By Adrian Deevoy For Event Magazine
Simon Le Bon no longer chases Girls On Film. John Taylor is back firmly on "Planet Earth" after spinning out of control. Andy Taylor may have left to join the "Ordinary World," but Nick Rhodes is still a "Notorious" user of blue eye shadow, Roger Taylor is "Hungry Like The Wolf." Now three and a half decades after the first of 17 UK Top 20 hits, "Planet Earth," in 1981, the Eighties "Wild Boys" return...
Not since Beatlemania had fans gone quite so barmy for a British beat combo. Amid the madness, Duran Duran sold more than 50 million albums and became more famous than they had ever dared imagine
Duran Duran are no strangers to dramatic situations, but nobody expected to see snipers.
When the globally successful band took the stage at a private summer drinks party in the grounds of the U.S. Ambassador’s London residence earlier this month, a team of military marksmen were in position on the roof of the main building, primed to protect the long-serving pop group and their audience from terrorist attack.
The band played their hits unfazed – "A View To A Kill," "Hungry Like The Wolf," "Rio," "Notorious," "Ordinary World," "Wild Boys," and even slipped in a new one, "Pressure Off."
The invited guests at the upscale annual bash, including diplomats, MPs and actor Benedict Cumberbatch (with wife Sophie Hunter), enjoyed the hour-long show despite the disconcerting presence of high-powered weapons.
Sinking into the al fresco sofas of an Argentine restaurant on a more relaxed afternoon, the biggest band of the Eighties – the Fab Five! – are witty, insightful and refreshingly frank on any given topic.
No subject is out of bounds as they gossip uninhibitedly about being humiliated by rock aristocracy, their heroic misbehaviour, the truth about Live Aid, One Direction, Andy Warhol, David Bowie, and their new musical partner in crime (and honorary wild girl) Lindsay Lohan.
They even share their feelings about the BBC drama Holby City.
Physically, the veteran sex symbols are holding up handsomely, the pretty boys of yesteryear now well-preserved gents approaching their mid-fifties – from both directions.
But right now, three and a half decades after the first of 17 UK Top 20 hits, "Planet Earth," in 1981, the band are reliving their own dramas and wondering how they’ve survived.
‘We once missed Blackpool Tower during a snowstorm in a small plane by what seemed like ten feet,’ drawls Nick Rhodes, Duran Duran’s foppish, pink lip-sticked, blond-fringed keyboard player.
‘What a way to go. It wouldn’t have made a very glamorous headline. Not the finale you’d want.’
‘The idea of dying certainly went through my mind when I was stuck inside Drum,’ says effusive frontman Simon Le Bon, recounting his yachting disaster during the Fastnet race in 1985.
‘I got stuck under the boat. After being inside the air pocket I dived out and ended up crawling upside down along the underneath of the deck.
'Then I had to kick down, but the top of my long-johns caught on a stanchion post and I stopped about two-and-half-feet shy of the surface just as I was about to breathe in.
'I kept thinking about my family and my new girlfriend, Yasmin Parvaneh as she was then.
'I wanted to see her again and have some fun with her, and you’re not going to have a lot of that if you’re brown bread.’
‘There were a couple of times where I’ve lost control and thought, “This could be it,”’ admits bassist John Taylor, referring to his years of drug and alcohol abuse.
An intense character, Taylor had a torrid time with chemical dependence at the height of Duran Duran’s heart-throbbing dominance. He downplays the decadence now but bears the psychological scars of a hard-fought battle for sobriety.
‘Finding out about the bomb was the scariest moment for me,’ says drummer Roger Taylor (none of Duran Duran’s Taylors are related).
On July 20, 1983, at the height of the band’s success, MI5 foiled a plot to murder both them and loyal Duran Duran fan Princess Diana.
An IRA operative was sent to the Dominion Theatre in London with delayed timing detonators and 25 pounds of Frangex, a mining gelignite. He located a spot in the wall of a bathroom near the Royal Box into which the bomb would fit – but failed to install the device.
