June 1991
Story by Graham Linehan
Photos by Paul Rider
[submitted by Spectral Cyfre]
[image from Camax]


please send a better scan if you have it!

"Once you have a taste for it, how on earth can you revert back to normal life? It's heroin." But just how far will WENDY JAMES go to seduce the world into worshipping her?

The Oporto cafe in Ladbroke Grove is shoulder-to-shoulder bustle - Sunday morning breakfasts, people carrying trays over the heads of those already sitting, the sound of machines sluicing and grinding, the smell of coffee. Outside it's the kind of miserable London Sunday morning that makes you feel like entering a church for some cheering up.

Wendy takes out a cigarette and a dozen lighters are produced. She turns to the limo waiting outside and gives a signal with her cigarette hand. The man in the front seat nods and the car moves off. She takes a seat and conversation slowly resumes, except quieter now.

Actually, nothing of this sort happens.

What actually happens is that Wendy is already there when I arrive. No one seems aware of her except the guy she's talking to. He looks like the model in Madonna's video for 'Justify My Love' (except nowhere near as ugly). She introduces him as Doug, a friend. In a few minutes, he'll leave and Wendy will say, "Thanks for the coffee, baby". She really says "baby".

Wearing a pin-striped suit jacket and jeans, and freckles, she looks so unlike the Wendy James of album and magazine covers that it takes a second longer than it should to recognize her. She talks quietly and clearly, so speaking to her is like eavesdropping on a conversation at another table. For a loudmouth, she doesn't have that loud a mouth. But this could be a temporary calm resulting from Transvision Vamp's latest single '(I Just Wanna) B With U' recently entering the charts at the relatively lowly position of 38.

"There's an element in me that thought the whole country would go wild," she says, half-smiling. "We all fantasize about going straight to number one, but I have to be reminded that we've been away for 18 months and music has changed. But I'm glad it's being given to us hard - I'm not scared of a challenge. Anyway, we've proved ourselves to the hard-core again, the people who've been with us since Day One."

"Thank God we got into the Top 40, though. I'd be really worried if we hadn't."

It's a shame, because it's a phosphorous storm of a single. It sounds like every other Transvision Vamp single (and then back further along rock's evolutionary parade - echoes of Blondie, T-Rex, the Stones...). Transvision Vamp were always a grainy photocopy, everything reduced to a dirty black and white, so that eventually all you're left with are the essentials of stance, powerchord and chorus.

The first sighting of the band was in 1988, when their first single, 'Revolution Baby', brought some vigour and friction to a resolutely static pop life. The classic structure of a tough, attractive woman and three faceless men in leather jackets (one of them Wendy's ex-boyfriend, co-founder of the band and songwriter, Nick Sayer), and a nostalgia for the animal energy of punk, gave them an immediate audience.

But always ahead of that was Wendy and her runaway intent; the slag-offs of other female pop-stars (Kylie, Samantha Fox, Sinéad); the almost constant contradictions between her mouth and her actions (stating, for instance, that she wouldn't use her body to sell herself and then appearing on the cover of Tatler in nothing but some strategically placed records), the sex, the power games, the sex, the boyfriends, (Roland Rivron the most recent of note), the sex. Was it all part of a gameplan?

"No, it was completely the opposite," she says, drawing out her second Silk Cut. "I know I have a certain knowledge of the way the business goes and I'm realistic enough to know the way the media or the public can treat you. I have a certain amount of information now, which obviously influences the way I behave. But the reason we've got this far is because we're so much more innocent than the bands who keep their mouths shut and stay cool."

Right. Sorry, what are you talking about?

"What I mean is...well, I thought that our first songs were great. They were done on a four-track Portastudio that Nick and I had in a bedsit. And we looked absolutely comical at the stage. I was walking around in silver spaceboots, and so on. But we had such an advantage in that we weren't brought up in London clubland, so we weren't in with anybody. We came up from Brighton completely fresh-faced, not knowing anybody and thinking our music was the best music in the world. We didn't see how anyone couldn't give us a deal. There was never any doubt in our minds. And that's just innocence."

Do you regret anything you've said or done?

"No," she says immediately. "I don't regard anything I've said as controversial,and if I worded some things the wrong way I don't think of it as a mistake. I think of it as a lesson.

"I'm regarded as this controversial figure and yet all I've ever done is be honest, which shouldn't be controversial. If I said something four years ago that I contradict now, then surely people should be glad I'm re-examining it.

"It's the same thing with Sinéad O'Connor when she took back her alleged support for the IRA. Shouldn't people be happy that she's still thinking about it?"

Still, many people harbour a keen dislike of Wendy. Mention her name in feminist circles, for example, and you will exit through the window. It's as if, being blonde and not wearing a smock onstage, being blonde and aware, she is betraying something.

"You ought to do an interview with a feminist about Wendy James to get why they hate me," she says. "I can't speculate or put words in their mouths because it'd be very one-sided. I love men and I love women...love is too strong a word. I respect them."

So you don't think you've ever done women a disservice?

