A confident Alison Moyet is beating her demons
Singer Alison Moyet has battled obesity and mental illness, but now she has finally found contentment in middle-age.
At 50, Alison Moyet is unrecognisable from the scary fat punk of her early Yazoo days with Vince Clarke almost 30 years ago.
Known as Alf, she went on to disguise her weight in kaftans and big long scarves as the duo took off after their smash hit Only You, before graduating to a shaggy-blonde biker-girl look when she went solo with self-penned Is This Love, All Cried Out and Love Resurrection, and a memorable cover of the Billie Holiday classic That Ole Devil Called Love.
She is now lithe and elegant, with perfect posture and dark wavy shoulder-length hair, having first undergone a breast reduction (from G cup to D) and then shrinking to a size 12.
But the five feet ten Genevieve Alison Jane Moyet is undoubtedly a woman without vanity, who lost weight simply because she didn't want to be "an obese old woman".
A former junk food lover, her weight has fluctuated radically over the years and she feared ending up "physically incapable in someone else's hands."
"It's really irrelevant but I wouldn't want to be stick thin," she says down the line from Brighton, "It's better to have bit of fat on your face when you get older."
She looked radiant, however, with her huge beaming grin on Graham Norton's chat show, willowy and toned in well-cut black jeans, but you won't find her smouldering and posing in her publicity shots or the video for her strident new electronic single If I Was Your Girl.
The harsh cold lighting of the video doesn't do her any favours, draining her slimmed-down face, especially in comparison to her co-star in the outdoor shoot -- her very pretty youngest daughter Caitlin, (15), who incidentally has a mole high on her cheek in the same spot as her mother had.
"On the day of the video it was so rainy and freezing cold we did it in three takes, all windswept with rain on our faces," she says in her deep husky tones. "But I'm not so worried what I look like now in my old age.
"When you're younger you have to be seen as sexy or edgy, those kind of things, whereas when I'm writing now I'm really happy to be ugly, to see myself in a not very flattering light. There's a kind of beautiful ugliness in it that you don't approach when you are younger.
"As a 50 year old woman I can't go with this obsession with bodies," she says. "If I look OK this week I may not the next. It's a folly to build up self-esteem on your looks. Anyway, I'm a singer not a model."
Her sense of fun came through in our chat, as did her down-to-earth, non materialistic attitude to life. She has an Irish connection through her older daughter Alex's father's family, McCarthys from Letterkenny in Donegal.
Her father was a printer from Cognac in France and her mother was a French teacher, and she grew up in a Basildon council estate speaking Franglais and regarding herself as 'an aggressive French peasant'. She has described herself as a haunted, insular and defensive young girl who never had a doll or a dress: "I hadn't been taught those niceties.
"People always had something to say about the fact I was odd looking, bigger than other people, that I was awkward. When I discovered punk, I bought into it. That look, combined with being fat made me even less of what people thought a young woman should be. Of course, as you get older, you recognise a lot of the trouble that surrounded you was brought on by a defensive, awkward nature."
"In the early days myself and my friends were into punk because we had no money, just very basic instruments and skills," she recalls. "It was more more about the ethos and the energy.
"I had no prospects -- the idea of university wasn't even a consideration -- and you met plenty of people that were just getting stoned and drunk and kept saying the same things about what they were going to do. Vince Clarke was someone that actually turned what he wanted to do into fact and I found that really interesting."
She left school at 16 with no qualifications but she is obviously well read, deeply thoughtful and very articulate. After school and worked in a shop by day and played in bands at night. A heavy smoker in the past, her voice is less gruff and thrashy than it was in her youth.
She has sold 25m records worldwide and won a load of Brit awards. Not that accolades mean much to her: she recently smashed up all her old Gold Discs (in reality painted plastic) before her recent move to Brighton.
"I'm a cheap date -- my aim is not to own anything!" she laughs, adding that she also threw out all her old diaries and stage clothes. "I never bought into the whole wealth and fame bit."
She had a bit of a topsy-turvy love life before setting down, with three children by three different men. Her son Joe, now 26 (by her brief first marriage to hairdresser Malcolm Lee), was followed by daughters Alex (23) (after a short-lived relationship with tour manager Kim McCarthy, which ended before Alex was born), and Caitlin (15), with her second husband, David Ballard.
Her 30 year career hasn't always been smooth either: she had a major fall-out with her record label that prevented her from recording any studio albums for eight years (she changed company after that).
