Grace Jones 2


There have been times in my life when, in the course of a conversation, I have told people I once lived in LA.
But actually, this isn’t true.
In fact I was just waiting for Grace – Grace Jones, Amazing Grace, Grrrrrace – waiting for her to turn up for an interview.

Celebrities are often late of course but Grace kept me waiting for days . Her publicist had no idea where she was, when she would show up or even if she ever would. I stayed in my room for days, in permanently expectant suspense, in case she suddenly materialised. Finally, I got a 30-minute warning: Hurricane Grace was heading my way.

When the door opened, the figure that stood there looked like a cartoon, too long and colourful, too exotic to be human. Her lithe 5ft 8″ frame was extended by super-sharp stiletto heels and a classic 60s New York police cap slung low over dark, darting eyes hidden only partially by bright pink, inch-high, wraparound shades. A flimsy gold dress did its best not to slip from her sleek, skinny shoulders. Oh yes, and she had a huge set of thick industrial-sized jump leads wrapped round her hips. The shiny black rubber hose was tied twice round her waist like a snake, man-handled into place to make sure the two gleaming six-inch metal clips crossed one another precisely in front of her crotch, hanging there like a man-trap; like something from science fiction.

“Nice jump leads,” I said, for the first and probably last time in my life, remaining (stunned) in my seat.

“Why thank you,” she purred demurely (pleased), slinking her way across the room, as predatory as a panther. “I bought them at a filling station in Italy while the driver was getting petrol. They’re for jump-starting trucks. Take a look.”

Suddenly, the jump-leads – and the rest of her – came thrusting into my face, forcing me to try and inspect them without ending up as the recipient of one of the famous Jones blows or a sexual assault charge. I have rarely been so lost for words. You can say what you like about her, but one thing Grace Jones certainly knows about is how to make an entrance.


TEN YEARS LATER and Grace is, amazingly, on time (for me if nothing else). Right city, right place, right time; on the dot. One other thing about Grace: you never can tell.

We meet in the gym at the hotel where she always stays in London (“they know my ways”), emerging straight from her work out and massage. Compared to last time, she is seriously undressed, wearing only a white hotel dressing gown and a black sports top, with a white towel wrapped dramatically round her head. No jump leads.

“I still have those !” she howls with laughter. “I love those. I still dress like that sometimes. You know… looking very daaang-er-ous .”

Grace’s voice has remained a feline purr, part seduction, part threat, like her music, a compellingly cosmopolitan mix of New York-Parisian modelese, rich, Jamaican lilt and disarming Cockney-sounding consonants. Her legendary cheek-bones, elegant, muscular neck and alluring, streetwise eyes (so bright they earned her the childhood nick-name of Firefly) have not changed.

When I ask her about the last ten years, she brushes the
issue aside, with a typically regal flick of the wrist.
“I don’t count, you know ? Everybody wants to know how old I am. I don’t even now how old I am anymore. I just kind of float in space.”

This is, in fact, literally what Grace Jones does, hopping on flights from one continent to another with the kind of quixotic pace with which many of us take taxis. Argentina, Australia, South Africa, South America, Tel Aviv, Jamaica, pop up in her itinerary as casually as tube-stations. Ask her if she never gets fed up with so many flights, and she says, “No ! I like it up there.”

This time round, she is in London for one day only (a one-day hurricane), flying in from Morocco, before flying out that afternoon to New York to make a fitting that evening with milliner Philip Treacy, returning a few days later to make a triumphant return to the catwalk in Treacy’s show at London Fashion Week.

Her son, Paolo, now 20, lives in London, and her manager still marvels at the way “she always flies over to be with him on his birthday, no matter where she is. But only ever at the last minute !”

Chaos not only seems to follow in her wake but accompany her on her way, something that she not only acknowledges but accepts as her due. She’s so used to it, it’s almost as if she needs it to keep her calm; like a centrifugal force whirling round, with her at its centre, still.

“I’m very calm actually,” she will say. “I don’t like chaos. To me, my life is not chaotic. I call my life a normal, conventional life. I’m only dealing the cards I was born with. I don’t need sleeping pills to fall asleep at night, no waaaaaaay.”

Her public profile has certainly changed from the days when, for instance, she played the bitch in the Bond movie ‘You Only Live Twice’, or would regularly turn up in the tabloids kick-boxing photographers, knocking the hell out of Russell Harty or setting fire to one-time boyfriend Dolph Lundgren’s entire wardrobe.

