy. And the one thing I’m happy in is music. Unfortunately, not with the boys, ha ha!”

My Life In Pictures (Omnibus Press), published on April 21, is available from Telegraph Books priced £20