Tatler Magazine - Sun 14th Apr

Tatler Magazine
14 April 2002


Tatler Magazine

Bryan Ferry is streets ahead of his fellow rock gods - in looks, in style, in culture. I'm just a jealous guy, says Geordie Grieg.

Even when the Daily Mirror published an abusive e-mail which his son had sent from his computer at Eton, Bryan Ferry, in the middle of promoting his new solo album, stayed cool. Yes, he would talk to Isaac, he told the Head Master of Eton. No, he told the 16-year-old, you cannot go round sending foul-mouthed e-mail to people, even hunt saboteurs. 'I am not sure what I minded most about the whole episode,' Ferry says. 'I think it was the spelling mistakes.'

Thirty years after entering the pop world, Bryan Ferry is one of the few big names of his generation, alongside David Bowie, Sir Elton John and Mick Jagger, whose familes still make headlines for unlikely reasons. Isaac Ferry first found that out on the fashion catwalk in Paris, and his brother Otis through his work for the local hunt in Yorkshire. But Ferry Snr retains mystique in spades; it's still not easy to pin down this miner's son from County Durham who became, essentially, the English Fonz.

Even more curious is that rock stardom was never his plan: Ferry had never even played an instrument until he was in his 20s. 'I had a couple of piano lessons when I was five, but I gave up. All my teens I just wanted to be a painter,' he says. 'I love to entertain and be entertained,' he adds, 'but what feeds me most are artists - that calm reflective space they create from doing their stuff.'

But without Bryan Ferry - the laconic voice, the slick, electrifying stage charisma that first beamed out when he was with Roxy Music, the way he can take Noel Coward-like songs and give them a modern twist - there would be no Robbie Williams. A supreme balladeer, Ferry was the first star to make people realise that rock could be subtle and intelligent.

What he has always excelled in, his trademark, his essence, is cool. Two years ago, as a deranged passenger fought with cabin staff on the notorious BA flight to Nairobi and the plane plunged 10,000 feet, Ferry's reaction in the pitch dark, amid hysterical screams and the stench of vomit was to tell Isaac to stop swearing. Forget survival instincts or panic - propriety matters to Ferry. Jemima Khan exhorted everyone to pray and Lady Annabel Goldsmith cried out for her children, but Ferry kept his head while those around him were losing theirs. 'I guess I just said what came into my mind,' he recalls, adding with a dry fleck of humour: 'Manners are, I suppose, fairly important, even in trying circumstances.' The near-crash also him aware of his mortality, even if it his own deadpan way. 'It actually me think, "Oh my God, I've got an album to finish. Can we reschedule?"

His prayer was answered and the album, Frantic, is now out. Nicky Haslam remembers that, when the two of them had dinner in Drones two years ago, Ferry was full of angst about the making of it, hence the title that adorns the cover. Still, it's being hailed by early music press as his best recording for years and, with sell-out tours in place, the future looks rosy. 'Each time I make a record, it's a journey towards getting the balance until you think,"God, I've never heard that before" - that combination of instruments or something. I did feel a new confidence with this album. It's vocally stronger, less hidden.'

To promote Frantic, a suite at Claridge's has been booked. Paparazzi photographer Richard Young pops out on the hunt for Kate Winslet who is somewhere else in the building. Ferry's publicist darts in, directing me to suite 308. Journalists are slotted in at 45-minute intervals. A plane will take him to Belgium the next day, followed by Germany the morning after that but today a clutch of girls waits outside the hotel to grab his autograph.

In the sitting room of the suite, Ferry, aged 56, looks Dorian Gray-young - slim, sleek, relaxed in a dark blue suit and pale-blue monogrammed Richard James shirt. Reticent, amiable, funny but restless, he gets up, stretches out his legs, talks at length about his music and firmly keeps any obtrusive personal questions at bay. It reminds me of something a friend had said earlier: 'He's a details queen. Has a Bond-like eye for the minutiae of good living. Very particular. For example, he likes brown bread, no butter in his sandwiches. Mayo instead. Club tuna or prawns and no tomato. To drink: carrot juice, Evian or San Pellegrino. Coffee: Taylor's of Harrogate, Italian blend.'

As the interviews progress, he continues to be eloquent, funny but very aware. As we leave the room, his bag is whisked downstairs by a uniformed bell-boy. He whooshes his hair back and has a quick glance in the mirror. A Mercedes with tinted windows purrs up outside. The girls get their autographs, the photographers their shot, and we're off into the night to dinner at E&O.

Ferry has certainly reaped the rewards of success - maybe not on the scale of mega riches that Bowie, Jagger or Sir Elton John have made, but a pretty nice deal nonetheless. He has fabulous houses in Kensington and Sussex, and a museum-quality art collection about which he is passionate. An impressive amount of Bloomsbury, some Duncan Grant oils, an exquisite drawing of Ezra Pound as well as the Stubbs which appeared on the cover of his 1994 album Mamouna. 'I have a home with many walls that need something putting on them,' he says disingenuously.

He also has an impressive collection of first editions by Wyndham Lewis. He talks excitedly about 20th-century poetry and rare recordings of Yeats and Eliot reading their own work. 'Everything really starts and stops with Eliot,' he says. By his bed is a copy of Kenneth Tynan's diaries: 'Good gossip and fascinating on a golden age.'

He is intellectually curious and informed. His art cred is high. What other rock star can claim to have the seminal pop art painter Richard Hamilton slip into the audience on every tour? He lights up when speaking of Sickert, Paul Nash or David Bomberg. Like most collectors, Ferry is introspective, private and shy.

