Saga Magazine - July 1999

I'm Not Afraid
of Old Age

Pages 36 & 37

So says Blondie lead singer Debbie Harry - back on the road looking fabulous at 53 - her only concession to ageing is that these days she prefers to be called Deborah

Written by Sue Blackhall

The feline features that enraptured a whole music generation are still there. The lips through which many a million-selling song was sung are still pouting and glossy.

There may be 20 or so years between being a schoolboy fantasy and an enduring idol but Debbie Harry is still very much today's "It Girl".

At 53, though, there have been some changes. She now prefers to be called Deborah. The hair is not quite so white blonde as it was in the original days of fronting the rock band Blondie. The cheeks and waist are fuller. And the eyes can't quite disguise the past's hard living and hard times.

But Deborah, who is destined to remain this year's biggest surprise chart-topper no matter who else comes along, is the happiest she has been for a long while.

In demand again after her single Maria reached Number One in February, Deborah is not only a survivor, but a singing sex symbol for the second time.

"It's amazing, all this affection," she has said. "I knew we had some impact, but the music has to stand on its own after all this time."

Deborah's lack of arrogance about her charisma and musical talents is more than made up by those who interview her. Indeed, grown men - and women - have been reduced to gibbering wrecks in her presence. The words "icon" and "rock and roll goddess" and common descriptions. Many writers cannot talk of Deborah without the names Marilyn Monroe and Brigitte Bardot being uttered in the same breath.

Men who were gangly teenagers with pictures of Deborah on their bedroom walls back in the Seventies still stammer and blush when they meet her here in the Nineties. One said he felt she looked "deep into my soul".

All of which Deborah Harry finds very amusing.

"I'd be the first to admit I'm not as perky as I used to be," she was quoted as saying. Then, smilingly: "Though my bosom is still pretty good.

"And when we're on stage it's still recognisable Blondie, believe me. We still have all our fingers and toes and some of our brain cells! Anyway, I subscribe to the European way which values a woman's beauty in the full bloom of maturity as much as the first flush of youth."

Deborah was old in rock terms when she first became a femme fatale of the music scene. She was already in her thirties. But that didn't stop fans being mesmerised as they watched her perform Heart of Glass and Hanging on the Telephone on Top of The Pops. Heart of Glass was her first Number One in January 1979. Others - Sunday Girl, Atomic, Call Me and The Tide is High - followed in May 1979, February 1980, April 1980 and November 1980.

Blondie sold more than 40 million albums since her first hit single Denis reached Number Two in February 1978.

All of which makes Deborah's 16-year disappearance from record-making and performing even more mysterious. But the band members simply decided to go their separate ways. There was also Deborah's depression and admitted over-use of drugs.

"Yeah, I'd got the fame I wanted," Deborah has said, "but then I found I couldn't escape myself. Everywhere I went I was Blondie. I really had no place to go. But I didn't want to be a victim."

Things went quiet on the Blondie front after one single, War Child, only got to Number 39 in the charts in 1982. That was the year Deborah was photographed looking distraught as she left a London hospital. But it was not Deborah who was the patient. She was to spend the next three years away from the public eye nursing Chris Stein, her former lover and Blondie's guitarist, back to health from a rare illness.

The two are together again, not to rekindle their 18-year love affair. They are just happy to be back in the band and back on the road. The new Blondie album, No Exit, released earlier this year demanded a nationwide tour - there was another one in June and one planned for November. Deborah has said: "I still love Chris and always will. We are soul mates. But first he got married, and then when that ended he found someone else. Of course I don't regret spending those years looking after him. He would have done the same for me."

It seems to be the sad case that screen or stage icons, adored by millions, often have no-one waiting at home for them.

That's not strickly true. Deborah shares her New York home with her pet dog, Chi-Chi. "If you asked me about my ideal man, I'd say, 'small, furry and able to fit into my lap when I drive'," is a joke of hers.

But she was serious when she said: "I am just sorry that I didn't have a baby with Chris. It would have been a nice thing. But we were so busy, working so hard. As a lead singer, I couldn't have gone on the road pregnant. But I try to avoid regrets."

So motherhood eluded Deborah. That fact seems even sadder when you learn that she never knew her birth parents. She was brought up in New Jersey by a loving adoptive couple. Ironically, she used to daydream that her missing mother was Marilyn Monroe.

Deborah, in her own words, "hit Manhattan" and dyed her mousy brown hair blonde when she was 20. Then followed 10 years in New York hustling to get recognition for her band. In between trying to make it big with her music and playing some of New York's more avant garde clubs, Deborah was a Playboy Bunny Girl and a waitress. She was also one of pop artist Andy Warhol's coterie.

"It helped being a cute little blonde," she was reported as saying. "And the scene then was really fun. But you had to fight to get your head above water."

When Deborah and Blondie finally did start making hit records, they had four good years before they split in 1982. It had been fun while it lasted. But none of Blondie - original keyboard player Jimmy Destri and Drummer Clem Burke who are back in the reformed band, or Frank Infante and Nigel Harrison who have gone their separate ways - made a lot of money. Or rather, what they DID make went on wild living and is gone.

She would have loved to have a mansion in South Beach or even Morocco. "But perhaps it's not just in my personality to have such things. All I ever really wanted was to be an artiste. And being a star is really not worth it to me," she has said.

Deborah is resigned to the extra weight that comes with those extra years. "Actually, I always felt I could sing better when there was more meat on me! Because I was very thin at one time, I made headlines with photographs when I put on any weight at all.

"I do aerobics when I'm not working. And I'm not afraid of old age. Not with all the advances in plastic surgery! I guess when I was first with Blondie, I wanted to inject some filmstar glamour into the music scene.

"But, do you know, when it comes down to it, it's just all hard work. There isn't such a thing as glamour."

Blondie's November tour dates include: Nov 7, Wembley Arena; 9, Cardiff; 10, Bournemouth; 12, Manchester; 13, London Arena; 14, Brighton; 16, Newcastle; 17, Aberdeen; 19-20, Dublin; 21, Belgium; 23, Birmingham; 25, Sheffield and 26, Glasgow.


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