"How could I have done?" she asks, raising her voice a notch. "How could I have done? I'm just a young woman who's proud to be a woman, and for other women to hate me for it is just sad. Ultimately, I'm doing this far more for women than men. Obviously, I'm doing it for me first, but it is so much more thrilling if more women like it than men. Men just think I'm attractive, but when a woman likes it it's obviously because she sees beyond the surface."

Taking that a step further, would you consider being in a band with three other women?

"No," she says abruptly, then catches herself. "Well, I don't know. It would have to depend on the individuals, wouldn't it?"

Generally, though, you get on better with men...

"I have more friends who are male," she shrugs. "But the friends that are female are equally important to me. It's easier to get along with men because men are more... rough and ready for adventure. The girls I've met - and I'm certainly not generalizing all women here - well, I'm far more thrilled when I discover a wonderful woman than a man, because there are many men who I can have a really decent chat with but few women. I probably expect more from women than I do from men.

"It also saddens me, the wimp-out. All the talk about striking it out alone, being independent, all the clichéd phrases that women of my age put across from their teens onward, and then the final wimp-out of having to have a boyfriend. There are a lot of women who walk it and don't talk it, basically."

One of the most pleasant things about the working of fame is that it doesn't distinguish between the mundane and the seismic. And so recently we were treated to the sight of Wendy and Vic Reeves trundling about in a bumper-car contraption backstage at the Brit awards.

"We were out of our skulls. We were abusing Piers Morgan (Sun pop correspondent) and generally having an extremely good time. Then we were interviewed for television. God knows what we said, but we were incomprehensible. I was praying they'd leave the sound off when they showed it and, thankfully, they did. Heaven only knows what we said to them."

Wendy has this thing about fame. At one point during the interview she pales at the thought of never being able to appear on Top Of The Pops again ("I'm obviously not a suicidal person, but..."). At the moment, she's beguiled by dreams of Hollywood. So much so that she recently expressed her aim of winning an Oscar. Not necessarily doing anything to win it, just winning it. Classic Wendy James, this. Every glaring overblown statement houses more than a grain of truth - you just have to keep a finger on the Brightness Button.

"The whole machine in Hollywood in the '40s and '50s was so convincing," she says, allowing a trace of wistfulness to drift into the conversation.

"Tinseltown nowadays has been corrupted because of what we know goes on there. But certainly back then, with Elizabeth Taylor and Judy Garland, learning to tap dance at ten, ballet, Shakespeare classes..."

Desperately unhappy people, though.

"So it seems, yes. But I'm sure they wouldn't have changed it for all the world."

Judy Garland might have...

"No, I think you're wrong. It's terrible she died, but she couldn't give up striving for that fame. Once you have a taste for it, how on earth can you revert back into normal life? It's heroin. It's an addiction. Stars are people who never appreciate themselves as stars. You reach star status but you have to keep striving for something, which is why you have to take some of my comments with such a pinch of salt. I don't think for one second that I have reached star status. Probably never will do."

Wendy's love of her spiritual predecessors led to the cover of the band's second LP, 'Velveteen', being cluttered with assorted "cool" junk - huge photos of Monroe and Elvis, the classic Velvets biography, Uptight, a copy of 'Superfuzz Bigmuff' by hardcore band Mudhoney (price sticker still attached! Dead give away). It was all a bit clumsy, a little unnecessary, as if the band were desperately trying to inject a little artistic credibility into their image.

"Maybe, but I think that there's no other band quite like Transvision Vamp. We have created a little vacuum for ourselves, but at the same time I'm grateful that Marilyn Monroe lived and Iggy Pop did what he did because they went out on a limb and gave me the conviction that I could do it.

"It also might have something to do with when I was a child, and all the desperate little rebellions against authority that I went through. When my grandparents visited, for instance... You know how grandparents always wanted to see your bedroom? I'd always make sure that 'Never Mind The Bollocks' was at the front of my record collection."

Are your adoptive parents (Wendy's never met her real parents and doesn't seem inclined ever to do so) proud of what you've achieved?

Her smile disappears.

"I don't know," she says after a flicker of thought. "I think I probably shattered their whole life. It's a sadness really because they couldn't have children of their own, so they had to adopt me. When they got this sweet, little baby girl, they probably thought they were making the perfect family. I was going to grow up, pass my exams, have a career and then get married, give birth to some beautiful grandchildren and perpetuate the James family.

"I don't know how they feel, really. I'm sure they're proud that I'm alive and happy, but beyond that...it's not really my problem. I left that problem behind when I was 16."

Was revenge a motive for all this?

"I don't believe in revenge. I believe in karma. If even one per cent of my motivation is revenge against people who I see as having put me down in the past, I wouldn't be any good at all. If you nurture hatred then, sooner or later, you'll hate yourself. I do this cos I love it. There's no room for revenge."

Today, Wendy looks lost and anonymous in the crowded cafe, among the dirty coffee cups and discarded Sunday papers. Tomorrow, at the photo session, she acts every inch the aspiring superstar - pouting, preening, posing and disrobing like there's no tomorrow.

Back in her element, under the glare of the eternal, blinding light...

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