News, Culture & Society

The rise and fall of Cool Britannia

The truth about Noel Gallagher taking cocaine at Number 10. Why Tony Blair stole England’s football song. And how Jarvis Cocker threw himself out of the window on TV. A rollicking new book reveals the inside story of Cool Britannia 

From Union Jack dresses to Britpop chart battles on the night-time news, the Nineties was a time when everything that seemed to matter was bright, brash and British, and London was once again the cultural capital of the world.

It was an era of lad culture (for boys and girls), of Chris Evans reinventing prime-time TV, of Damien Hirst’s pickled shark and Tracey Emin’s unmade bed; of rock stars at Number 10, and modern-day football superstars starting the rumour – still unfulfilled – of football’s imminent homecoming.

Patsy Kensit and Liam Gallgher on the cover of Vanity Fair. In March 1997, the magazine published a 25-page special on how London had got its groove back

Even the Americans noticed something was up on these shores, with Vanity Fair magazine devoting an issue to the Cool Britannia phenomenon, declaring ‘London Swings Again’.

In his riveting new book, author and Britpop veteran Daniel Rachel calls the architects of that era to account, interviewing figures from Tony Blair to Noel Gallagher and teasing out a tale of hedonism and opportunism, of great hope and dashed expectations.

Britpop curdled, Evans quit, the creative world’s love affair with Tony Blair cooled. Before the summer of 1997 was out, Princess Diana’s death in Paris had shifted the mood of the nation.

In this exclusive extract, the author homes in on four era-defining storylines in the Cool Britannia soap opera – and finds the booming national pride of the mid-Nineties came before a fall that still haunts us.

Kate Moss from a fashion shoot in the Nineties. In his riveting new book, author and Britpop veteran Daniel Rachel calls the architects of that era to account

Kate Moss from a fashion shoot in the Nineties. In his riveting new book, author and Britpop veteran Daniel Rachel calls the architects of that era to account

Cocaine supernova in Downing Street

In July 1997, three months after New Labour had come to power, Tony Blair invited figures from the arts world to a reception at Number 10 Downing Street. Among the guests was Oasis star Noel Gallagher.

Alan McGee (Creation Records founder) ‘Alastair Campbell phoned me up and went, “Is Noel going to behave?” I went, “Yeah, he’s going to wear a Gucci suit.” He said, “No, is he going to behave?” Meaning drugs. I went, “Oh! No, no, he’ll be fine.” ’

Alastair Campbell (Blair’s spin doctor) ‘Alan said he’d make sure Noel didn’t mess about, but it would be different if we’d invited Liam. He said Noel “has got his s*** together”.’

Noel Gallagher ‘I’d only signed off the dole three years before, and we arrived at Number 10 as the guest of a Prime Minister in this Rolls-Royce that Alan had bought me. We were laughing and saying, “This is insane.” ’

In July 1997, three months after New Labour had come to power, Tony Blair invited figures from the arts world to a reception at Number 10 Downing Street

In July 1997, three months after New Labour had come to power, Tony Blair invited figures from the arts world to a reception at Number 10 Downing Street

Tony Blair ‘I didn’t know Noel was coming. We literally bumped into each other during the course of this evening. We had a very nice chat.’

Noel Gallagher ‘We talked about the election night, and I said, “It was brilliant. We stayed up till 7am to watch. How did you stay up all night?” Blair leaned in and said, “Probably not by the same means as you did.” The only thing that really annoys me about that picture is what I chose to wear. I’ve never owned a suit in my life. Paul Weller was disgusted.’

Tony Blair ‘I think Noel may have signed something for the kids.’

Alastair Campbell ‘Cherie took Noel upstairs to see Kathryn and Nicky [two of Blair’s children]. They were gobsmacked when he walked in. Noel was pretty laid-back and funny.’

Noel Gallagher ‘Tony had a red Fender Strat on his bed, which was in tune. I was like, “That’ll do me.” ’

Johnny Hopkins (Oasis PR) ‘Noel scrawled a Hitler moustache on a framed photograph of Margaret Thatcher. Maybe it was worth it just for that.’

Alan McGee ‘Did Noel say he graffitied a picture? I don’t remember that. I don’t think he did. It just made a good story.’ [Noel denies any such allegation.]

