“I Was a Grumpy Bitch”: Bananarama, in Conversation With Boy George


Bananarama and Boy George, photo courtesy of Bananarama/High Rise PR.

It’s not so much that the girls of Bananarama are back. They never really left. Since the trio parted ways in the 80’s, two members, Sara Dallin and Keren Woodward, have carried on the band’s legacy, with six additional records, including their latest, Glorious: The Ultimate Collection, out this Friday One of the biggest girl groups of the 80’s, Bananarama’s carefree style, shaggy hair, and punk stylings earned them a cult following. “Your look was the look, it was the moment,” said their friend and fellow 80s kid Boy George, who joined the ladies on Zoom last month. “It was what everyone was trying to look like.” Before heading off to a rehearsal for Broadway’s Moulin Rouge, in which Boy George currently stars as Harold Zidler, the former lead singer of Culture Club reminisced with Dallin and Woodward on slanderous tabloids, old haunts in Portobello Market and Camden, and crossing paths with David Bowie and George Michael.


SARA DALLIN: The first time I saw you, we were 18 and you were in Studio 21 and you came billowing down the stairs with a big black cape on and peony eyeshadow, and we all thought, “Who’s that freak?” 

BOY GEORGE: I remember. I was just going back through the old Top of the Pops, and you guys hit just before ’82, which was the same year as Culture Club. You were on with Fun Boy Three.

DALLIN: It’s crazy how long ago that was. Do you remember your first Top of the Pops? I was terrified.

BOY GEORGE: I remember. I went barefoot because I loved Sandie Shaw.

DALLIN: We often did as well. What was that about?

BOY GEORGE: I remember we got the news that we were on the night before. There were a few other mad stories that are coming up as well. I remember that single sleeve I styled for you. 

KEREN WOODWARD: Oh my god, yes. 

BOY GEORGE: It was Shy Boy. What I will say about that is, you already looked great so wearing our stuff was probably a mistake because you didn’t need to, you already had your own look that was so good. 

WOODWARD: I always thought I was quite slim and somehow you put me in clothes that made me look like I was a shot putter. [Laughs]

BOY GEORGE: Actually though, you do look great in that picture and it brings back many memories from when I had my shop on Carnaby Street and I was sort of trying to get the music thing together.

DALLIN: Yeah because you wore the clothes as well, didn’t you? 

BOY GEORGE: Yeah, we designed them with this woman Sue Clowes and we had that little shop. I don’t know about you guys, how did you decide you’d actually make music? Where did you meet?

DALLIN: Well, it was mainly in the clubs. Keren and I knew each other as kids, but we lived in the YWCA [The Young Women’s Christian Association], opposite the British museum and then we moved to where the [Sex] Pistols used to be, Malcolm McLaren’s office and below his rehearsal room and me and Keren knew Paul [Cook] really well. And he said, “Oh, you can crash there.” You know, you’ve lived in squats.


DALLIN: So it was a horrible squat. It had John Lydon’s drawings ’round the wall of Sid and Nancy. It was really atmospheric but it was a horrendous hobble. 

BOY GEORGE: But it was freedom! I remember my mum and dad taking me in my dad’s van to move me into a squat and them just not understanding why I had to live in a building with no heating. It’s like, “Sex!” [Laughs]. Really, in the 70’s, we were the fans who became pop stars. I don’t know if you were David Bowie kids, but we were like, fans. I never thought I was going to be a pop star. 

DALLIN: You did. I remember at Camden Palace, we just had our first hit with Fun Boy Three, and you said “I’m going to be there at this time next year.” And you were.

BOY GEORGE: [Laughs] I definitely knew I wanted people to know me, you know what I mean? But my point was, there was no handbook. Who were your musical influences growing up?

DALLIN: Well, particularly for us as women, there were no female artists that we could emulate. When I was at school, Debbie Harry was the first person who I thought was fantastic, but she was from New York. 

WOODWARD: Well, we also had all the Roxy Music albums and David Bowie, but we absolutely loved disco.

DALLIN: And funk.

BOY GEORGE: I was going back looking at videos of that time and your look was the look, it was the moment. It was around ’83 and Janice Long introduced you and your look was so ridiculous, it was what everyone was trying to look like. Everyone in the audience was trying to do a version of it. It was the baggy shirts and mad hair. It was still punk but almost a little bit like streetwear. 

DALLIN: Yeah. In those days all the clothes came from Portobello Market, Camden, or charity shops. We put it all together ourselves, we didn’t have money for designer stuff. And we all wrote our own music which is why we had that individual style.