‘It was so shocking,’ Taylor continues calmly. ‘We were only made aware of it years later, probably the mid-Nineties, but it was very frightening.
'They wanted to kill Diana and Charles and us and everybody in the room.’
‘I spoke to Diana in private at times,’ says Le Bon. ‘I used to see her at a health club we both went to in Chelsea. She thought it was crazy that people with cameras wanted to follow her around taking her photo.
'She was a very real, very ordinary person going through something extraordinary, something similar to what we had been through.’
In the band’s case it was called ‘Durandemonium’. Not since Beatlemania had fans gone quite so barmy for a British beat combo.
Amid the madness, Duran Duran sold more than 50 million albums and became more famous than they had ever dared imagine.
They dated models and wed unwisely young (John Taylor married 19-year-old socialite Amanda De Cadenet in 1991). Duran Duran were living the dream but, at times, it seemed like a nightmare.
‘Like when someone is throwing themselves at the windscreen of a limousine travelling at 30mph,’ shudders Le Bon.
‘You’re yelling at the driver, “Hey, these are real people, don’t just plough through them. They’re not characters from a zombie movie. You can’t scare them out of the way, they won’t do that. They’re hysterical.’’’
Such was Duran Duran’s fame by the late Eighties that John Taylor would hide in his London flat, curtains drawn and music cranked up, to drown out the screams of the obsessive Duranies who kept a 24-hour vigil outside.
‘If I’d have been straight I might have handled it better,’ he sighs.
He entered rehab to address addiction issues, having ‘lost control’ with cocaine and alcohol in 1994.
‘I was a little blurry. My feelings were all distorted.’
The all-night binges became habitual for John as he struggled to cope with the confusion of being the planet’s more eligible, and inelegantly wasted, bachelor.
‘It was like stepping into another dimension,’ says Roger Taylor, who would leave the band in 1985, at their commercial peak, unable to cope with the stress.
‘But you can’t regret it; we were just so happy to be a success.’
‘When we started I thought a long career would have been like The Beatles, what, eight years?’ says Rhodes, face barely moving beneath his ever-present pan-stick.
‘I never thought I’d be sitting here 35 years later.’
Duran Duran have just completed Paper Gods, their 14th studio album, abetted by white-hot producer Mark Ronson (a Duran devotee since childhood) and Chic’s Nile Rodgers.
It features guest appearances from Kanye West-endorsed singer Mr Hudson, Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante, R&B sensation Janelle Monae, rising Canadian star Kiesza and, extraordinarily, actress Lindsay Lohan, who ‘talks in a rather naughty way’ on a track entitled "Danceophobia."
‘The hardest part was getting Lindsay in the studio,’ confesses Le Bon who, after a month-long campaign, had to drive the reluctant performer from her Mayfair flat himself.
‘Once we got her there she was a total professional and a pleasure to work with.’
The smooth-talking singer sounds relieved to have finally secured the services of the flame-haired firebrand, as his coup coincided with her starring in the West End production of "Speed-The-Plow."
He first met the troubled starlet a decade ago in New York around the time of her platinum-selling debut album, Speak.
‘It was a privilege to have her on a Duran Duran album and I hope it was a privilege for her to be on a Duran Duran album,’ he adds.
Early acquaintance with the record suggests that the collection can proudly stand alongside the band’s first three albums, the New Romantic triptych in which Duran Duran (1981) and Seven And The Ragged Tiger (1983) sandwich their glossy 1982 masterpiece Rio.
The four members of Duran Duran (tough Geordie guitar player Andy Taylor left the band for good in 2006) have convened for a daytime photo shoot in an empty West End nightclub, and gamely agree to be grilled individually throughout the afternoon.
But as the 30th anniversary of Live Aid is upon us, Duran Duran begin by reliving their memorable contribution beamed from Philadelphia on July 13, 1985.
‘I found it quite stressful because I’d blown my voice in rehearsal,’ Le Bon remembers.
‘Then I hit the worst bum note I’ve ever hit in front of the most people I’ve ever sung in front of.
