Bananarama on RuPaul’s Drag Race, budgie smugglers and George Michael in their campest interview yet
The world’s most successful female group, Bananarama, have written a memoir – and as well as being a heartwarming story of a lifelong friendship, it’s also a glorious love letter to their gay fans.
Bananarama laugh a lot. It’s infectious and it’s brilliant.
But it’s no surprise, given Sara Dallin and Keren Woodward have been best friends since school – that’s nearly 50 years ago, despite them looking perpetually 40.
With hits from 1981 to the present day, Bananarama organically brought girl power to the table, long before it was a marketing ploy to sell merchandise.
The unique situation of 2020 gave them the opportunity to finish writing the autobiography they’ve been working on for the last few years.
PinkNews: With having to look back over your career for the book, do you remember hearing any rumours about Bananarama?
Sara: I was quite surprised at how things that might have been really monumental back in the day, and you’re really distraught by, 30 years on well, that wasn’t such a big deal after all.
You know, the whole breakup thing [original member Siobhan Fahey left the group in 1988] or some producer saying this or someone saying that.
You get more of a context to everything as you get older. People change, things change. You understand the way someone’s brain works. You’re a bit more charitable to people, I think.
People often ask you about Band Aid, but you don’t hear much about Band Aid II…
S: Band Aid II… Was that a Stock Aitken Waterman affair?
Keren: I think it was. Yeah.
S: I mean, they’re great causes every time but yeah, the first one was fantastic, it was a great song and it just raised so much money. I’m trying to think who was on Band Aid II. I know Cliff was on there.
K: That’s my memory of Band Aid II, Cliff giving me some advice on the lyrics or something and what bit was coming up, and I turned around and said, ‘Yeah, I know, I was on the first one.’
And then I thought that might have sounded rude, but I didn’t really need to be told. [Both laugh]
S: I think it was recorded in the PWL studios. It was a bit like home from home. I can’t really remember. I do remember the Bros boys, or at least Matt, right at the front dancing. [Both start laughing]
But I really can’t remember much else.
K: The first one was so extraordinary. It had such a huge impact that I think there have been a few afterwards, but I don’t think anything can come close to having the impact of that first one. Ever.
Are you fuming that Bono’s been on more Band Aids than you?
[Both laugh] S: No!
K: [Sarcastically] Yeah, I’m fuming. Absolutely fuming. [Laughs]
Talking of the season – it’s been ten years since you released “Baby It’s Christmas”. Any plans to re-release it?
S: We’ve been so bogged down getting the book together we’ve not had time to think about music.
K: Don’t say bogged down!
S: I don’t mean ‘bogged down’, we’ve been very, very busy with it. I think we should get it remixed.
K: A remix would be good. Something different. Is it a bit late now?
S: I did enquire about doing that several weeks ago, but had no response [to Keren, both laugh] from Keren or anyone… How did it come out before? It was just digital, wasn’t it?
K: We can’t do vinyl. Then we’d have to do a bloody sleeve.
S: Maybe for next year!
When did you first realise that Bananarama appealed to a gay audience?
S: I think in LA when we went to K-Rock, the radio station, and somebody said, ‘You guys are so camp’, and I had to look up the word because I didn’t know what it meant. [Both laugh] What does that mean?
That would have been around mid-80s. I never really put my finger on why they love us. But I’m glad they do. ‘They!’ [Laughs] I’m glad people do.
But perhaps you could shed some light on that.
K: I think there was one point in our lives, where we just seemed to be surrounded by gay men, nights out, on stage. And we very much gravitated to it.
S: Yes, you’d go out to have fun and a great time and it’s all-inclusive. Or at least that’s how it seemed to me. My favourite nights were in Heaven, I mean, that was just the ultimate nightclub. It was so brilliant. I absolutely loved nights out there.
K: We had the most amazing time. And also, I want to say ‘cutting’ but no – the sort of asides and the sense of humour definitely worked in those situations and maybe people saw that side of us in interviews, I don’t know. But it certainly wasn’t an intentional thing.
S: It was a natural appeal. [Both laugh] I don’t think our early records were camp.
K: No, they weren’t.
S: I think WOW! could be interpreted as appealing more to a camp audience, but I don’t think “Cruel Summer” was particularly camp, was it?
The sound of WOW! evolved from working with Stock Aitken Waterman on “Venus” – which came about directly from hearing their production on Dead or Alive’s “You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)”.
Were you aware that Pete Waterman had taken direct inspiration from gay clubs and the gay sound at the time for acts like Divine?
S: We certainly were aware of Divine because we saw those [John Waters] films and that was very early on Pink Flamingos.
We actually met the egg woman [Edith Massey] in LA, she was working in a vintage store. That was quite surreal.
K: We did! I remember being really excited that we’d met the egg woman!
S: I was totally aware of Divine and that did seem to come out of Stock Aitken Waterman. So what you’re saying is obviously true.
K: Although I don’t think we were aware of them apart from the Dead or Alive single, which was the reason we went to them. And I don’t think they’d had that much success.
S: Sylvester, we love Sylvester. We loved disco. So that was just a natural progression. Loved that sound.
So what do you think is the gayest thing you’ve ever done?
S: [Thinks] The gayest thing…
K: God. That’s a really hard question.
S: We played a very, very gay place in America around the pool, it was a convention.
K: Orlando! That was spectacularly gay. It was very much a load of men dressed up with little budgie smugglers, prancing around. It was fantastic fun. Catwalks! Yeah, we were properly at home there.
S: Can you think of anything we’ve done that’s particularly gay?
S: [Agreeing] No.
