Interview Simon Fowler: Star Simon back on song after gay revelations; Ocean Colour Scene are the biggest pop band to emerge from Birmingham in a decade. But during 10 years at the top, lead singer Simon Fowler was forced to hide his secret gay life from his family. Today in his first in-depth newspaper interview about his sexuality, the millionaire musician reveals the pain and betrayal behind his very public "outing".
His hair lies across his head haphazardly as though some loving aunt has ruffled it in a cheerful greeting.
It's undoubtedly a very expensive cut but Simon doesn't have to pay for things like that any more because he's a successful pop star.
He is very pale and his thin, freckled arms poke through his white T-shirt awkwardly, so much so that he insists on wearing a jumper for pictures to cover them up.
The Ocean Colour Scene lead singer looks tired, which is hardly surprising given that he spent the previous night doing some serious damage to his liver in true rock 'n roll style.
"I got up this morning and had to go back to bed at 10am for a bit of a rest," he explains.
A hard-living life is only to be expected given that Simon is one of the nation's foremost Britpop icons, a feat that takes some doing when you come from unfashionable Birmingham.
His band, the most successful to have emerged from the city in the last decade, is probably best known for The Riverboat Song, from which Chris Evans pinched the catchy guitar riff as the walk-on music for TFI Friday.
Profit In Peace, the new single out tomorrow, is so annoyingly memorable that it is set to become equally popular.
Simon, sitting opposite me on a green-checked sofa, has a retro, '60s look which I imagine is thrown together by chance rather than design - and he is happy to chat, albeit without appearing to be totally with it.
As he pulls himself together, he talks about his old days as a journalist in Birmingham and confidently predicts he will anticipate every question.
In fact, Simon needs little prompting to talk about anything from his band's imminent 10th birthday celebrations to what could be a very touchy subject - being gay.
There's no point in skirting around the issue when placed opposite a pop star who was so publicly "outed" by a so-called friend and agrees to so few face-to-face interviews.
The 34-year-old singer/songwriter admits he was terribly hurt by the newspaper revelations a year ago of Carolyn Hodrien, a former drummer with the band. He had not, at the time, told his family he was gay.
"I didn't tell anyone in the family until it was in the papers," he said. "The world and his wife knew about it except my parents and two brothers.
"Mum and dad are quite old-fashioned and from a working-class background. I didn't expect them to be modern-thinking or understand. But when I told them they were absolutely brilliant and it really shocked me.
"I thought 'what have I been doing since I was 14?'. It had been dreadfully hard and, if they had known then, there would not have been any of that anguish that I went through.
"Mum and dad are very proud of me now and dad even copies my autograph for fans.
"I'm sort of glad that it all happened but I will never, ever forgive Carolyn for what she did."
Simon has no theories about why people are gay or straight - he just knows that he was very sure from his mid-teens and tried to hide it from mum Patricia and dad Geoff, a sales rep.
"I just realised that I fancied boys and the thought had never crossed my mind until then," he said. "I didn't get picked on at school or anything and I didn't know anyone else who was gay.
"Robert was my first real boyfriend and we have been together for 11 years. I'm happier now than I have ever been.
"We met at the Hare and Hounds in Kings Heath when we were playing a gig upstairs as The Fanatics. A mutual friend brought him along and it didn't take long before we got together.
"Neither of us got any useful advice about being gay. A record company once told me I should see a psychiatrist and Robert was told at school he should talk to the Samaritans about it.
"Ten years ago being gay wasn't cool like it is today. Then Aids was rife and everyone was pretty scared."
When news of his sexuality was made public no-one knew what it would mean for the band which had a substantial, though not exclusive, female following.
"We weren't exactly sure what would happen," said Simon. "But professionally it has made absolutely no difference at all."
Despite his fatigue and tales of late-night drinking, Simon isn't the hard-living pop star he used to be.
In fact he's in danger of joining the pipe and slipper brigade after recently buying his own house in Warwickshire which he shares with Robert, older brother Nicholas and his girlfriend.
The former lodge has stables, which he intends to turn into a studio, and two-and-a-half acres of land.
Simon has plans to build his own bar so he can entertain friends, hold parties or just have a quiet drink safe in the knowledge that his own bed is just a few seconds away.
"When I was living in Moseley I never went to bed," he said.
"It was pubs and clubs and then continuing the drinking but not now. I prefer staying in and I'm enjoying having my own place.
"I had thought about moving to London but the house prices are ridiculous.
"I brought some of the property pages home to show mum and dad because they wouldn't believe me. Then I started looking in Oxfordshire and it suddenly dawned on me that I should buy somewhere in the Midlands."
Ocean Colour Scene retains strong roots in the Midlands with a recording studio in Birmingham and OCS Music in Solihull.
The office walls are lined with gold, silver and platinum discs which mark the success of multi-million selling second and third albums Moseley Shoals and Marchin' Already.
A fourth album, One From The Modern, comes out on September 13 and the band - Simon, Steve Cradock, Damon Minchella and Oscar Harrison - will mark 10 years together in Birmingham at the National Indoor Arena on October 28.
It has been a well-documented bumpy ride from the flop first album and their manager Chris - Steve's dad - re-mortgaging his house to support them.
Steve and Damon worked with Paul Weller to help them through the lean years until success came along with Moseley Shoals.
The link with the former Jam star has continued and he sings backing vocals on the One From The Modern's No One At All.
Simon reckons Weller "sounds like an angel" but his own voice is something to be reckoned with.
The frontman never had any doubt that he would be a successful vocalist, despite a brief flirt with the world of journalism, working as a trainee reporter at the Sunday Mercury.
He claims to remember telling his parents at the age of five that he would be a singer and they could never have imagined he would achieve such success.
Ten years ago he bought secondhand clothes and spent just pounds 15 a year on haircuts. Now his clothes are new, expensive and just look secondhand.
And what about that haircut?
"I don't have to pay for them at all now," he said. "People just cut it for me before photo-shoots or whatever. I don't have to bother."
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|Publication:||Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)|
|Date:||Aug 22, 1999|
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