'Two billion bloody viewers and my voice just broke in "A View To A Kill." Now I look back on that I’m not embarrassed about it, but I felt terrible at the time.
‘There were people being complete and utter divas as well. I remember Madonna: nobody was allowed in the toilet area when Madonna went for a wee. What was that about?’
‘I stood stage-side watching Led Zeppelin,’ recalls John Taylor. ‘I’d never been a Zeppelin fan but they started off with "Rock And Roll" and I just thought, “Holy ****!” Then, “Hang on, isn’t that Jack Nicholson?”
‘At the same time, Duran were clinging on for existence. We’d divided in two camps but it came together that day and I love Duran’s performance at Live Aid. It wasn’t intimidating as we had the No 1 in America that week ["A View To A Kill"]. So there were these giants around us, but it was our moment.’
‘I stayed up very late with Mick Jagger and Tina Turner, which was incredibly good fun,’ reports Rhodes.
‘Mick introduced me to Bob Dylan who said hello, turned around, walked into a wall and cut his nose. He wasn’t trying to get away but I felt really bad.’
‘I arrived at Mick’s party,’ says Le Bon, picking up the thread. ‘I was wearing this Dutch army camouflage jacket with nothing underneath it and an Arab scarf, a keffiyeh.
‘The first person I saw was Keith Richards, who was wearing a similar scarf and I was so gobsmacked because he was such an idol to me, so I said, “Keith, look, we’re wearing the same scarf!” And he looked at me and said, “That’s a good enough reason to leave,” and walked out.
‘But, bless him, I got a note from The Rolling Stones office saying, “Keith apologises, he didn’t mean to be so rude, he’d just had a big argument with Mick – nothing personal.”’
I wonder if, in their dealings with such superstars, Duran ever revert to being simple music fans from Birmingham and get star-struck?
‘I was Moon-struck when I met Buzz Aldrin,’ smirks Rhodes. ‘He was on a Canadian TV show with us and I said to Simon, “Christ, that guy’s been on the Moon! You can’t beat that.”’
‘I try not to put people on a pedestal,’ frets John Taylor. ‘You kind of give your power away when you do. But I do have dreams of being on a train with Prince and I can’t move my lips.’
'I can become really nervous around big stars,’ Le Bon empathises.
‘I get the verbals, as my daughter would say, I can’t stop talking and it’s not pretty.
'Although I was speechless when I met David Bowie.’
This prompts Roger Taylor to tell an excruciating story about a dinner with Bowie during which the drummer, a lifelong fan, was unable to produce a single word.
‘I just froze,’ he squirms. ‘It was awful. Bowie tried to talk to me but he must have been thinking, “What a weirdo, I’m asking this guy all these interesting questions about his band and he’s not giving me anything back.” But I couldn’t actually speak.’
‘Andy (Warhol) was a master of modernism, he invented a lot of how we now live. If he had been around to experience the internet, I cannot imagine how much he would have loved it,' said
Duran Duran aren’t as shy when it comes to offering fatherly advice to younger artists. As the One Direction of their day, the elder statesmen have hard-won wisdom to pass on.
‘Stick together,’ declares Le Bon. ‘Don’t split up. All that’s going to happen is you’re going to get better.’
‘That was actually the advice Mick Jagger gave us,’ John Taylor nods.
‘If I were One Direction I’d avoid social media,’ Rhodes asserts, controversially.
‘I’d try to have a life and I’d make sure I concentrated on songwriting rather than tweeting something about the sandwich I’d eaten that day.’
‘I’d say, “Slow down, take your time,”’ suggests Roger Taylor, who speaks from experience, having taken a 16-year sabbatical from showbusiness to ‘watch the seasons change and my kids grow up’ in the country.
‘I understand what One Direction are going through. And I could totally relate to Zayn when he said he just wanted to be a normal young guy, because that is exactly what I said when I left Duran.’