Worse, she has suffered bouts of mental illness and has had to undergo therapy. Intriguingly, she has attributed an awkward encounter with one of her idols, Elvis Costello, as the catalyst for bouts of manic depression and paranoid agoraphobia so severe that she became a semi-recluse who avoided show-business parties and hid in cupboards whenever a stranger knocked on the door.
She met Costello after one of his gigs and in her attempt to sound sophisticated and not to gush, she blurted out 'You dragged that out a bit, didn't you?' Mortified, she hasn't been able to listen to him since and never accepted a music business invite again: "I didn't trust myself. I stayed indoors for a whole year. I tried but I couldn't socialise at all."
She has credited her husband David for curing her agoraphobia by dragging her out to Southend football matches, which she now loves: 'I find them so joyous -- I just loved the community of being a face in the crowd.'
She met the 50-year-old teaching assistant and former social worker almost 25 years ago at the home of her oldest girlfriend, one of the few places where she felt safe during her agoraphobic days. She has described David as "the great, stable guy" in her life: "It doesn't mean that you have this wonderful flawless relationship, because there are still times when you want to poke each other's eyes out with a big stick. But commitment is a choice that you make; it's not something that falls down like manna from heaven. And he made that commitment."
She also likes the fact David is secure enough in his own masculinity not to feel emasculated by being a house-husband -- or by his wife's handy-man skills, which include hanging wallpaper. She says the first time her father told her he was proud of her was when she was in her 30s and rewired the vacuum cleaner.
David offered to take his turn at being a stay-at-home parent so Alison could work more. As a single mother in the past, she had a nanny who worked weekdays for 10 years, but when she left she wasn't replaced. So with David's support she made a triumphant public comeback in 2001 as the prison wardress Mama Morton in the West End musical Chicago, then went back into the recording studio and received some of the best reviews of her career for the 2007 album The Turn. She has also starred in hilarious sketches and in the 2006 play Smaller in the West End with Dawn French, who has been her best friend since she was 21. She sang at the comedienne's recent wedding in Cornwall.
"I have a different kind of fame now. People come to my gigs because they're into my music now -- they're just as bored as I am with the old Yazoo songs although Only You seems to trigger some emotional reaction. I'm just happy I can still work and fill halls."
This is quite an achievement for a 50-year-old these days in the youth-obsessed pop culture, with its styled to-the-gills starlets in their skimpy gear and raunchy gyrating. In Alison's day she was left completely to her own devices for her first appearance on Top of The Pops -- she borrowed £30 from her mother to buy some fabric from Basildon market and got her friend to make a dress for the show.
So how does she try to protect her daughters' innocence?
"Well it's not like I listened to my own mother -- I cut all my hair off and put on DM boots and dropped out of school. But it's important to show kids a moral compass. I want my daughters to respect themselves and not to wake up wondering whether they had sex the night before or not."
Then when she earned her first pay cheque, she blew it all on a motorbike.
It's not the sort of thing you see these X Factor robots doing; their earnings are as controlled by the record companies as their every utterance. Like Sting and Elton John, Alison is not a fan of the gladiatorial talent show.
"My daughters would have it on in the beginning when it was new and I'd watch it sometimes but not anymore. It's not encouraging real creativity but I think pop music is getting destroyed anyway. Artists aren't getting a chance to develop. I'm 50 and I'm better than I was at 24.
"I love being middle-aged in general. I'm more at peace with myself now. I still have tormented times but they are few and far between. You don't feel you have to be the centre of your world when you get older. Becoming a mother had been a turning point which stopped me from being the centre of my world."
She's proud of her children. Alex and Joe have both gone to Cambridge University, and 15-year-old Caitlin is showing an excellent memory for lyrics that may lead her in her mother's footsteps.
* Alison Moyet's single If I Was Your Girl and album The Minutes is out now. Tickets are now on sale for her gigs at The Waterfront Hall, Belfast on October 1 and the Olympia Theatre, Dublin on October 2
Moyet's musical milestones
* In 1985 she appeared on Live Aid with Paul Young and later came back on stage to help out with vocals after the mic on Paul McCartney’s piano failed during his rendition of Let It Be
* In 1995 she and Sinead O’Connor sang backing vocals on one of Dusty Springfield’s last TV appearances on the Later With Jools Holland show
* She appeared as Matron ‘Mama’ Morton for six months in the musical, Chicago, in London’s West End in 2001
* Moyet revealed her distaste for reality television in 2012 when she tweeted about a planned album release: “I appear to have forfeited my recording deal because I won’t do reality TV. No-one needs to make an album that badly.”