She had a period being dogged by controversies concerning tax problems, late appearances for live performances and (false) drug charges in Jamaica. A brilliant, brilliantly contemporary compilation Private Life: the Compass Point Sessions, recently released by Island, highlighted why she has found it so hard up match the quality of records like Warm Leatherette and Nightclubbing that she has not made a record for years.

But, as she points out, just because we don’t always read about what she’s doing over here, doesn’t mean she’s not doing anything.

She plays about 20 live shows a year, appearing at hundreds of gay festivals or events like the Hong Kong change-over and the Gay Games.

She has just finished playing “an obsessed mother” in The Citadel, the sequel to the 80s epic Shaka Zulu. She also plays “one head of a two-headed harlequin” in a bizarre low-budget road movie directed by Nic Cage’s brother, Chris Coppola. Musically, in the last two years she has recorded with Tricky and Roni Size, and has a Puff Daddy-produced duet on Lil Kim’s new album.

But as great as some of her records and live shows have been, Grace Jones’s great talent is as an objet d’art , a star in Oscar Wilde’s true definition of what real stardom entails: because she has put her Art into her life. She is her own creation and because of this she remains a unique, much-prized icon for the likes of Alexander McQueen and of course Treacy.

At his show during London Fashion Week, she stalked out on to the catwalk steady as a rock on 8″ heels, her face virtually hidden by the low brim of one of Treacy’s most extravagant show-stoppers, but was still able to milk the ripples of recognition thanks to her sheer sense of presence.

A wicked flash of those excited eyes and a quick cackle or two soon told the rest of the audience who she was. Applause broke out like wildfire. In the end, they had to drag her away from the podium, virtually kicking and screaming. She was having too much of a good time.

“I’ve learned certain lessons. I will keep my private life as much private as I can. Otherwise, it’s like showing off. You get jealousy.”

It would be a mistake to assume her quieter private life means that she’s mellowed.
“No ! No-oooooo !!” she cries, as if I’d accused her of something truly appalling. “Jamaicans grow up very early. Like at 13, 14, they’re ready for marriage alot of the time. At 13, people thought I was 35. I act more like a teenager now than I did when I was young…I love sports, horses…

“I love going to Jamaica and just getting on a jet-ski and going in the MIDDLE of the ocean, where the HUGE waves are, and the wind and rain. A little dangerous, you know ? I like to go at night.”

She still has, she admits, “a terrible temper, and I’m so stubborn…impossible”, but seems to find it funny rather than anything too troubling, explaining she’s Taurus with Capricorn Rising (“the ram behind the bull”), with her moon in Scorpio for good measure.
“I’m like a bull blowing off steam. If I don’t lash out, I get sick. I get ulcers. So if a waiter in a restaurant throws the food down in front of me or something like that, I usually just take the bread and throw it at them, haha.”

First-class check-in staff should be warned. Problems here will quite commonly culminate with Grace climbing on to the desk and making a speech to the airport – “a real Jesse Jackson number,” she laughs.
“When they always say ‘you have to check-in two hours ahead’,” she rages, “they have no idea .”

It is certainly hard to imagine her hanging around WH Smiths for two hours like the rest of us.
“Exactly ! I always stay in touch with them on the telephone to let them know we’re on our way. It’s when I get there and they say, ‘this is the rule….’, or ‘the computer says…’,” she clenches. “I get mad.”

Invariably, at some point, of course, the manager or the supervisor comes down to pacify her, “saying ‘let’s sit down and have a drink and talk about this shall we ?'” she shakes her head.
“Then I get fuuuurious … Some people like to pick on me. They make me look like the bad one, just throwing another diva tantrum…I think the staff that fly are much nicer than the people that are meant to take care of you on the ground, though once in a while, you will get a stewardess that has not had sex maybe in years. Oh yes, I can tell,” she nods, convincingly.

Personally, I think stars should behave differently to the rest of us -that’s what they’re for – and so should be treated accordingly.
“Most people prefer to disappear in life. If I were to repress my nature it would be killing myself. If you’re out there , you’re vulnerable. I get very easily hurt. If you don’t have some kind of protection in life, you die.”

Such an explanation for her behaviour sounds, almost reluctantly, reasonable.
“For example I cannot be in a hotel where the windows don’t open. Not being able to control the air you breathe… that makes me CRAZY. It makes me feel like a victim and I won’t walk into situations where I am a victim right away.”

You can see her point of view.
“I mean…. If some toxic thing comes out of the air conditioner, I’m fucked !” she laughs, enjoying her own madness. “I’m dead hahahaha.”


THIS IS GRACE, the Grace of legend: Grrrrace. Crazy Grace. Alien Grace.

