Back on the wild frontier

Gary Ryan hears how Adam Ant is ready to take his place again in the pop spotlight

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Can Adam Ant come back? In 1981, the punk turned teen idol was the biggest pop star in Britain, swashbuckling his way through hits Stand & Deliver and Prince Charming. By the 1990s, he had fallen out of favour, but in 2002, he hit the tabloid front pages for the wrong reasons when he ended up in the Old Bailey, after brandishing an imitation firearm at drinkers who had previously mocked his appearance.

He has been sectioned twice under the Mental Health Act. Only then did it become public knowledge that Ant – real name Stuart Goddard – had a history of bipolar disorder, which has both propelled and threatened to detonate his career. Now, after a 15-year period away from the music business, he’s returning with a new album, Adam Ant is the Blueback Hussar in Marrying The Gunner’s Daughter, due later this year, and a hits-laden tour this month to prove he’s back on form.

Last year however, it was reported that “acquaintances and admirers” had voiced concerns about his health. Furthermore, the album release date had to be postponed when, last May, a charity gig in Portsmouth went awry and Ant found himself back in enforced psychiatric care, “for no reason at all”, he maintains. Considering that fame almost destroyed him the first time around, the question may end up being not whether Adam Ant can come back, but rather at what cost.

If the 56-year-old is feeling any pressure, he isn’t showing it. Today, Ant is smart, funny and frank. He addresses his mental illness both in person – and in upcoming songs with titles like Shrink and Cool Zombie – with disarming candour. “Obviously,” he reasons, “there’s a very serious part of my life that needs to be accounted for. And I’m in a position to do it on my own terms. I’ve learned to say no, even if people think I’m a c*ck. It’s less Prince Charming, more Prince Albert.”

Born to an alcoholic father, Goddard first attempted suicide, aged 21, in 1975, by overdosing. He awoke in hospital and discharged himself. When he got home to his wife, he told her that he was changing his name to Adam and that Stuart Goddard was dead. “I’d just had enough, you know,” he says. “I think suicide is bad because it tends to hurt your family. People can be pious but it’s your life. What’s the alternative? That you drink yourself to death instead which takes 50 years?”

Pop music proved the perfect occupation to hide in plain sight: his condition could be rationalised as artistic “eccentricity” to outsiders. Rejected by the punk demimonde he rose up in (in fact, the Sex Pistols’ debut was as support to his fledgling band Bazooka Joe), Adam Ant went for the commercial jugular. Between 1980 and 1983, either with the Ants or solo, he graced the charts 16 times and was transformed into a household name.

Yet on a punishing 300-gig a year schedule, things were bound to veer off-piste. “I had 11 days off in three years,” he remembers. “So it was basically physical and mental exhaustion. I was signed to a contract that demanded an album, four singles, and two world tours a year. I’m a human being but I became a cyborg and paid the price.”

His experiences of mental health have “politicised” Adam Ant, and he is pledging to reduce the stigma that surrounds the issue. “Twenty years ago, if an artist announced, ‘I’m gay’, that would be commercial suicide,” he muses. “Now it’s fine. But saying you’re mad is something quite different. It’s the last taboo.”

During his “incarceration” in an NHS psychiatric ward, only two friends stood by him – musicians Boz Boorer [Ant’s main co-writer] and Mark Manning from Zodiac Mindwarp. “Everyone else took a walk. I can understand why people are scared,” he adds. “Basically, nothing’s changed since Bedlam. I was sectioned in one place and it was 90 degrees outside and there were no windows. I would have gladly swapped places with [prisoner] Charles Bronson on this last little stint.”

He claims that the prescribed anti-depressants left him a husk and quashed his creativity. “They were giving me pills used to control epilepsy – if you’ve ever seen an epileptic have a fit, you’ll realise it’s a strong drug. In my view, I’m allergic to the medicine because it gave me a very bad case of cellulitis and also, I didn’t pick up the guitar for seven years. You’ve got to have a brain to write a song, and I’d become a Teletubby.”

The Ants imperial phase coincided with the launch of MTV, and their videos became increasingly more lavish, with Prince Charming guest starring Diana Dors. Indeed, you could view him as an antecedent to Lady Gaga – whose self-mythologising and mutating image marks her out as Madam Ant.

“You know, Lady Gaga’s a good musician but I think the imagery changes too much,” opines Ant. “If you do that, people dismiss your music and concentrate on ‘what’s she going to look like next?’ I found that happening to me, so when I went solo, I took all the make-up off and did Goody Two Shoes.”

Although he last painted the white stripe across his nose in 1981 (later rejecting an offer of £1m to reapply it), when people think of Adam Ant, they have a clear frozen-in-time picture of him. Teenagers still dress as him for Halloween parties. His most famous costumes are displayed in the V&A Museum. Possessing cheekbones that could etch glass, he was once voted the sexiest man in America, and dated actresses including Amanda Donohoe, Jamie Lee Curtis and Heather Graham. How has this affected his experience of aging?

“When I went to the Old Bailey, it brought me down,” he admits. “I looked like Orson Welles. I grew a beard because I was expecting to go to prison for seven years, so I just sat in my flat and drank Guinness and tried to avoid watching TV.”

Over the last year, Ant has reconnected with his subterranean club roots, honing his new vision via unannounced guerrilla gigs. Similarly, his DIY spirit extends to running his own label after being “financially sodomised”. Purportedly, he was paid £60,000 for a ten-album deal. For every £1 the record company received, he was awarded 9p in royalties.

“For 60,000, Sony did very well – they recouped that in the first day of single sales on Dog Eat Dog the morning after Top of the Pops.”

After the hits came the writs. Partially, this explains Ant’s return to the spotlight. He has a 13-year-old daughter, Lily, from his second marriage, and is determined to provide for her. “Andy Warhol was a big influence on me,” he recalls.

“He was in the studio forever working to bring home the bacon. Michael Caine did a wonderful interview where he was asked, ‘You do a lot of films that aren’t any good. Why?’ He said: well, my daughter likes ponies.’”

To put the leash on the black dog, he writes relentlessly. When penning his 2006 memoir Stand & Deliver –currently undergoing adaption into a biopic – he sifted through 70 books of hand-written journals meticulously detailing every day of his life. “It’s the discipline of sitting down and emptying your mind. Mental illness is like a boil. It grows unless you squeeze it. Onstage, you can get it out. If you’re not working, there’s a whole part of your life missing. It was the same with George Best. I don’t watch football anymore because I had dinner with him once and it broke my heart.”

Adam Ant, 24 May, O2 Academy, Sheffield & 28 May, O2 Academy, Liverpool

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