Shakespear's Sister


Judging by the hordes of teenage girls and young women screaming at their gigs, Siobhan Fahey’s group Shakespear’s Sister could be something quite exceptional: a feminist phenomenon. In pop music, women screaming at women doesn’t happen very often.

“I try not to worry about whether things are a ‘positive statement for women’,’ says Fahey. ‘If it’s a positive statement for me, it’s got to be a positive statement for women. If I do anything that cheapens me, I think it cheapens all women.”

In the superficial world of pop, such sentiments can generally be taken as nothing more than disingenuous hyperbole. And in Fahey’s case, some people might say that, as an ex-member of early Eighties all-girl group Bananarama, Fahey is well-qualified to talk about what does or does not cheapen women — something of an authority, in fact.

These days, Bananarama’s role in pop culture has less to do with their place in the Guinness Book of Records as the biggest-selling all-girl group in history (surpassing The Supremes) than the way they’ve come to symbolise everything that is wrong with female pop: good-looking, mindless, sexist, fluff.

Even Fahey would agree — now.

“I’d always thought Bananarama were putting out incredibly positive signals for women, spoofing the whole idea of the female sex icon. But when I first met my husband [Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart] he said: ‘Don’t be stupid. They’re just wanking over you !’ I was stunned.”


So Shakespear’s Sister — in which Fahey sends up her sexuality as something wilfully grotesque and deranged — makes perfect sense. It includes both the passion of the converted and the anger of someone who not only felt woefully misunderstood but who was felt like the also the last to know.

Nowadays, with the spectacular success of ‘Stay’ — eight weeks at Number One — and the release of Shakespear’s Sister’s album ‘Hormonally Yours’ Siobhan Fahey is, at 33, having the time of her life.

On stage or on the road, she manifests all the unhinged exuberance and delight of someone whose spirit has been unleashed.

“I was born to do this. It just took me 30 years to realise it,” she says. “I’ve never been so happy. I’m so excited, I can only sleep four or five hours. It’s wonderful.”

Born in Ireland, the daughter of an Irish corporal serving in the British Army and the eldest of three sisters, Fahey spent her childhood moving endlessly between schools in Ireland, Germany, Scotland, and England.

“As an army child, moving so much your sense of who you are gets completely eroded. I had nothing in common with anyone. As a tiny child, I was a complete exhibitionist, but gradually it all became completely repressed. I had no self- confidence whatsoever.”

You wouldn’t know it to look at her now — cavorting around the stage like a depraved dervish in silver catsuit and DMs — or during her years in Bananarama as the bolshy sex kitten that every early Eighties pop star wanted to go out with. Her memory of adolescence is as “an utterly introverted, emotional, wreck — a complete social cripple. I had zero selfesteem, a really bad stammer, and no friends.”

On the plus side though the alienation, her energy and imagination, and above all her irrepressible charisma gave Fahey all the mainstays of the perfect pop freak. By the age of 20, she was studying journalism at the London College of Fashion where she had met Sarah Dallin and Keren Woodward.

“I felt deeply flattered that they wanted to be friends with me,” she says now, still struggling to explain her own naivety. “Bananarama was my first gang, my pubescence.”

Being in Bananarama was the classic act of a neurotic who could only do something she desperately wanted to do (perform) by pretending it was all a big joke. For a while, her sense of the contrary sustained her — “having hit after hit really appealed to me” — but in the end she had to accept two grim realities: “the musical direction was just horrific and I didn’t have the self-esteem to leave.”

Even Dave Stewart, who had pursued her for some time, struggled to get past her increasing insecurity and isolation.

Finally, four months pregnant and humiliated by the latest Page Three-like press photos of the band, she left.

“Pregnancy is a really special state and you want to do things that dignify it,” she says now with that very dignity.

Guilt is just one of the neuroses Fahey has always nurtured. As if it wasn’t enough to spurn the sort of easy millions Bananarama’s facile formula guaranteed her, she seemed to feel obliged to redress the balance; to make amends.

With a name taken from a feminist tract by Virginia Woolf, she formed Shakespear’s Sister, surrounding herself with strong women (principally its musicians and the band’s video director Sophie Muller) and making the band into a clever collage of herself using all her musical influences (from androgynous heroes like Bolan, Bowie, and Prince to strong, bolshy, women like Patti Smith, Joni Mitchell, and The Slits) and dressing it up to look like Bette Davis wearing Vivienne Westwood.

Blonde in Bananarama, Fahey is also now (stridently) visually the antithesis of the image we all have of her: her dyed black hair in ratty ringlets, face powdered white, with black ‘Baby Jane’ eyes and a scary lipstick grin.

“I really didn’t want to look ‘beautiful’ or ‘attractive’. I just wanted to look like me. People are more interested in me now and it’s because it’s putting out such strong signals about who I am. I originally used my appearance — the hair and make-up — to make some sort of statement but I’ve never felt so sort of… attractive and confident. It’s the first time I’ve really felt like that.”

People I know who knew Fahey both before and after Bananarama mostly seem to describe her as “completely bonkers.”

“Yeah, well I’ve had a close brush with mental sickness a few times in my life,” she says nonchalantly. “I’ve got used to the fact that it’ll be recurring but not permanent. Some people are born into this life with incredibly advanced souls. Then there are people like me who are completely baffled by life and scared of it and battle and struggle with it. I saw three psychiatrists, but all only once. I found it really tedious — talking about things I already knew. But I’ve got friends now !” she laughs.

Above all, she says, she has her family. When Stewart phones from the Bahamas, where he’s taken their kids Sam (four and a half) and Django (18 months) for a holiday, she positively glows.

“It’s difficult to know how to talk about it without resorting to gooey cliches,” she says. “He was the turning point of my life. He was the first person I’d ever met who recognised my worth as a person, who valued me for what I was. It was so liberating for me being with someone who accepted these things as part of me, not having to hide myself.”

Their lifestyle is more than comfortable — a chateau in Nice, homes in Los Angeles and London. Fahey flinches at the mention of money but if nothing else it allows her to nurture her guilt.

“Dave’s not afraid to live life to the full and he’s forced me to too. I was afraid to, I really was. Now I can do it with impunity because he makes me do it. It’s very convenient for me. The 1959 Rolls Royce — I’m sorry, it’s absolutely amazing but I didn’t buy it. I prefer to ignore the fact that I’ve got money. At home I live in Dave’s clothes. Even in Bananarama I lived like one of the paups. I clung on in the misguided belief that if I hung on to the accepted definition of ‘normality’, I would stay sane.”

Going mad has always been her greatest fear, rivalled only by that of becoming a down-and-out. Mentally, she’s still playing one off against the other.

“The way I look at it now is, if I do lose my marbles I know I’ve got the money to be looked after !” She laughs. “I’ll be in a good home.”