It’s a myth, a mask, but perhaps the biggest mistake she made in her career was making this image so enjoyable, extreme, that people would never see past it. Her persona was always seen as cold rather than passionate; a face rather than a heart; someone obsessed with shock rather than substance. (In fact the Private Life compilation confirms how enduring and timeless her best records were.) In fact, the human side behind her wild behaviour was quite complex, rather loveable, and even shy.

Ten years ago, when I tried to look under her police hat to see her hairstyle, for example, she beat me off, saying “you can’t ! Here. Look, I’ll show you my tits instead” which she then did by yanking down her dress with her fists. She felt less awkward doing this than letting anyone see hair unshaved.

Her behaviour ensured people always under-estimated her, made the easiest assumptions – probably, so they don’t have to deal with her.

This has undoubtedly hindered her career – especially over the last few years and, especially in Hollywood, where the failure to distinguish between her real self and her appearances in films like Conan The Barbarian, Vamp and Eddie Murphy’s Boomerang, branded her as something too Out There; a freak; a prima-donna diva bitch; someone only capable of, or interested in shock.

People who think they might really know her from what they’ve seen in the papers, the posters and so on, have no idea.

I once asked her if – amidst a lifetime of notoriety, carousing round the cutting edge of the international club scene from Paris to Studio 54, the fast life of the music, fashion and art worlds over two decades – if there was anything she hadn’t seen or done. She (very sweetly) said she had never had her ears pierced.

This time round, when I complement her on her earrings, she blushes proudly, and instinctively reaches up to touch them, as coy as any teenager girl and screams, “I did it ! I finally did it ! The government of Greece offered me a present, about six years ago, and it was earrings, so I couldn’t refuse…. I always thought… that might be a spot that I might need for something later,” she laughs, at herself. “I know it’s ridiculous, my brain is strange. I’m very vain, so you would have thought I would have had it done. Now I want to do my belly button actually and then I’ll probably get another piercing in my ear.”

Wow, what a rebel ! I ask her whether her mother is still shocked by her.
“It’s more shocking for her when I shave my head once a year. She freaks out. She always told me I was like her dad. He was a musician. He had a jazz band. I think she has fun living through me.”

This is probably easier now, than in Grace’s hey-day when, having progressed from being a model sharing a flat in Paris with Jerry Hall, her club shows in the late 70s caused the kind of outrage Madonna is still catching up with. (Panthers, motorbikes, regular cavorting with members of the audience.) She would perform her anthem I Need A Man, in a wedding veil, black corset and garter belt, lashing white male slaves in cages with a whip.

At her peak, she was an extraordinary artist – not so much for the singing or acting that made her famous, but in the wild club shows early on in her career and the legendary One Man Show live performances/ feature-length video she designed with French artist-photographer Jean-Paul Goude. Here, as with her
ground-breaking videos and sleeve designs for songs like Slave To The Rhythm and Pull Up To The Bumper, she was a muse, modern and utterly international; her own creation. Only Madonna and Prince ever came close to the concept, to the sheer style, spectacle and sexiness of the live shows which she described as “bringing a fashion photograph to life”, and certainly even they never matched her sense of exotic androgyny or threat.

Looking around now for possible parallels, at the likes of Foxy Brown, Naomi Campbell, or Lauryn Hill, and as brilliant or beautiful or diva-difficult as they may be, they are nothing compared to Grace. And as for the Spice Girls, if Mel B is Scary Spice, then what does that make Grace ?

Musically, even now, Madonna has come nowhere close to being as effortlessly glamorous or innovative as Slave To The Rhythm, Nightclubbing, or Pull Up To The Bumper.

The Village Voice once placed her in the same tradition as Josephine Baker, and the fusion of theatre, catwalk and club culture, with music as varied as Bowie, Kraftwerk, and Sly & Robbie, and art-world influence of friends like Basquiat, Warhol and Keith Haring (who painted her body for her video I’m Not Perfect) is not something likely to be repeated, or even attempted again.

The Compass Point compilation reminds you how brilliantly original and intriguing her interpretations were, and what a remarkable range of artists she took on: Marianne Faithful, Chrissie Hynde, Tom Petty, The Normal, Joy Division, Smokey Robinson, Bill Withers, being some of the best.
“No-one else could do a song like Grace Jones,” said her co-writer Barry Reynolds, “the way no-one else could do a song like Billie Holliday. She has a wonderful voice, a very unusual voice.”

These records alone make for an extraordinary legacy.

Grace was raised in Spanishtown in Jamaica, one of six children, (including a twin brother, Christian), the daughter of a Pentecostal minister who still preaches in Upstate New York. Her younger brother, Noel Jones, was one of the preachers Robert Duvall studied for his film, The Apostle, numbering the likes of Stevie Wonder and Will Smith amongst his parish in Los Angeles.

