A very British pin-up : Daily Express - Sun 1st Oct

A very British pin-up : Daily Express
01 October 2000

Over dinner at a New York restaurant recently, Tom Ford - the man who made Gucci every self-respecting fashionista's must-have label - was asked by Stella McCartney to name his ultimate style icon. Adopting the expression of a man "suddenly struck by a host of angels", he leaned back in his chair and solemnly breathed the name Bryan Ferry.

In view of the plethora of super-cool rock stars and hyper-hip movie stars who dominate today's glossy magazines, Ford's choice of this relatively low profile Seventies singer, who has just hit 55, does seem surprising. After all, Ferry never really lived up to the snakeskin-suited rock chic image he created (the one Ford has so lucratively recreated), preferring to settle into traditional Anderson & Sheppherd tailoring and the less exciting role of a languid, land-owning musician, with a house in Kensington and a pile in Sussex.

As he says: "I was never very good at the business of being a rock star. Other bands wanted to wreck hotel rooms. Roxy Music just wanted to redecorate them."

Yet the thing about Ferry that makes him such an icon of style is that he is one of the few who has managed to transform himself through the mediums of art, music and fashion.

With his smooth good looks, perfect manners, well-bred wife Lucy and four handsome sons (the eldest of whom, Otis, recently joined the Middleton Hunt as the second whipper-in), no one would guess he was born into poverty in a north-eastern pit village in a house with an outside toilet and a tin bath hung on a nail in the wall.

Most fascinating of all, Ferry has managed to make his incredible rise through the stations of life - from pit boy to art student, rock star and landed gent - seem so effortless. "You should never look like you have tried too hard. The most stylish people are always the most understated ones," he says.

But as his closest friends attest, the real life of Bryan Ferry tells a very different story. This is a man for whom no detail is too small and no effort too great in his ambition to become the person he is today. It cost him the love of his life, Jerry Hall, and it almost cost him his entire fortune. In 1993 he was forced to sell his home in New York because his musical opus, Mamouna, had cost so much to make.

But he has survived and even in his mid-50s has become a blueprint for a cool, sophisticated glamour of a real- life Gatsby.

The only boy in a family of three children, Ferry marked himself out at an early age as "somebody very different" from the local lads who hung round the pit head, fighting, smoking and stealing lumps of discarded coal.

His closest friend, the influential fashion designer Anthony Price, says: "His parents totally idolised him. They did whatever they could to make him happy from a very young age.

"His dad was originally a farmer before he moved to the pits and he was very much a man of the land. He used to grow prize vegetables in his allotment until Bryan bought them a big house in the country - then he'd ride around on a lawnmower wearing a mad hat, having a whale of a time. He believed in treating land with respect and loved the country life.

"Bryan was devastated when his parents died. The thing that made him most proud was being able to make his parents happy."

His clever, attractive Geordie mother encouraged her son to believe that he could become whatever he wanted to be. She instilled in him the importance of good manners. Fry Betley, a former neighbour, recalls: "The family would have high tea with knives and forks and napkins when others would have a bit of bread and jam and a quick wipe round the mouth with a cloth. He was always well-turned out, even as a nipper."

At 18, Ferry rejected a teacher's advice to get a job in the civil service and instead went to Newcastle University to study fine art. Michael Brick, now a professor at the university, shared a flat with him in nearby Heaton in the mid-Sixties. "Bryan stood out because he seemed far more sure of himself than a lot of us. At the time the fine art department was very pop art orientated.

"I think this had a tremendous influence on him. He looked American, he'd wear Levis and T-shirts. Even back then girls were drawn to him. It wasn't just the fact he was good-looking, he was very charming and funny in a rather sardonic way.

"But he always had his sights set high. He never went for fellow students. He'd go for model types, glamorous girls. Whereas most young fellows worry whether they will attract girls, Bryan never seemed to have any hang-ups like that. He just made sure he looked a certain way, dressed a certain way and acted a certain way, and he got the girls."

