As we welcome the legendary Pet Shop Boys back to the cover of Attitude’s April Issue - available to download now - we take a look back at Neil Tennant's infamous coming out interview with us from August 1994...
(Words by Paul Burston | Edited by Galina Eyland)
"We've never said anything about our sex lives to the newspapers or to magazines [Neil Tennant] told the NME in 1986. "And we don't intent to."
And they haven't Until today, that is. Today, Neil Tennant has Something To Tell Me. Or at least that’s what I’ve been led to believe. The word on the gay grapevine is that the vocal half of the Pet Shop Boys has decided to speak out about his private affairs, so naturally I’ve been pushing for an opportunity to allow him to just do that. The only problem is, in all the discussions we’ve had setting up this interview, nobody has actually raised the subject. Not me. Not my editor. Not even the Pet Shop Boys’ press officer, who suggested that he and I meet twenty minutes before Neil arrived. I was anticipating some kind of prep talk, something along the lines of: “Look, Neil has decided to do this interview after a lot of careful thought, so please respect his feelings and please, please be gentle with him.” Instead, we had a friendly chat about life and the media in general and nothing very much in particular.
So here we are then, Neil Tennant and I, forty-five minutes into our agreed two-hour session ant still I haven’t popped the question. Instead, we’ve discussed a lot of other, more public things, like why the Pet Shop Boys decided to do a charity record. “We didn’t actually decide to do a charity record as such,” Neil informed me, a little crispy. “We just had the idea of doing Absolutely Fabulous because both Chris and I love the programme, and we decided to do it for Comic Relief as a way of dealing with it, really. That way, we knew we wouldn’t have any trouble getting the samples cleared by the BBC.”
We’ve talked about the Pet Shop Boy’s contribution to the forthcoming Kylie Minogue album. “Oh yes, the legendary Kylie album. Well, we always had to work with Kylie, of course, because she’s such a trademark: Kylie! She’s made it, really. She’s just one name. We were asked if we’d like to work with her last year, but we’d just finished our last album and couldn’t really be bothered to do any more. Then we wrote this song, and I said to Chris, ‘Oh, we should give this one to Kylie’. I thought it sounded like Stock-Aitken-Waterman Kylie, which is exactly what she’s trying not to do, unfortunately. But we sent it to the record company anyway, and they liked it, and she liked it. They’ve made it very different to the way we wrote it. It doesn’t really have the same tune in it, for instance, and they haven’t put the chorus in, but I suppose that’s very modern.”
Largely thanks to the fact that Kylie is suck a modern girl, Neil and I have sailed close to the wind a few times. We’ve talked about Kylie’s gay audience, for instance, and the difficulty of broadening one’s appeal without alienating one’s core audience. “I think it must be quite difficult being Kylie,” Neil remarked at one point, to which my natural response was: and is it difficult being Neil Tennant?
“In what sense?” was his guarded reply.
In the sense of being misunderstood.
“Sometimes, though I’m learning not to care about it. It is obviously a failure of ours, that we have given people the impression that what we do is some kind of elaborate joke.”
So having established that it is obviously a failure of mine not to have given Neil Tennant the opportunity to clear up any lingering doubts anyone might have about whether he is or is not gay, I go off into a very long, elaborate question about his impression of how their first album, Please, seemed to share a lot of common ground with Bronski Beat’s Smalltown boy, and how he felt about Jimmy Somerville’s much-publicised accusation that he and Chris Lowe were exploiting gay culture for career purposes, and not putting anything back.
Neil Tennant draws a deep breath. “The thing is,” he says, rearranging himself on the sofa, “we were kind of stitched up by the NME on that one. They did an interview with us, and then they went on and on about hamsters. They never actually asked us, ‘are you gay?’ And then Jimmy Sommerville was quoted everywhere, slagging us off. I thought it was quite arrogant of him, actually. He obviously thought that he had a right to talk about us in that way, and that his views on the subject were more important than our own views. His view is that the entire point of being a pop star is to be a positive role model. I reject any notion of being a positive role model to anyone. I personally find that an arrogant way to think of oneself…”
He pauses for a moment, realising perhaps that this line of argument is only likely to open old wounds. “When Bronski Beat came along, I was still assistant editor at Smash Hits. I loved those first few records. I loved the fact that they were gay, and that they were so out about it. It was the whole point of what they were doing. Jimmy Sommerville was, in effect, a politician using the medium of pop music to put his message across. The Pet Shop Boys came along to make fabulous records, we didn’t come along to be politicians, or to be positive role models. Having said all that, we have supported the fight for gay rights.” He reminds me at this point that the Pet Shop Boys were the only pop group to play before the act, a benefit for the fight against clause 28.
“And what’s more,” he goes on, “I do think that we have contributed, through our music and also through our videos and the general way we’ve presented things, rather a lot to what you might call ‘gay culture’. I could spend several pages discussing the notion of ‘gay culture’, but for the sake of argument, I would just say that we have contributed a lot. And the simple reason for this is that I have written songs from my own point of view…”
He pauses again. “What I’m actually saying is, I am gay, and I have written songs from that point of view. So, I mean, I’m being surprisingly honestly with you here, but those are the facts of the matter.”
Having finally got all that off his chest, Neil Tennant pours himself a glass of mineral water and takes his sweatshirt off. He is looking distinctly pink around the gills. Maybe it’s the effect of suddenly admitting that for all these years he has been singing nothing but the truth. Or maybe it’s just the unbearable heat in here. “Well,” he says, in a voice which carries a distinct of ‘moving swiftly on’, “what’s your next question?”
This is an extract from an interview in Attitude's August 1994 Issue.
You can check out the Pet Shop Boys new 10-page shoot and interview the new issue of Attitude, in shops now, available to download now at pocketmags.com/attitude and to order at newsstand.co.uk.
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