In this exclusive extract from the music memoir of the year, Sara Dallin and Keren Woodward lift the lid on life at the top of the pop world.
Sara: The 80s were a great time to be a pop star.
Keren: On an early trip to New York, the three of us were taken to the Russian Tea Rooms by the PR from our record company. We were happily chatting when a man ambled towards us.
‘Hi, I’m Michael,’ he said. ‘My daughter is a big fan, and I wonder if you could sign something for her.’ It was Michael b****y Caine! While trying to remain calm, I was trying to get my head around the fact that he was even aware of our existence. I’d never been massively star-struck, but Michael Caine was an exception. Not that any of us let it show – we all kept it ridiculously cool.
About ten years later, during the 90s, Sara and I were at a Versace party in Bond Street, trapped with a particularly obnoxious DJ who was showing off while trying to procure Sara’s phone number. Just as we were about to wander off in search of someone more interesting, a man walked over to join us. ‘I don’t know if you remember me, but we met in New York,’ he said. I wanted to scream, ‘Of course we b****y remember you, you’re Michael Caine!’
On the town with a movie legend
Sara: Embarking on our second album, Bananarama, we were growing in confidence and really got into the swing of songwriting. The second single was ‘Robert De Niro’s Waiting’. We wanted to write about the difficulties of communicating within relationships and the negative experiences; how some girls retreat into a fantasy world where the pop stars and movie stars they had pinned on their bedroom walls were their boyfriends. Keren and I were big fans of De Niro.
We were all at home one evening, watching Brookside, when the payphone in the hall rang and my boyfriend Terry answered it. He came rushing into the living room, yelling excitedly, ‘Bob De Niro’s on the phone and wants to speak to one of you.’
None of us believed him at first, but eventually he sounded convincing enough to send all three of us scuttling to the phone and huddling around the receiver. We decided Siobhan should speak, but it was pretty monosyllabic from both ends.
Bob: ‘Do you want to meet for a drink later?’
Siobhan: ‘Yeah, all right.’
We all rushed to the pub to spread the exciting news that we were going to meet Robert De Niro in Soho that night! This turned out to be a huge mistake, as all our boyfriends wanted to come, as well as some of our friends. In the end, we hatched a plan that they could sit in the bar, but they couldn’t sit at the same table or let on that they knew us.
We met Bob in Kettner’s in Soho. As we sat by the window, sipping our vodka tonics, with various friends dotted casually around the bar, an unassuming chap in a bobble hat and glasses started tapping at the window, trying to attract our attention. Unfortunately, we didn’t recognise Bob in this unexpected get-up and assumed he was some nuisance or an overzealous fan. When Kettner’s closed we moved to Zanzibar, a private members’ bar in Covent Garden. All in all, it was a strange evening, sitting there with a Hollywood legend and his producer. Still, the cocktails flowed and we had a great time, though the only specific thing I can remember now is Bob enquiring about my trainers and pronouncing Adidas peculiarly. They were in fact Nike, which I was wearing with a raincoat from Oxfam, obviously going all out to impress.
How we gatecrashed Band Aid
Sara: One night in the autumn of 1984, we received a fateful phone call. Bob Geldof rang to say, ‘Get the girls down to the studio. I’m putting a charity record together.’
The recording took place on a Sunday morning and after a Saturday night out we turned up bleary-eyed, only to see Sting walking towards us. Once inside the studio, we spotted the Duran Duran boys, happily mingling with their pop rivals Spandau Ballet. Clearly, this was something big.
Before long, Sarm Studios was full of the great and good of the British pop scene: Paul Young, Phil Collins, The Boomtown Rats, Heaven 17, Culture Club and U2. The atmosphere was, of course, loud and boisterous, so Siobhan, Keren and I made our way over to Paul Weller. Paul, like us, was a bit more low-key than some of the other stars, so the perfect person for us to hang out with.
My main memories of the recording were Status Quo being great fun, and hearing George Michael sing live for the first time. He was standing directly behind me in the line-up, in his black and white checked shirt, and I couldn’t believe how incredible his voice was.
Venus on the dancefloor
Keren: In 1986 ‘Venus’ shot to number one all over the world, including the US.
Sara: It was almost beyond our wildest dreams that we were about to embark on a tour of America to promote a number one record on the US Billboard charts. We were invited to Prince’s nightclub, First Avenue. At one point during the evening, we were standing with Prince, watching the action from the VIP area above the dancefloor, when the DJ played ‘Venus’. It was such a trip watching everyone rush forward, swamping the dancefloor. It was at times like all these I realised how lucky I was.
A dust-up with Delia
Sara: Mariella Frostrup was our PR for seven years. Keren and I enjoyed several rather ‘highbrow’ parties with her, making the acquaintance of the journalist and political broadcaster Andrew Neil. He invited us to a summer party at his house in London, where guests included political journalist Robin Day and future Prime Minister Tony Blair. Mariella and I were having a perfectly lovely time, enjoying drinks on the terrace, when we heard a commotion from inside the house. It turned out to be Keren, berating chef Delia Smith for trying to jump the queue for the bathroom.
Scrabble nights with Wham!
Keren: I first met George Michael on a blind date. It was a feature for No 1 magazine, the glossy weekly pop mag that rivalled Smash Hits throughout the 80s. George was very late for the date, which was something we later came to expect, probably because he was blow-drying his hair.
Sara: George loved a party, and back in the day, he threw the best ones. They were often lavishly catered, and our love of caviar meant we made a beeline for the kitchen where the buffet was beautifully laid out. Sometimes, we’d chance upon the likes of Sir Ian McKellen or Richard and Judy relaxing by the pool in George’s gorgeous garden.
Keren: Guests at George’s parties were generally people he felt comfortable with, so he always seemed relaxed and was able to be himself. Mind you, it wasn’t always this way. We went on a fair few overseas trips with him, and occasionally, in public, he became George Michael, the star! Once, heading out of Heathrow, he strode over to check-in, with Sara and me in tow.
‘Leave this to me,’ he said, approaching the woman at the British Airways desk.
‘Hello, I’ve been told to make myself known to a member of the BA staff,’ he said.
‘Why?’ the woman said. ‘Who are you?’ Of course, we fell about laughing, and George was fuming.
‘God, that had to happen in front of you two, didn’t it?’ he said.
Sara: The fun times Keren and I had with George are almost too many to mention, from walking our labradors in the Cotswolds to being flown to Brazil for Rock in Rio. Another time, George chartered a private plane to take 20 of his friends on a two-week holiday to Richard Branson’s Necker Island. Each room had a stunning view of the crystalline blue water and golden sand. George had booked the island exclusively so we had the playground to ourselves and it felt like an incredibly decadent school trip. We lazed around sunbathing all day, drinking cocktails, having barbecues on the beach and disco dancing all night.
The last time I saw George was, as it turned out, ten months before he died. Andrew Ridgeley was cooking dinner at George’s house in Highgate, and they invited me over. The three of us reminisced and laughed, and George was adamant that we all play Scrabble before we leave.
Writing this reminds me of what an amazing, kind, generous, funny and talented friend he was and how much fun we packed into our lives. He is missed and will always be in my heart.
This is an edited extract from Bananarama: Really Saying Something by Sara Dallin and Keren Woodward, to be published by Hutchinson on 29 October, price £20. Order a copy for £13 until 8 November at whsmith.co.uk by entering code YOUREALLY at checkout. Bookk number: 9781786332660. Terms & Conditions: whsmith.co.uk/terms.