The Brit Awards? [Bananarama performed live with 14 male dancers in underwear at the 1988 awards].
K: Oh God yes.
That was life-changing for many men of a certain age.
S: Was it? Oh wow. I don’t think many of those dancers are gay, if any. Or maybe a couple, but most of them are straight guys. If that makes any difference. They were in pants and long black leggings.
K: But really, that was more of a reaction to sort of turning the tables on the rock videos of the time that always had token girls in bikinis and things. It was just turning the tables really.
S: For me it was Heaven, it was embracing Heaven.
You talk quite a lot in the book about going out on the gay scene.
S: It definitely started with Cha Cha’s and Heaven. And then there was Disco Hospital and Daisy Chain [at The Fridge] and all those things. Back in the 80s, there were so many clubs.
The Wag Club was obviously our absolute favourite.
K: The appeal of that was just going out and dancing. It was not about being cool. It was just about going onto the dance floor and being swung around by your mates.
And the thing is, if you did that in a straight club, and then you dance with a man like that, they would think.
S: You’d probably be thrown out [laughs].
K: Yeah, getting into a difficult situation, which never, ever happened in a gay club surrounded by all our friends. So I felt there was a safety net there as well.
There are lots of lovely – and funny – mentions of George Michael in the book, one of the best being that he refused to introduce you to Elton John. Did he ever relent?
[Both laugh] S: No, he did not!
K: He absolutely didn’t. He said he wouldn’t and he kept to his word! [Both laugh] We did used to badger him. He used to say, ‘Oh, I’m going out with Elton,’ and we’d go, ‘Can we come!’ ‘No’. There was no discussion, it wasn’t up for discussion.
S: He would take literally everyone and anyone but not me and Keren. [Both laugh]
K: Very disappointing.
And that’s because he was worried you were going to show him up.
K: Yes! We didn’t hold back…
Did you ever get to meet Elton?
S: No, never met Elton. He came over to our table once at some reception, when we were really young, starting out. But we weren’t interested at that point. [Both burst out laughing] We were 19.
Your good friend Dawn French has recently confirmed that she signed up for season two of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK. You were asked to do series one – so what’s the latest?
S: We have been asked to do it but then there was a lockdown. The pandemic struck so we couldn’t, it was cancelled. And then we couldn’t get the exact dates for the next one. So hopefully, we’ll do the next time around because I love RuPaul.
K: We did DragCon with him, which was fantastic fun. Where we just sat on stage and were interviewed or just chatted with him. And that was great fun. We really want to do it.
I hate to harp on about it, we’ve been really busy doing the book [Both laugh].
The art of drag – and seeing yourselves as drag queens – crops up in the book. What’s been your favourite drag versions of yourselves?
S: Tokyo, just because they look so great. They look really attractive and fun. They just look brilliant. And they’ve got great voices.
K: The most surprising one, I think it was in Bangkok where it was a full Comic Relief performance [of their 1989 charity single, “Help!”] including French and Saunders and Raw Sex and everyone so they had the whole lot.
That was a corker. I didn’t really expect that to end up on the stage over there from almost a copy of the TV show.
What do you think happened to Lananeeneenoonoo after “Help!”?
K: I imagine they fell out…
Have you heard from [tribute drag act] Bearnanarama in recent years?
K: We’ve met them. Several times! They make me laugh so much.
They always jump up and down like a couple of toddlers at a birthday party. [Laughs] They’re so much fun. We have, on occasion, invited them backstage and had drinks with them.
They’re great. I mean, the effort they put into what they do is extraordinary.
Speaking of “Help!” and Dawn, what was it like seeing Bananarama parodied by French and Saunders in their original 1988 sketch?
S: It was flattering. And yet when you actually watch it, years later, it’s actually quite rude. [Both laugh] Really rude!
But I suppose that is the essence of comedy, isn’t it, to take things to extremes, pick on a certain thing and make it 10 times worse, but I thought it was hilarious.
K: Jacqui [former Bananarama member from 1988-1991] came off worse didn’t she?
S: Yes. I don’t know where they got Jacqui’s character from.
K: Oh I know. What was that line, “It’s a kind of nut.”
S: Yeah, jojoba. “It’s a kind of nut.” [Both start laughing hard] Mine was quite accurate. “I’m not going outside,” that’s very accurate, to be honest, yes there were some very accurate parts in it.
K: And we’ve used one line over and over when we’re asking for something. “I know it can be done. But I don’t know if you can do it.”
S: It’s a corker, that line. [Both laughs].
What’s next for Bananarama?
K: 40 years coming up!
S: Yeah! 2022. We’re, well, we’re not going to give anything away because we don’t know that we’re doing anything [laughs].
We haven’t got that far because, as we said, we’ve been very busy with the book [both laugh hard] But when we’ve finished with that we will start to look at musical options maybe.
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K: I mean unfortunately I don’t think that necessarily we’ll be back on stage doing festivals and shows next year. Which, after missing them this year, and I’m sure everyone misses going to gigs, I cannot even see them happening next year unless something drastic like the world gets vaccinated. But plenty of time to plan.
S: Yes, maybe we’ll turn the book into a musical. A Broadway musical. [Both start laughing, even though they’re being serious]
Then a Bananarama film, with Meryl Streep. Or Jennifer Saunders as Meryl Streep as you?
K: Well I’ve already asked Dawn if she’ll play me if we make it into a film.
S: For the 40th anniversary there’ll be something happening there, I imagine. Even if it’s just a Christmas record [both start laughing].
Really Saying Something: Sara & Keren – Our Bananarama Story is out now.