“It was a very strict religious upbringing. I couldn’t even listen to the radio,” she once told me. “Couldn’t sit still. Still can’t. A jumping bean. Wouldn’t shut up. Ate like a pig, skinny as a rake. Just burnt it all off.”

She didn’t get into trouble at school.
“No, I liked school. Didn’t provoke much.”

Her looks, athleticism, and attraction to fashion all came from her mother, a seamstress, who would get her patterns by Givenchy.
“Pick out your own material and buttons, stay up all night and sew, watching scary movies.”

She moved to New York, to join her parents when she was 12, in Syracuse, where she was the only black girl in her junior high school, and the only one who dressed the way she did. Perhaps it was this, and her father’s vocation that generated her defiance, if not a sense of alienation, which she says is much slighter than people imagine.

“I don’t feel strange, no. I feel normal. I’m normal,
ab-sol-ut-ely. The straightforward, simple life people lead…to me is more alien… Convention to me, is people repressing their personality, That’s not living, it’s dying. That’s death. I see it all over the place. The walking dead. I can’t bear that.”

Her attitude is, she says, her defence.
“I think, you know, I must have frightened people all along. Men. Jamaica’s a very patriarchal society. My father frightened me. I think men frightened me in general and that’s why I frighten them back.”

Her relationships with men have always been somewhat… tempestuous. Her image, she admits, has been a problem for men to get past – “a problem for them ,” she laughs. “I get alot of things to test me.”

Four months after they met, she proposed and then married a marketing student, Atila, and three years later proclaims herself still madly in love.

“He has one of those throwback faces – from the 18th century. He’s Turk, a Moslem, so he doesn’t drink !” she smiles, her wild eyes wide with amused amazement. “We get in the most terrible fights. One time, I picked up one those big Moroccan tables, picked it up and it became a Frisbee. ‘OK, here it comes.’ Then we stand there and we both burst out laughing in the middle of the most outrageous fight. He’s Leo. Very good sense of humour. They are like lions. They’ll eat, they’ll sleep. They have the vanity of the lion. I think they have a very big female side which they try to hide. They have to have their space and they will take their space in a strange way, feeling guilty. So then they make a fight.”

She is, she says, “very contented, yes. Terribly contented.”

She is negotiating a new record deal, writing a film about a large Jamaican family returning home for a funeral, and still playing her shows, often just a few songs in small clubs “cos that’s where I’m from. I’m still affordable like that.”

When I ask if she’s got money in the bank, she looks at me, as if she can’t believe I could doubt her acumen.
“Money in the bank ?” she says. “I don’t believe money should be in a bank.”

As if to prove it, after lunch, with her plane virtually waiting on the runway, a stream of staff from nearby Harvey Nichols turn up at her room, laden with boxes, and covering the floor with piles of Stephane Kelian shoes and Armani jackets for her to see, the way dodgy traders operate on Oxford Street. She picks out a dozen items in about two minutes flat. Grace is, by her own admission, “completely buzzing on that wine we had for lunch” (a Puligny Montrachet), but still determined we polish off the bottle of port left over from last night. Her son Paolo, looking wrecked, groans and buries his head in the bed.
“Young people today,” she complains, “they can’t take the pace !”

The previous night, they had fallen asleep together, watching the Matt Dillon movie, Wild Things. Paolo woke up on the sofa, under his mother’s enormous Kenzo fur coat, with Grace curled on a chaise longue: a strangely touching picture.
“I’m a great mother,” she once told me. “I give very balanced advice. You know – like you’re the worst person to give balanced advice to yourself but you can give it to others ?”

Now, all we have to do is get her to the airport.
“I’m very excited,” she says, rushing round the room, throwing things into her bag. “I can’t wait to get there. I couldn’t wait to get here, and now I can’t wait to come back here.”

By the time she is ready to leave, she is already at least an hour late to check-in for New York, but she will make it. Nobody cuts it finer than Grace. The staff of the hotel are all out on the pavement to wave her on her way – all smiles, any tantrums forgiven – as she sweeps out, tipping porters in Australian dollars, signing autographs for the maids, the one-day Hurricane nearly gone. I watch her go.

Regarding her as an objet d’art , as people have called her, to me, devalues the spirit she has and dismisses what she’s created, but I can see why it’s happened so much to her. Grace Jones is a star, a real star – the kind Oscar Wilde defined. Because as great as some of the records and live shows she has created have been, she has put her Art into her life and there will be never be anyone like her.