WOODWARD: I think the 80’s was the last decade where you had that complete individuality. It was a fantastic decade.

BOY GEORGE: I personally enjoy what I do now more than I did, because I was a grumpy bitch. 

DALLIN:  [Laughs] You used to say we never washed our hair! I was so insulted, it was literally on the front of The Sun. I was like, “How dare he?!” 

WOODWARD: So rude. 

BOY GEORGE: [Laughs] I thought it was so funny. Those days you could just say anything. I remember Ian McCulloch said they should put me in the army for a few years. 

WOODWARD: It’s outrageous. 

BOY GEORGE: And Paul Young, I called him “Cornish Pasty Lips,” and he said I looked like a big shiny aubergine with a hat on. The other thing that we’ve got to talk about, Sara, is when you took me to George Michael’s birthday. Was that you or Keren?

DALLIN: You guys weren’t speaking then, were you? What had you done to him?

BOY GEORGE: Well I was annoying you. But I remember one night I got invited to his birthday, and whenever you and I got in a room together we really got on like a house on fire. When you think about some of the things we did and some of the decisions we made, you look back and you think, “I had no idea I’d be sitting here 40 years on, talking about a career.” It’s amazing, really. 

WOODWARD: Yes. When we first came out it was novel, and no one really understood why it was happening or why it would keep going.

DALLIN: You were so excited and creative, and it was one massive party. You would go all around the world, we’d bump into you guys, or Duran Duran or whoever and we were writing songs, having fun, styling ourselves. Everything came from us, it was just completely organic. It’s gone on forever.

BOY GEORGE: You know who I always loved, Terri Hall from Fun Boy Three. He never really spoke to me, but I was always a massive fan right from the beginning. I used to see him everywhere, but he was always a bit weary of me.  

WOODWARD: He would be. 

DALLIN: He was incredibly shy, but he was one of the stepping stones to us actually making it by inviting us to sing on his album. We were just like, “What?! Why on earth would you pick us?” But it was because we were like three little sea urchins, with funny shoes and funny hair. He identified with us.


Bananarama, photographed by Alma Rosaz.

BOY GEORGE: Let’s talk about how many times I’ve seen you girls live. I’ve been to a lot of your shows. I remember the dances and being at the Apollo in Hammersmith, up on the balcony. You know, before Kylie [Minogue], all the queens in the universe were obsessed with Bananarama. 

WOODWARD: Yeah. That’s not something we set about doing though. That happened because of our friends, because of us having dancers. It wasn’t something we thought about.

DALLIN: I will say how important Heaven [nightclub] was to me. It had the best music and the best fun and the best people and was a huge part of my life. 

BOY GEORGE: Oh my god, that place. 

DALLIN: Keren and I were there nearly every night. 

BOY GEORGE: Did you ever meet David Inches who owned it? I went out on a date with him when I was like, sixteen.

WOODWARD: Did you?!

BOY GEORGE: Yeah. He didn’t fancy me though because I was too funky. 

WOODWARD: The guy who used to manage it used to say, when there was a line at the bar, “You two just go and help yourself.”

BOY GEORGE: That was definitely David Inches. 

WOODWARD: And we’d go and get on the stage with our own glasses. 

DALLIN: And then they stopped the music one night, and we’re like, “What’s going on?” They said, “Oh, Cher’s coming on to do a few numbers, can you get off the stage?!”

WOODWARD: I’m like, “I’m not getting off the stage!!” 

BOY GEORGE: Did you ever come to Planets?


BOY GEORGE: That was when I first started DJ’ing. 

DALLIN: It’s good to talk to you about this because I can’t remember half the clubs. There were so many. 

BOY GEORGE: Are you going on tour?

DALLIN: Well we’re doing three nights at the Palladium, to celebrate four decades of making music. We’ve got the triple vinyl album and this coffee table book that shows all of our clothes through the times over four decades. 

BOY GEORGE: There are so many songs on that record. I was going down the list like, “I don’t mind that one, don’t that one.” You know when people say, “Are you going to do your hits?” And it’s like “Well, I have a few.” 

DALLIN: We’ve not even put them all on. We’ve chosen some of our favorites and some of the hits. 

BOY GEORGE: I love “I Heard a Rumor” and “Robert De Niro’s Waiting,” and obviously your version of “Venus,” even though it’s not your song it’s still great, isn’t it. 

WOODWARD: It’s done well for us, that one. It’s been a massive hit. 

