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BEYOND PLANET EARTH

Oct 1 2004

BY JULIA KUTTNER

Self-confessed synth nerd and Andy Warhol lookalike Nick Rhodes is fiddling with knobs. The blond pin-up who shot to fame aged just 17 could easily afford to sit back and relax, but he’s taking the hands-on approach to mixing Duran Duran’s new album. If he’s not flicking one switch he is tweaking another inside a South London studio.

Outside, the capital is sweltering in the eighties, but inside the air-conditioned, hi-tech electronic paradise, Nick – wearing a tailored white suit – is putting the finishing touches to Astronaut, the first studio album from the original line-up in 21 years.

In the ’80s, the Birmingham five-piece – singer Simon Le Bon, bass player John Taylor, guitarist Andy Taylor, drummer Roger Taylor and Rhodes on keyboards – had 16 Top 20 singles, including Rio, Wild Boys, Girls On Film, Hungry Like The Wolf and Planet Earth.

“I’m not happy unless I am doing 10 things at once,” admits Nick, 42. “There are five of us in the band, but I’m a triple Gemini so sometimes it feels like there are eight of us trying to make decisions and agree.”

They disbanded after the 1983 release of Seven And The Ragged Tiger and for their reunion album pitched up in a beautiful house in the South of France – naturally.

“We rented a house, shipped all the gear over in a truck and moved in,” says Nick. “It was literally the five of us, our engineer and the driver. We stayed together, ate together and worked together everyday until around midnight.

“We were very proud of the success of our previous records and we didn’t want anyone to turn round and say, ‘Oh yes, they used to be great but look at what they are doing now’. That would be horrible.

“We knew we shouldn’t kid ourselves about anything, but Simon’s voice is way better than it ever was. The fact is that he’s stopped smoking and had 20 more years of experience. And I stun myself every day with the remarkable depths of my talents,” he jokes.

“There’s also the will from everybody to make it work. It’s pretty rare for five people to be able to write something together that’s commercially viable while pleasing us five who are all really bloody difficult people.”

After the split, Simon, Nick and John stuck with each other, playing on and off until 1997. But it has only been in the last couple of years that Andy and Roger Taylor have returned to the fold.

“We went to Bands Reunited rather than Friends Reunited to get back together,” laughs Nick. “When we were all sat face-to-face in a room for the first time in I don’t know how many years, it was quite an experience because we all remind each other of such great times.

“It was as if the years in between were a complete vacuum and suddenly, within 10 minutes, we were back to arguing about exactly the same things that we argued about then.

“Andy and I are the polar opposites in the group about a lot of issues, but when we agree, gravity pulls to the centre and everybody else thinks, ‘Well if those two agree we may as well go with this’.”

Unusually, the band retained total control throughout making the 12-track album.

“We’ve never been an act to be dictated to,” admits Nick. “I think it’s a shame that not many people get that.”

Away from music, Nick is happily ensconced in a relationship with stunning New York actress Meredith Ostrom. They fell for each other when they tried to hail the same taxi on London’s Regent Street two years ago. A failed romance with Tara Palmer Tomkinson secured column inches too. Surprisingly, Nick smiles at the mention of her name and is full of compliments.

“Tara is a sweetheart and she really does well now,” he says. “I’ve remained friends with a lot of the women I’ve had relationships with. I’m always of the opinion that unless they do something so awful to you that you don’t want to deal with them again, why would you fall out just because it didn’t work out relationship-wise?

“That’s why I talk to nearly all my exes. Tara and I speak and we see each other occasionally. I would never wish for anything but for her to be really happy. She deserves it.”

Nick’s 18-year-old daughter Tatjana Leigh Orchid spends a lot of time with him London too. The daughter of Nick and ex-wife Julie-Anne Friedman, she ticks her dad off for plastering so much slap on his face.

“When my daughter sees me putting on eyeliner she’ll still say, ‘Oh dad’,” grins Nick. “So I then tell her Justin Timberlake wears it and it will be fine.

“I blame David Bowie for everything. We grew up with glam rock and then punk rock, so how could anyone expect us to come out wearing jeans and T-shirts?”

Looking at Duran Duran now, they may be in their forties but they haven’t shed an ounce of their glamour.

Astronaut is out on Monday.

 Courtesy Daily Mirror www.mirror.co.uk/

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