‘And don’t be divas,’ warns Le Bon. ‘My own diva-dom extends to, “Please don’t take photographs while I’m eating,” because that’s never a good look – tucking into a big bowl of pasta, fork heading towards your gaping mouth and in the paper the next day it’s, “That’s why he’s got such a big belly.”’
Duran Duran learned a lot about media manipulation and diva-dom from Andy Warhol.
The eccentric American artist, who died in 1987, took the shiny-faced British pop hopefuls under his wing in 1981 and forged a firm friendship with Nick Rhodes.
Bearing in mind Warhol’s 1962 dollar-sign painting just sold at Sotheby’s for £20.9 million, will Rhodes be scouring his loft for any lost treasure?
‘He did give me some things,’ Duran Duran’s authority on art smiles, inscrutably.
‘Andy was a master of modernism, he invented a lot of how we now live. If he had been around to experience the internet, I cannot imagine how much he would have loved it.
‘And he invented reality TV, no question about it. All his early films concentrated on normal people doing regular things. They may have looked strange but they were always very human.’
‘Andy Warhol really fancied Nick,’ blurts out Le Bon. ‘And Nick looked like him! I think Andy liked that slightly fey, blonde arty intelligentsia thing, and Nick falls into that category.
'They also shared a sense of humour. Nick’s ability to find amusement in almost any situation is extraordinary.’
Inside the low-lit nightclub, just off Regent Street, Duran Duran are enjoying a light lunch and a right laugh about decrepitude (‘My nose has definitely got bigger,’ groans Le Bon, ‘and they say it never stops growing’) but they take the business of dressing up and being photographed quite seriously.
John Taylor squeezes his alarmingly long feet, Cinderella-like, into a pair of pointed white shoes, all the while enthusing about music (‘it’s like nature’s Valium’).
Rhodes peruses a selection of scarves with a connoisseur’s eye. Roger Taylor self-consciously teases stray hair over his impressive ears.
Le Bon buttons a nautical blazer and studies himself in the mirror, rehearsing an imperious facial expression. What is he thinking about?
‘Naked ladies,’ he replies without missing a beat. ‘It really helps. I have this strange belief that if I think about naked ladies then my pupils will dilate, which always looks better in shots.
'Actually, thinking about naked ladies helps with pretty much everything.’
Throughout the silk-suited Eighties, John Taylor – with his cheekbones like wing mirrors and fishing-rod physique – was routinely voted the world’s most beautiful man, with Simon Le Bon sometimes coming a close second.
‘There was always a rivalry between me and John,’ Le Bon says. ‘It was all who could pull the best-looking girls, or the most girls. He won hands down.’
All four men are now settled down. Le Bon and model wife Yasmin celebrate 30 years of wedlock this Christmas. They have three daughters: Amber, 25, Saffron, 23, and Tallulah, 20.
Rhodes has a daughter, Tatjana, 28, from his eight-year marriage to Julie Anne Friedman. He now lives with his Italian partner Nefer Suvio, 34, in London.
Roger Taylor has three children – James, Ellea and Elliot – from his relationship with Giovanna Cantone, and a four-year-old son, Julian, with his Peruvian wife Gisella Bernales.
John Taylor is married to Juicy Couture co-founder Gela Nash-Taylor and divides his time between Los Angeles and a vast Jacobean manor in Wiltshire (which his colleagues describe as being ‘like a small village’).
He has a daughter, Atlanta De Cadenet Taylor, 23, from his marriage to TV presenter Amanda De Cadenet, who became famous at the fag end of the Eighties for her wild child lifestyle – an endless carousel of underage drinking, dancing on tables and falling out of small frocks in sleazy Chelsea clubs.
As they hit their milder middle years, and gravity begins to win, do Duran Duran mourn the loss of their youthful good looks?
‘I don’t know about mourning,’ smiles John Taylor, adjusting a stylishly battered fedora.
‘Some days you might feel a little wistful, but hey, that’s life.’
‘You make the best of what you can,’ says Rhodes, the group’s shortest member.
‘We all make an effort to keep in shape. I don’t understand people who lack vanity; it’s a form of self-respect.’
