He's Noddy, but so nice: We speak to Slade's singer
As he publishes an autobiography, Noddy Holder talks about his family, royalties and reunions with Hannah Stephenson
His trademark mirrored top hat is now locked in a bank vault, his annual royalty cheque from bestselling festive hit Merry Xmas Everybody provides a lucrative pension, and former Slade frontman Noddy Holder has his feet firmly on the ground.
“I don’t think a day goes by when someone doesn’t shout, ‘It’s Christmas’, at me. Merry Xmas Everybody is 41 years old. It’s a pension plan we never realised would happen,” says the 68-year-old godfather of glam rock.
Today, he lives comfortably in Manchester with his second wife Suzan, still enjoys a good party — although not to the same extent as 40 years ago — and remains as much fun to talk to as his hits were to sing along to, from Cum On Feel The Noize to Mama Weer All Crazee Now.
“We were a very happy-go-lucky band and we remained that way for most of our career. But towards the end, we’d spent 25 years together, the same four guys, as a band, and after that amount of time you’re going to start having differences with one another, because you’ve grown up in different ways and gone in different directions in your personal life. For me, the fun had gone.”
He took time off in the mid-Eighties, when he split from his first wife, Leandra, with whom he has daughters Jessica and Charisse.
“My personal life was in turmoil. I was going through a divorce and had two kids who had to cope with the divorce, and my dad was very ill.
“All those things came all at the same time.”
Personality clashes, egos and “musical differences” put the final nail in Slade’s coffin in the early Nineties. After leaving, Holder forged a radio and TV career, with radio shows and voice-over work. He also appeared in ITV’s The Grimleys and had a cameo in an episode of Coronation Street.
Holder was awarded the MBE in 2000 for his services to showbusiness. Today, he is happily married to TV producer Suzan Price, 20 years his junior, with whom he has a son, Django, named after jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt.
“In my first marriage, I was away touring and my daughters didn’t know any different from that. It had been like that since they were born. I don't think I was a bad dad first time around, it was just circumstances that took me away from the family a lot more. But I provided them with a good lifestyle.
“I should have set aside more time with them when they were young. I did miss out on a load of stuff, and you can’t get that time back.
“With my second marriage, I had a child and I wasn’t going to do the same thing again. I wasn’t going to go away from home when he was growing up for more than two weeks at a time.”
Many of his thoughts are charted in The World According To Noddy, in which he shares accounts of his days on the road, celebrity gossip and general musings about fame, friendship and fatherhood, his dislike of social media, how he manages the ups and downs of modern life, and the tough realities of ageing.
They had Django when Holder was 49, but he has no qualms about being an older dad.
“All my friends were aghast that I would contemplate having a kid at 49. They thought I was mad. My second wife really wanted a baby, and I just knew it was the right thing to do.”
He and Suzan have an unusually good relationship with his ex-wife.
“Suzan is probably closer to my first wife than I am! My daughters used to come and stay and they got on really well with Suzan. They set the groundwork for when they did meet.
“Every divorce is painful, but it was as civilised as it possibly could be and we both wanted the best for our two daughters.”
The book is peppered with stories about Slade, the band from the Black Country, who partied hard with drink rather than drugs.
“We never got into the drugs scene. I don’t know whether it was to do with our upbringing and where we came from in the Black Country. We didn’t change much internally when we became famous. We had that working class ethic that we worked hard and we played hard. We were big party animals, but we knew when to stop.”
They didn’t trash hotel rooms because they were too worried about footing the bill.
“We were never a cool band, we were a successful band. We wanted to be a commercial band and to sell our music around the world. We wanted number one singles and albums, from the day we formed in 1966. We weren’t bothered about what the critics said about us.”
But while other bands, like Spandau Ballet and Culture Club, put their off-stage spats to one side for reunion tours, it’s not something Holder can ever see happening with Slade. The band has never seemed able to make up.
