Simon Le Bon
May 16 2005
Simon Le Bon is your perfect eighties capitalist Thatcherite paradigm. His full name is Simon John Charles Le Bon. He was born on October 27, 1958 in Bushey, Hertfordshire and was raised mostly in London. As a boy, he was in a church choir, and he trained as an actor.
It goes on. He worked on a kibbutz in the Negev desert after a few theatre productions. Studied drama drama! at the University of Birmingham, before meeting up with the rest of Duran Duran and embarking on a few years of pre-bling blingin'. Videos featuring yachts and bikini-clad ladies, that kind of thing. And much champagne, probably just to ease the pain of it all.
Le Bon chose his wife from a catalogue. He spotted Yasmin Parvaneh's face in a modelling agency's portfolio, and got her number. Being the antithesis of your workaday, working-class star in the same vein as Misters Liam and Noel Gallagher of Oasis, he says that this bold act of lady-shopping was the most rock and roll thing he has ever done.
"Basically speaking, if you've got something in mind you shouldn't give up until you get it," he said in 1981. "Otherwise you don't stand a chance. That's how Duran Duran think and it's true of anything, not just music." It's all about as decade-defining as you can get.
But that was the eighties: this is now. We've had Britpop, Blair and an era in which, if popstars weren't miner's grandsons or one of nine siblings sharing half a box bedroom on a council estate, the readers of music rags would still expect them to at least have the decency to pretend. In the noughties, things have come full circle. Nobody cares if Chris Martin is the son of a vicar, so long as his music is of the right calming goo consistency.
A few Duran Duran comebacks later, and having been cited as the first ever metrosexuals, how has Le Bon moved on from the two-decades-ago yuppy aesthetic? Hm, well, this week it was reported that he phoned his friend, Sir Arnold Clark, the Scottish car dealer, to ask if he could borrow his old yacht back, and in August he will enter the 608-mile Rolex Fastnet race from the Isle of Wight around the Fastnet Rock.
It is the same yacht and the same race in which Le Bon was nearly killed in 1985. The vessel, then known as the Drum, capsized in bad weather off Falmouth, trapping him and other crew members inside the hull for 40 minutes. The yacht was later bought by Sir Arnold, who also owns a Bentley once belonging to Sir Elton John in his collection of boys' toys. But, this time Le Bon joins the crew of the £7m yacht, he is giving something back. He hopes that during the event, he will raise money for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, who he can thank for having saved his life.
While this could all sound frivolous, charity donations or not, you can hardly accuse Le Bon of inconsistency. The self-proclaimed argumentative model spouse he picked out of a catalogue has been his wife for 20 years, and they've had three honestly-not-made-up children called Amber-Rose, Saffron-Sahara, and Tallulah-Pine together. Not even Yasmin's modelling career has been short-lived. "Actors keep working until they die," she once reasoned, "so why can't models?"
Nor is it possible to categorise Le Bon alongside a whole slew of eighties pop casualties such as Steve Strange, Kevin Rowland (Dexy's Midnight Runners), the late Stuart Adamson (Big Country) and Adam Ant. While they've all had rocky personal lives or strayed far out of reach of the cultural radar, Le Bon has barely changed his haircut. He's yachts and models until the end.
First time round, Duran Duran was all about image and ostentatious shows of wealth. The original line-up were Birmingham's answer to fellow New Romantics, Spandau Ballet, if indeed anyone was asking the question. They were formed in 1978 by Nick Rhodes and John Taylor, who didn't stumble upon Le Bon their all-important lead sex-symbol until 1980. Their hits are a soundtrack for a smart, champagne-quaffing generation of now-receding upwardly mobiles: Planet Earth, Girls On Film, Careless Memories, Rio, Hungry Like The Wolf, Is There Something I Should Know?, The Reflex, Save A Prayer.
The accompanying videos, which did much to compound their popularity from 1982 to 1984, were expensive and, at the time, thought to be quite daring. Those for Girls on Film and The Chauffeur raised eyebrows for their sexual content and the video for Wild Boys, which featured Le Bon strapped to a windmill and being dunked in water, was the most expensive made at the time. The glamour of their Rio video was almost unbearable, such that it seems to be stating the obvious that Duran Duran were deemed suitable Bond movie-opener material. (View to a Kill, 1985.)
Duran Duran lapped up the luxury. Even, to some degree, Nick Rhodes, the unashamedly pretentious keyboardist who bought a Picasso on his credit card and thought yachts were "ghastly". But while he was hanging out with Andy Warhol, his band mates were indulging in the usual drinks/models/big farm purchase perks and in John Taylor's case, cocaine. They were at the height of their success in 1984, but by the time they joined in with Live Aid the following year, they were all burnt out.
They appear to have recovered well. When they made a new album, released last year, they recorded it in St Tropez, even though Andy Taylor (guitar) and non-relation John Taylor (bass) had suggested doing all the work in Wales. Le Bon (vocals) and Rhodes weren't having any of it.
"It all came flooding back," Rhodes said. "Effortless. It just sounded like Duran Duran. We're just glam-rock kids, that's all." Having sold in excess of 70 million albums, it's not like they needed the money, which Rhodes said indicated that the comeback tour couldn't possibly be a cynical exercise.
"You have to look at different scenarios, don't you?" Le Bon told a magazine last year. "The scenario would be if there was no money in music any more, or if we were prepared to play Butlins and little club shows. And neither scenario works. Because part of it for us is getting up in front of a big audience and getting our point across. I don't feel embarrassed about being paid for what I do. People say 'are you doing it for the money or the art?' and the answer is 'a bit of both, actually'."
When collecting his Outstanding Contribution To Music Brit Award last year, however, he was keen to emphasise the art bit. "By presenting us with this award you have validated us. You have also honoured us with a place alongside those who first inspired us," he said. Perhaps helped by an eighties revival that seems to have been ongoing since the eighties, his band have sold out nights at Wembley Arena, received an MTV Lifetime Achievement Award and had a top-10 greatest hits album.
Oddly, given the decade that spawned them, a band perceived as making the most of a five-minutes-in-the-fast-lane funride have outlasted their apparently more sincere contemporaries. "We were definitely considered disposable at the time," Le Bon said recently. "But isn't it funny how disposable things can hang around so much better than things that have been sort of designed to have staying power?"
Courtesy The Herald