He is a Renaissance man of our times, a true grandee of the rockocracy. He can happily hold 30,000 people's attention in an arena, or discuss the importance of late De Kooning; he can still make girls turn in the street, or explain exactly why Château Pétrus '46 is a great year. He will gripe over David Hockney's lack of appreciation of pop music, or chat amiably about the vagaries of the different varieties of apple trees he has planted in Sussex. NME was his teenage bible. Now he keeps fancy chickens.

But then Ferry has never been easy to pigeon-hole. He is unpretentious yet something of a clothes fetishist. Gucci's Tom Ford has named him as the man whose sartorial style he most admires. The man who made the suit sexy wears hand-tailored ones from Savile Row's Anderson & Sheppard, which fit him like a second skin. He's an intellectual whose records have sold by the million, a pop idol whose best friends are university professors, the musician's musician with mass appeal.

And yet it is with reluctance that Ferry steps out of the shadows into the full glare of publicity. He simply doesn't do personal interviews. Mention his photographer wife Lucy, and he will volunteer that she has the same birthday as Garbo, but nothing else. Still, he is clearly devoted to Lacroix's one-time muse and the mother of his four sons, Otis, Isaac, Tara and Merlin. Stylish, independent, unpredictable and beautiful, she is no malleable rock chick. A professional photographer, a skilled horsewoman who hunts, she is fearless, the odd broken bone being no barrier to her enthusiasm. Teetotal for many years, she has an extraordinarily wide range of friends, with a small inner circle that includes Isabella Blow and Amanda Harlech. 'You can gauge her mood from what she wears,' says one friend. 'At Bella Freud's wedding, for instance, she was low-key in a sweater. Another day might find her wrapped in fox furs and teetering on Manolos.' Designer Antony Price, perhaps Ferry's closest friend, sees the couple as peas from the same pod. 'They share the quality of being able to put on certain clothes and purposefully fade into the background. But if they choose to wear something else, they can be jaw-droppingly attractive. Most often, they choose to play the plover's eggs fading into the ploughed field: invisible observers, like two spies.'

At the recent Warhol opening at Tate Modem, Lucy made sure they weren't photographed. 'It's very simple why Bryan still has that sense of cool,' says Price. 'He never says anything. It's very clever, that.'

What also makes Bryan Ferry different from any other rock star is that he's a man of many parts, as much fêted by the Establishment as he is by the entertainment industry, as happy hanging out at the pub in Ireland when staying with his wife's family as he is buzzing about in a Jeep at his home in Sussex. You may find him being entertained by the Marches beneath their famous Canalettos in the small, round dining room at Goodwood, or dropping in for a drink at the Bamfords' villa in Barbados. He flew to Cuba for the Albemarles' wedding. Leo Fenwick is his godchild. A good buddy is 'Johnson' Somerset. He shoots pheasants with the Earl of Arundel or, in New York, quietly slips into his regular suite in the Carlyle. Jasper Johns embraced him there by personally cooking him a dinner of wild mushrooms, hand-picked from his upstate New York estate. He has had bizarre nights with Salvador Dalí and Amanda Lear in Paris. There seems to be no one he hasn't met. He's swapped jokes with Groucho Marx, gone on the town with Lucille Ball and hung out backstage with Jerry Lee Lewis. But he isn't so much the famed lounge lizard as a chameleon who loves to wander into different worlds.

Nevertheless there's a chippiness that runs through his press coverage - journalists' resentment that a northern miner's son, whose family house had an outside loo and a metal bath hanging on the wall, could have risen to such heights of critical, commercial and social success. 'It's something you get used to,' he says. 'Oh yes, there is always a bit of "how dare he?",' he says in mock grandeur. 'I've always maintained the idea that you could invent yourself and be Noël Coward, or Fred Astaire, or Cary Grant, or any of those people you think of as having style - I hate that word but it's been a long day - who have become style icons. All these people came from what people call "humble" backgrounds.'

Bryan is proud of his family and tells movingly of his father romancing his mother. 'He was born on a farm and worked on a farm until after the Depression, and then he had to go to work in the local mine, looking after the horses underground. That was what he knew. He used to plough with four horses in a line, and had lots of medals for it - all very Thomas Hardy,' he remembers. 'To woo my mother, he would dress up in bowler hat and spats. He pursued her for 10 years until they could afford to get married. She lived in the town and worked in the factory. He must have made an extraordinary sight riding over to see her on his horse.'

Ferry is appreciative that he has been so lucky. 'I feel very fortunate to have found a way of making a living from something I love doing, and I've had a charmed life in many ways,' he says. According to him, the Blair Government has got it all wrong with its class envy. 'Abolishing the House of Lords was such a mistake. Keep them, even if it's just for amusement value. Who wants a bunch of political cronies instead? Likewise, I would not want to ban bull-fighting in Spain. It's part of their culture; even if it's barbarous. it's also fabulous.' But he is not one to pontificate, and he shies away from political gestures. Pro-hunting, he keeps a low profile to avoid repercussions from the nastier elements of the anti-hunting lobby. While Sir Paul McCartney might insist that everyone on his table at a charity dinner not eat meat, Ferry couldn't be more robust in the opposite direction. 'I eat meat. I shoot birds. I play snooker and tennis. To be a rock star, you don't have to wear an anorak and a horrible pair of trainers. You can put on elegant leather shoes and a Homburg.'

One other thing remains constant, other than the slickness of the voice and the suit - and that's his shyness. 'I was always an unusual kind of character to be a singer for a start, being quite reserved 'I he admits. As Nicky Haslam says: 'I have seen Bryan go into an unalterable silence at a dinner party, where he still manages to contribute simply by being there. Then, suddenly, he switches himself on and is the most charmingly informed person you could ever meet.'

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