Noel Gallagher ‘I’ve heard that story off three separate people who are not even connected. There’s no way!’

Lorenzo Agius (photographer) ‘Noel told me they did coke in the toilets.’

Noel Gallagher ‘Did I do coke in there? I knew about The Beatles at Buckingham Place having a spliff. You can draw the comparisons if you want. I’m saying nothing. I’ve got three kids now.’

Noel Gallagher

Ginger Spice

From Union Jack dresses to Britpop chart battles on the night-time news, the Nineties was a time when everything that seemed to matter was bright, brash and British

Jarvis Cocker: ‘I’d gone off the whole scene, the Loaded laddish mentality. It really started to rankle me that every time I watched TFI Friday there was this cut-out of me in the centre'

Jarvis Cocker: ‘I’d gone off the whole scene, the Loaded laddish mentality. It really started to rankle me that every time I watched TFI Friday there was this cut-out of me in the centre’

Karen Johnson (Blur PR) ‘My advice to Damon [Albarn, who was invited] was, “You’ll never hear the end of it if you go. They’re using you to make themselves look cool.” ’

Damon Albarn ‘I’m glad I didn’t go. I sent a note that said, “Dear Tony, I’m sorry, I won’t be attending, as I am now a Communist. Enjoy the schmooze, comrade!” ’

Noel Gallagher ‘I remember when we were coming out and the world’s press were there. I said to Alan, “They’re going to destroy us for this.” He said, “No, I don’t think they will.” I went, “You mark my words…” I was neither proud nor embarrassed. I went because I’m nosey. I wanted to see what was in there.’

Alan McGee ‘It was opportunistic [on the Government’s part]. Blair had always wanted to be in a band and then he wanted to be the cool guy that runs the country, which he was until he bombed Iraq. He was using it.’

Good Evans! Chris pulls a sickie 

In April 1995, Chris Evans signed a £1 million deal to present Radio 1’s breakfast show. In February the following year, ‘TFI Friday’ was launched on Channel 4.

Matthew Bannister (controller, Radio 1) ‘It was like a shot of adrenaline. He was so full of optimism and joie de vivre and the show quickly evolved into a rather exhilarating soap opera about Chris and his team’s lives. When they didn’t turn up for work after the Christmas party, I rang up Chris to b****** him, and he said, “I’ve just done what millions of other people have done, which is to get p***** and then throw a sickie.” ’

In April 1995, Chris Evans signed a £1 million deal to present Radio 1’s breakfast show. In February the following year, ‘TFI Friday’ was launched on Channel 4

In April 1995, Chris Evans signed a £1 million deal to present Radio 1’s breakfast show. In February the following year, ‘TFI Friday’ was launched on Channel 4

Suzi Aplin (producer, TFI Friday) ‘Chris was the darling of Channel 4 and they asked what he wanted to do next. I was on a sofa with Chris in our flat when the name for the show just popped out. Thank F*** It’s Friday. Weirdly, Chris was not a big swearer.’

Will MacDonald (producer, TFI Friday) ‘TFI coincided with Britpop, Brit Art, New Labour, Euro 96. It allowed the different facets of Cool Britannia to come together. It captured the spirit of the age.’

Suzi Aplin ‘Chris was at the epicentre because he was loud and was outspoken. He was enjoying life and he didn’t care who joined in.’

Will MacDonald ‘Chris didn’t do life in a conventional way. He did what he wanted. There was a time when me, Chris, Paul Gascoigne and Danny Baker met in a pub in Shepherd’s Bush, had a few drinks and went into town. A double-decker bus pulled up beside us. Gazza knocked on the window and said, “Can I drive your bus, mate?” So he did. The night ended in a 30ft white stretch limo, with me lying on the roof, and Neil and Chris from the Pet Shop Boys and Gazza and Chris holding my hands and feet. We got to Notting Hill and Neil said, “Let’s go and see Damon Albarn.” We ended up in the basement with [Elastica singer] Justine Frischmann making cheese sandwiches and us all recording a song.’