He doesn’t keep in touch, although two of the original line-up — Dave Hill and Don Powell — are still touring as Slade, with two other musicians.
The original bass player Jim Lea, with whom Holder wrote many of their hits, was unhappy about that, but Holder says life’s too short to bear grudges. “We had 25 years as a band and I didn’t want to get into a ruckus with them. I don’t want hassle. We never get together. We’ve been in the same room about twice in the last 20 years.
“I would much rather we were close friends and that we could go out for a meal together and have a laugh about the old days, but some of them have chips on their shoulders which are 30 years old.”
Today, making a name for yourself is a very different business, he says, although TV talent shows began long before The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent were conceived.
“We had Opportunity Knocks and New Faces. The only difference now is that they are big, spectacular TV shows. To me, they don’t say anything about current trends in music. I look upon them as a TV variety show. I don’t think they are a barometer for the music business at all. I mean, how many people can you name who won The X Factor? Very few have had long-term success.”
“Fame is not for the faint-hearted,” he continues. “If you are looking to get into the business just for fame, you might as well forget it, because you’re not going to be around for very long. What it takes to be around for a long time is hard work. Your first hit record is only the first rung on the ladder.”
He still misses the music, although he went on tour last year with his pal, Radio 6 DJ Mark Radcliffe to do An Audience With Noddy Holder.
Now semi-retired, he splits his time between the UK and Portugal, where he has a house, but would like to carry on writing, feels he has a solo album still in him and has lectured at Liverpool University, where his son is studying sound technology.
“I do try to instil in the students that success is all down to hard work. You don’t get nothing for nothing.”
- The World According To Noddy by Noddy Holder, Constable, £8.99
His love of DIY... and the black stuff
- When the multimillion-pound New Art Gallery in Walsall in the West Midlands was built, Noddy's voice was chosen for the lifts to announce the floor levels
- He was always a well-behaved rock star, even in his heydey - an attempt to drive a car into a swimming pool ended up with the vehicle stalling on the patio. Oh and, according to reports, instead of trashing hotel rooms, you were more likely to find Noddy with a screwdriver in hand, trying to fix a wonky shelf
- He was ditched by TV's Grumpy Old Men for not, er, being grumpy enough
- The object that Noddy values most in the world is his parents' wooden Art Deco clock. "It never lost a minute until it suddenly stopped in 1988 at the exact time my dad Jack died - 3.30pm," he says
- His favourite book is The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. "I read it at school when I was 12, it was my first detective novel"
- His beloved Gibson SG stage guitar was stolen at a gig in the 70s - and Noddy later found out the culprit was a big star. "Years later, I got a letter from a singer who was big in the 1980s, admitting he stole it. He was in rehab and part of his recovery was to seek forgiveness for past sins. I didn't reply as the guitar was so special I couldn't forgive him. It wouldn't be fair to name him"
- He loves the film Cabaret, starring Liza Minelli
- If he could organise his own funeral service then the music would be Al Jolson's Let Me Sing And I'm Happy. "And all my mates would make speeches saying how wonderful I was. I'd leave a humongous tab behind the bar with loads of Guinness"
How that classic hit came about
Noddy had already co-written five number ones with bandmate Jimmy Lea by the time he got round to penning Merry Xmas Everybody. "We'd decided to write a Christmas song and I wanted to make it reflect a British family Christmas," he says.
It was 1973 and he wanted the song to reflect the mood in the country at the time. "Economically, the country was up the creek. The miners had been on strike, along with the grave-diggers, the bakers and almost everybody else. I think people wanted something to cheer them up - and so did I. That's why I came up with the line Look To The Future Now/It's Only Just Begun." Noddy began tinkering with a song he'd written a few years earlier and two hours later one of the greatest Christmas songs ever was ready to be recorded.
"Once I got the line Does Your Granny Always Tell You That The Old Ones Are The Best, I knew I'd got a right cracker on my hands. It says it all. We've all heard someone's granny say it - usually after a couple of sherries and she's up dancing."