Price reveals that this became Ferry's quintessential appeal. "Bryan was the guy who got the girls, which meant that girls flocked to see him in concert but the boys came too. He was the guy they all wanted to be."

It was Price who came up with the glamorous look of the band after meeting Ferry in a London club in 1971. "We just hit it off. Bryan invited me over to his place and played me some tracks he'd been working on. We were both working class northern boys trying to make it in London, but we were both art students.

"We had this idea to fuse music and fashion, which was outrageous at the time but it worked."

The band's first single, Virginia Plain, was an immediate hit and the band were hailed alongside David Bowie as avant-garde heroes. Ferry, with his rangy physique, raven black hair and dark eyes, was an instant pin-up. "Bryan can put on anything and look fantastic - still can - but the point is, he never does," says Price. "He has the most incredible attention to detail.

"The two of us were obsessed with the look of the band. He came up with the idea of using glamorous women as backing singers and I made dresses so tight that the girls would have to be winched on to the stage.

"He never let any detail slip through his fingers. We'd do photographs at 4am running into lakes with burning crosses just to get a particular look.

He always knows exactly what he wants and he won't rest until he has it precisely. Second best will never do. He gets what he wants."

The following year, Ferry spent weeks pouring through magazines and model portfolios to find the perfect woman who could be turned into a mermaid for the cover of the acclaimed Sirens album. On the cover of Interview Magazine he found the girl of his dreams, a young Texan model called Jerry Hall. Price recalls: "She was living in Paris at the time with Grace Jones. She was still a teenager and she was as wild as she was beautiful. As soon as she set foot on British soil, she and Bryan became an item."

With Jerry, it was different. Ferry fell madly in love. They were the ultimate glamorous jet-set couple.

He gave her fame and she gave him sparkle. She was his Prairie Rose.

It was his perfectionism that ended the affair. During one holiday in Mustique, Ferry became obsessed with recording water sounds from a boat, Antilles, which was wrecked off the coast. He spent days on the boat trying to catch the perfect sound effects for his new album.

Bored rigid, Jerry looked for amusement elsewhere. It came in the shape of rock's then wildest boy, Mick Jagger, who later boasted: "While Bryan was working on his album, I was working on his chick."

Ferry was devastated. Jerry, rather callously, joked: "I could never be Jerry Ferry, could I? It sounds ridiculous." Heartbroken, he poured his anguish into the album The Bride Stripped Bare.

The incident fuelled his image as a tragic romantic hero. He never forgave Jagger but when a humiliated Jerry last year called for divorce, he was one of the first to write offering his support. "It's not that he still carries a torch but he still cares. He doesn't want to see her hurt," says Price.

In many ways Jerry did Ferry a favour. Their break-up caused him two years of depression and a slide into drink and drugs - but when he came through the other side, he knew the right direction for his life.

Roxy Music, who celebrate their 30th anniversary this month, disbanded in the early Eighties and Ferry went solo. He married the stylish socialite Lucy Helmore and started a family. They have four sons; Otis, Isaac, Tara and Merlin. He fitted easily into upper class circles. His former manager, Mark Fenwick, chairman of Fenwicks, says: "He is an aesthete. He instinctively knows what is right, what is best." His mother had trained him well and he never showed himself up by making a false move.

It is generally believed that Ferry hides his Northern origins but his voice still carries a hint of Geordie sing-song and he still takes his children to see Newcastle United play. Much was made of the fact he sent his children to public school - Eton and Marlborough - but as he says: "My parents did all they could to give me the best, isn't it natural I would want to do the same for my own children?" These days Ferry has a life of his own making. He admits his marriage has had more than its share of ups and downs but he and Lucy are still together.

He eschewed life as a rock star to become a more old-fashioned style of singer. He prefers to perform to smaller crowds in stately home settings rather than Wembley.

"Bryan never wanted to grow old disgracefully like Jagger," says his friend. "He'd far rather leave that to a younger generation. You'd never find him in London's Met Bar with a young blonde. He's been there, done that and he's grown up."

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