Suzi Aplin ‘The show was only an hour. It was stuffed, wall to wall [with regular features]: “Show Us Your Face”, “Ugly Blokes”, “Freak Or Unique”, “It’s Your Letters”, “Fat Lookalikes”. There was even one called “Black Or White” [in which an audience member had to guess the skin colour of a disguised participant on the strength of whether or not they could dance]. What were we thinking?’

David Beckham and Victoria Beckham. In this book, Daniel Rachel homes in on four era-defining storylines in the Cool Britannia soap opera

David Beckham and Victoria Beckham. In this book, Daniel Rachel homes in on four era-defining storylines in the Cool Britannia soap opera

Steve Coogan ‘If everybody is saying “TFI was an amazing show”, they need to take a truth drug. It felt smug and self-satisfied.’

Jarvis Cocker (Pulp) ‘I’d gone off the whole scene, the Loaded laddish mentality. It really started to rankle me that every time I watched TFI Friday there was this cut-out of me in the centre. When we went on the show in 1998, the first thing I did was pick up the cut-out – it was surprising how heavy it was – and then drop it out of the window. Chris said, “I can’t believe it, Jarvis Cocker just threw himself out of the window!” After the interview, I went downstairs and Lars Ulrich, the drummer in Metallica, runs up to me and says, “What you doing, man?” Apparently, he’d gone outside to have a fag and, as he stood on the front step, this cut-out came down like a guillotine, an inch in front of his nose. It was a close shave.’

Johnny Hopkins ‘If Chris Evans symbolised the hedonism of Cool Britannia, he also symbolised the hubris that cemented its downfall. It’s a cautionary tale.’

Matthew Wright (TV presenter) ‘Chris Evans in many ways was the personification of the Nineties. He went from being an innovator to being offensive and loutish.’

Matthew Bannister ‘Chris ticked off a member of staff for fiddling her expenses on air. I thought it was inappropriate and told him that. Then there was the famous incident in Inverness when a local DJ turned up at the hotel and tried to get some publicity. Chris went on the air the next morning to belittle him: “You’re worse than the dirt beneath my heel. I could buy you tomorrow.” It was vicious and inappropriate.’

Matthew Wright ‘Evans turned into a nightmare. It was difficult to stomach much more. He became a monster. It was inevitable that he had to go.’

Will MacDonald ‘Chris was drinking every night and sleeping very little and then famously asked Matthew for Fridays off.’

Matthew Bannister ‘I said to his agent, “I can’t do that.” I was then handed a letter which said, “Unless Chris has tomorrow off and every Friday for the rest of his contract, we’re giving you notice to quit.” I said, “I’ve given in to a lot of his demands but I can’t allow this.” Chris came in on the Friday and spent the whole show having a go about being shafted, playing Engelbert Humperdinck’s Please Release Me (Let Me Go). He didn’t turn up on Monday, or indeed ever again.’

They think it’s all over… it’s not for Tony Blair

David Baddiel and Frank Skinner visited the England team at their training camp in Bisham Abbey to play them ‘Three Lions’ before the Euro 96 football tournament.

David Baddiel ‘Ian Broudie of the Lightning Seeds was asked to write the “official England song” and wanted us to write the lyrics. Frank and I decided to write about what it was really like to be an England fan. Three Lions was about how being an England supporter is essentially a position of doubt and uncertainty and probable loss. At Bisham Abbey, the squad were sitting around in their tracksuits, eating in this massive sterile dining room. We played the song through this little beatbox, and Terry Venables was tapping his car keys and said, “It’s a real key-tapper.” I was like, “Is that a thing?” ’

David Baddiel and Frank Skinner visited the England team at their training camp in Bisham Abbey to play them ‘Three Lions’ before the Euro 96 football tournament

David Baddiel and Frank Skinner visited the England team at their training camp in Bisham Abbey to play them ‘Three Lions’ before the Euro 96 football tournament

Paul Gascoigne. In 1996 a win against Spain in the quarter-finals took England into a semi-final against Germany and a defeat on penalties

Paul Gascoigne. In 1996 a win against Spain in the quarter-finals took England into a semi-final against Germany and a defeat on penalties

Steve Double (FA press officer) ‘Footballers are pretty cynical. There was a bit of indifference. “Oh yeah, it’s all right.” ’

David Baddiel ‘A few players were selected to be in the video. Most were like, “I don’t want to do this.” It was No 1 for one week, then a month later it went back to No 1.’