‘I try not to be vain,’ insists Le Bon, who is wearing blue eye shadow. ‘But we’re Duran Duran – we’re not jeans and T-shirts kind of guys. You can be crusty and wrinkly and old and wear eye make-up and be happy with that.’
Simon and model wife Yasmin celebrate 30 years of wedlock this Christmas. They have three daughters: Amber, 25, Saffron, 23, and Tallulah, 20
In certain quarters, Duran Duran’s sex appeal is undiminished. Recently, they were invited to Claridge’s to discuss their enduring appeal with the world’s leading brand experts.
The consensus among the high-rolling women, and a handful of men, was that they ‘still would’.
‘Roger Taylor is a gorgeous, intelligent young man,’ gushed one female branding guru.
‘She only got the “young” bit wrong,’ twinkles Taylor, 55.
In a smart Piccadilly back street, photo-shoot concluded, Le Bon treats himself to a large Campari, gin and soda, settling in for a leisurely chat as his bandmates drift back to their various London lairs.
The bon viveur flirts shamelessly with our waitress who, he observes, has secreted a cigarette lighter in her cleavage.
‘What an excellent place to put… things,’ he leers, before embarking upon a characteristically theatrical monologue.
‘A question I ask all the time is, “Could I live without money?”’ I think it’s a very noble endeavour and I often wonder what it would be like to give everything away. I’m really tempted to try it but it would make doing my job very difficult.’
If he does dispense with his worldly wealth to live like St Francis Of Assisi, will Le Bon leave his fortune, estimated at £40 million, to his children?
‘No, I’ll leave it to someone else’s children,’ he guffaws. ‘I want them to make their own way, but you help them.
'Everyone knows how hard it is just to own even the smallest property now. That’s why so many young people are still living at home – I’ve got three of them who seem to be staying put.
‘My eldest is 25 and we’re trying to help her but I don’t think she wants to go.
'It’s very hard for kids who love their families to leave them. She doesn’t want to go and live on her own, she wants to be with her sisters and her mum and dad and you can’t argue with that. She values her time with us.’
Has he warned his daughters about predatory pop stars and their ungentlemanly ways?
‘One of my girls has just had her own experience with a… something or other,’ he mutters, his mood momentarily darkening.
‘But heartache is part of life. It’s no good having everything you want just fall into your lap. It could have been much worse for her – it could have happened ten years later.
'At least she was young enough to cope with it. I didn’t get involved, I had to let her get on with it. I stood back and wrote a song about it. Butterfly Girl – it’s on the album.’
It must have occurred to Le Bon, as he graciously succumbs to the inevitability of ageing, that his wife appears to be getting more beautiful by the day.
‘Isn’t that annoying?’ he grins, wolfishly. ‘It’s actually very cool being married to Yasmin. Not only is it great just to wake up and look at her in the mornings, it’s great seeing the effect she has on other people, men and women. I just think, “That’s my girl”.
'I did really stupid things in the past, but I was young and you’re allowed to do stupid things and get over them.
'But the one smart thing when I met Yasmin was realising that this was as good as it gets.
‘I thought, if I could grab hold of that and keep my **** in my pants when it came to everybody else, that I had a good chance of being happy for the rest of my life.
'She saw something in me too. She saw that I wanted to be happy and that I’m honest and loving.
'I’ve got a lot of affection and I show it. It’s funny but I’m really looking forward to going home and seeing her this evening.’
Before he pootles back to his family home in Putney, Le Bon ponders the question: does his wife have any actual faults?
‘She likes Holby [City],’ he frowns, polishing off his potent cocktail and ordering another. ‘We’ll happily watch Broadchurch together but I can’t do Holby.’
He lowers his lips thoughtfully towards his latest drink. ‘That’s just a step too far.’
Duran Duran’s new album ‘Paper Gods’ is out on Warner Music on Sept 11. The band tour the UK in Nov and Dec
Courtesy Event Magazine in the Daily Mail
Photos by Stephanie Pistel