DALLIN: And it’s done well for the writer. We met him in Amsterdam, and he thanked us for making him a millionaire. He got on his knees and kissed our feet if I remember correctly. [Laughs]

BOY GEORGE: Wow, I need me one of those. So just quickly, are you dating? 

WOODWARD: [Laughs] How’s that of any interest? 

BOY GEORGE: People want to know these things! 

BOY GEORGE: Are you back with Andy? 

DALLIN: No, we split ten years ago. 

BOY GEORGE: Well, you know you hear gossip, you know what it’s like in London, people talk shit. Didn’t you have that in the ‘80s? I used to have all these stories in the press about how I was going out with Brooke Shields. 

WOODWARD: [Laughs] Well that’s unlikely, isn’t it. 

DALLIN: I had one story going around that I was going out with George Michael and we were caught in San Tropez, according to the Daily Mirror.

BOY GEORGE: You went out with someone once and that was it.

DALLIN: I know. I was whispering to him on the dance floor and they said we were snogging and we were not, obviously. 

BOY GEORGE: Who’s the person who has excited you the most through your whole career? We’ve all got someone. 

DALLIN: My favorite person is Keith [Flint] from the Prodigy. The little firestarter. He was the sweetest, most spiritual, genuine, kind, and interesting person. 

BOY GEORGE: I knew Keith, he was a beauty. What about you, Keren?

WOODWARD: I adored Keith as well. I have to say I don’t get overly excited about meeting many people. Apart from the people from the Great British Sewing Bee that we recently met. I was beside myself. Who doesn’t love Esme [Young] and Patrick [Grant]? 

BOY GEORGE: It’s funny the things that make you excited. 

WOODWARD: She had that shop, Swanky Modes, you must remember. 

BOY GEORGE: Of course. 

WOODWARD: She was so interesting!

BOY GEORGE: Swanky Makes was one of those shops that was quite intimidating to walk into.

DALLIN: Yeah, like SEX and the World’s End and all that. We used to stand in the shop across the road to World’s End and say, “Oh come on, let’s go now.” We were just too scared because everyone was much older and looked much cooler as punks. We looked like a couple of little idiots in our plastic sandals. 

BOY GEORGE: Do you think of yourself as punks?

DALLIN: Yeah, but it was a fleeting moment wasn’t it? I loved all that music, Gaye Advert and Siouxsie and the Banshees, it was so important to us as 13 and 14 year olds. But at the same time we just loved to dance. Really it was funk and disco for us. 

BOY GEORGE: Yeah I it was the same for me. I loved girls when I was 17, 18, 19. All my heroes were girls. Like Paulie from Penetration, do you remember her? Jayne Casey from Pink Military. Even Joan Jett later on, didn’t mind a little bit of Joan Jett. 

WOODWARD: She’s a favorite. “I Hate Myself for Loving You” is one of my favorites. 

BOY GEORGE: So good. 

DALLIN: It’s the way they were writing as well. Like, Marc Bolan as well, so great. 

BOY GEORGE: It sounds like you two still love doing it as much as you did. 

DALLIN: We do. Our last two albums charted and we were just like, “Great.”

WOOD: I’m enjoying it more now than I ever did. In the ‘80s you didn’t really have time to think about it, and now we’re in a position where you can do what you want, when you want, on your own terms. 

BOY GEORGE: For me I’ve just learned to turn off that reactiveness to everything, like when your manager hasn’t even gotten to the end of the sentence and you’re like, “NO!”

WOODWARD: Exactly.

DALLIN: You also have to realize how fortunate you are to still be in a position to make a living doing what you do. 

WOODWARD: And be able to say no. 

BOY GEORGE: No is a hard word to say sometimes. But the good news is you can always change your mind and blame your manager. [Laughs] Well I have to go off to rehearsals. 

DALLIN: Oh, yes. I’ve seen the show, it’s fantastic. 

BOY GEORGE: It’s really interesting, because it’s so staged, there’s so much to remember. You’ve got to be here, you’ve got to be there. I’m like you girls, I’m used to being in a band where I’m in charge and no one tells you where to go. 

DALLIN: That sounds kind of nice to be part of an ensemble, doesn’t it? 

BOY GEORGE: Absolutely. It’s brilliant, but it’s harder work than I realized. 

WOODWARD: I was going to say, it must be exhausting.

BOY GEORGE: It’s been so beautiful to talk to you. 

DALLIN: Totally. 

BOY GEORGE: We love talking to the most successful girl band of all time. Make sure you get that in there. Bye, girls. 

WOODWARD: We love you. Bye!