Steve Double ‘Gazza used to play it to the England team on the coach from the hotel to Wembley to gee them up. During the group stages, England beat Holland 4-1 at Wembley in one of the team’s finest performances. The crowd went wild.’

David Baddiel ‘They were singing Three Lions full on, and my manager said, “This is incredible, if you win an Oscar it won’t be better than this.” The NME made it the “Musical Moment of the Year”.’

A win against Spain in the quarter-finals took England into a semi-final against Germany and a defeat on penalties.

David Baddiel ‘Germany’s fans started singing Three Lions, and in a very German way decided “We won the tournament so it’s our song now.” Three Lions went to number 17 in the German chart, and Frank and I were invited to do it at their sports review of the year show. We thought it would be a laugh and wore replica England 1966 shirts. Then, a couple of months later, I was watching the Labour Party Conference at home and Tony Blair said, “Seventeen years of hurt never stopped us dreaming. Labour’s coming home!” ’

Tony Blair ‘The idea probably came from Alastair [Campbell]. I think a lot of things we did weren’t opportunistic, but I think that can go in the “reasonably opportunistic” category.’

Cool Brits? More like spoilt brats…

In March 1997, US magazine ‘Vanity Fair’ published a 25-page special on how London had got its groove back, called ‘London Swings Again!’

Toby Young (staff writer) ‘Part of my job at Vanity Fair in New York was to suggest ideas. I submitted a detailed memo called “Swinging London Mark II”, which exaggerated the phenomenon. After some indecision, the editor Graydon Carter said, “Let’s do it.” ’

Britpop curdled, Evans quit, the creative world’s love affair with Tony Blair cooled. Before the summer of 1997 was out, Princess Diana’s death in Paris had shifted the mood of the nation

Britpop curdled, Evans quit, the creative world’s love affair with Tony Blair cooled. Before the summer of 1997 was out, Princess Diana’s death in Paris had shifted the mood of the nation

Aimée Bell (senior editor) ‘It was momentous. We featured Liam Gallagher, Patsy Kensit, Damien Hirst, Alexander McQueen, the Spice Girls, Tony Blair, Jarvis Cocker, Damon Albarn, Richard Curtis. It was a huge collaborative effort. The first shoot we did was with [fashion designers] Alexander McQueen and Isabella Blow.’

Toby Young ‘McQueen behaved like a spoilt celebrity brat. I felt like a courtier in the court of Louis XIV.’

Artist Damien Hirst was originally supposed to be photographed with Marco Pierre White.

Lorenzo Agius ‘Marco Pierre White was the bad-boy chef – good looking, lots of attitude. It didn’t work out because Damien insisted [Blur bassist] Alex James and [actor] Keith Allen be in his shoot.’

Toby Young ‘They arrived bleary-eyed and unshaven with a long list of demands that started with a bottle of vodka followed by four grams of cocaine, which I had to procure and pay for. They were like egocentric monsters. At one point Damien urinated on a passer-by from an upstairs window.’

Johnny Hopkins ‘Aimée approached me to have Oasis. I said, “No way.” I could see Cool Britannia was a dead duck. Patsy was rebuilding her career and she had the opportunity to be on the front cover of Vanity Fair. She wasn’t going to turn that down. Star goes to photoshoot, takes partner. It just happened to be Liam Gallagher.’

Noel Gallagher ‘Liam’s missus got him in a headlock. She was like, “They’ll only put me on the cover if you’re on it.” Liam’s a weak man so he went along with it.’

Toby Young ‘We had a big debate whether to involve the Spice Girls.’

Aimée Bell ‘The Spice Girls hadn’t broken in the States at the time of the shoot and we needed women. By publication, Wannabe was a Billboard No 1.’

Toby Young ‘They were at least two hours late and I remember saying to one of their entourage, “Any idea when they’re going to arrive?” He said, “Mate, there’s time and then there’s Spice Time.”’  

Extracted from ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ by Daniel Rachel, published on September 5 by Orion, priced £20. Offer price £16, with free p&p, until September 8. To pre-order, call 01603 648155 or go to mailshop.co.uk

 

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