Once, Bananarama battled sexism and big hair disasters. Now, nearing 60, it’s all about hot flushes, HRT and ageism – as they reveal in a hilarious interview… How the menopause drove us bananas!
- Keren Woodward, now 58, and Sara Dallin, 57, grew up together in Bristol
- This deep friendship has seen them through girlhood and the perils of teendom
- Plus the ignominy of ageing under the spotlight and now the menopause
Arriving at the restaurant to meet Bananarama I am 20 minutes early, but Keren Woodward and Sara Dallin are already there, sitting side by side on a banquette, the two naughtiest girls in class, awaiting the headmistress.
The previous evening they had played Glastonbury and returned to London in the wee small hours, exhausted.
In the bad old days, they would probably have turned up at this North London café late, unfocused, perhaps even hungover. Not the Bananas Class of 2019!
Here they are, fresh as a pair of summer daisies; Keren in broderie anglaise, Sara in silk, both immaculate of lipstick and glossy of hair.
Bananarama’s Keren Woodward, now 58, and Sara Dallin (pictured together), 57, originally from Bristol, talk the menopause, sexism, and ageism
Do they want some wine? No, tsk, just cappuccinos, please. Keren taps her phone with navy nails, Sara checks their schedule for the rest of the day. Their efficiency and punctuality are impressive. ‘We’re always early,’ they say in unison, as if it were the chorus to another of their poptastic hits.
Both of them look so amazing, so Banana-glam-arama, that it is hard to believe that nearly four decades have passed since they first appeared on the music scene, in their dungarees and mad hair, singing songs of cruel summers and bad boys.
Over the years they have evolved from wild party girls to these sophisticated women of the world, right down to their white gold and diamond bracelets (Keren) and Chanel boots (Sara).
What is truly extraordinary about them is not just that they have survived atop the pop roller coaster for so long, but that they have done so as bosom buddies, and have never fallen out along the way.
‘People don’t believe that, but it is true,’ says Sara.
The pair made up two thirds of Bananarama, with Siobhan Fahey (pictured left with Sara and Keren), who grew up in London
Growing up together in Bristol, Keren, now 58, and Sara, 57, have known each other since they were four years old, and became close when they were 11. ‘Let’s be best friends forever,’ they promised each other, a sororal bond that has endured ever since.
Even now they FaceTime each other every morning, insist on seats next to each other on planes and adjoining hotel rooms on tour, where they order room service and eat it together, Bananas in their Pyjamas, while watching television. It’s not something you can imagine Mick and Keith doing a deux, after all their years on the road.
This deep friendship has seen them through girlhood, the perils of teendom, pop fame, Bananarama splits, boyfriends, heartbreak, motherhood, comebacks, more comebacks, the ignominy of ageing under the spotlight and then, the final insult, the Banana-menopause. Sara’s is ongoing, Keren is post. They are keen to talk.
Sara was once engaged to Bananarama dancer Bassey Walker, with whom she had a child, Alice (pictured together left), in 1991, while in 1986, Keren had a son, Tom, with then boyfriend, model David Scott-Evans, but they split soon afterwards and she found love with Wham’s Andrew Ridgeley (pictured together right) in 1990
Keren and Sara today. Growing up together in Bristol, Keren, now 58, and Sara, 57, have known each other since they were four years old, and became close when they were 11
‘Well!’ says Keren. ‘It all came as a bit of a shock. I just expected to get hot flushes. No one ever said you might lose your mind as well. I suffered for about three years. Then I decided I had to take something for it. So I started taking . . . ’
‘Cocaine,’ says Sara.
‘HRT! I started taking HRT,’ shrieks Keren, and they both guffaw. Drugs, by the way, were never the Bananarama party fuel of choice.
‘We were boozers, really,’ says Keren. ‘I had a child early on in our career and drugs are not what you want in your life in that situation.
‘I was very aware as a young mum that I had to be there and not go off the rails. I would go clubbing, then come home and make breakfast for the baby. That couldn’t have happened if I was off my face.’
‘We would have the odd vodka and tonic,’ says Sara. ‘A bit of beer.’
A slight understatement, considering the group were a major inspiration for Jennifer Saunders when she was creating AbFab booze hounds Patsy and Edina.
English pop group Bananarama posed in London in 1983. Left to Right: Siobhan Fahey, Sara Dallin and Keren Woodward
‘I got a lot of gags from Bananarama because they were big vodka drinkers,’ Saunders said. ‘I once saw one of them coming out of a cab bottom first and hitting the road, and I thought, that’s class.’ Back then the group were a trio; Keren and Sara plus Siobhan Fahey, who grew up in London. They met up when the latter two were studying fashion journalism in the capital, while Keren worked in the pensions department of the BBC.
It was the dawn of the Eighties and all three girls yearned for a more exciting existence, an alternative reality to the one their parents had mapped out for them.
That urge had propelled Keren and Sara out of Bristol and into a YWCA hostel in London, then a squat followed by a council flat.
They lived on student grants and a typist’s wages, they got by on cigarettes and coffee. ‘We had bigger aspirations. We were itching to get going,’ says Keren.
‘A lust for something bigger,’ says Sara. ‘I once saw a picture of Jerry Hall and Bryan Ferry coming out of a nightclub, looking so glam. And I thought, wow, where is that life?’
Weren’t their parents worried about them? ‘Yes,’ says Keren. ‘But there were no mobile phones back then.’
When their song Robert De Niro’s Waiting became a hit, the actor asked them out for a drink. There is a telling photograph of them all outside the Zanzibar, the coolest club in London at the time (pictured)
They roamed free across London like ragamuffins. They went to clubs such as The Wag and The Blitz and were friends with all the groups including the Sex Pistols.
Inspired by the punk ethos, they famously decided to have a go themselves. ‘We didn’t really have a clue what we were doing,’ says Keren. Yet in contrast to the marketing slickness and lucrative branding of today’s sexualised girl groups, Bananarama were always their own women.
Back then, as now, there was no Svengali masterminding their career path. They did it themselves. They also made their own clothes, chose their record producers, helped write the songs and even devised their own dance routines, which involved a lot of shuffling from side to side in monkey boots.
‘I find it painful to watch now,’ says Sara. ‘I was on Top Of The Pops. I was terrified. My fringe was down to here. I was wearing a hideous ra-ra skirt. I didn’t know where to look.’
Well, perhaps it ain’t what they did, it’s the way that they did it. Between 1982 and 2009, Bananarama sold over 30 million records worldwide, despite the fact Siobhan left at their peak in 1988, shortly after marrying Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics.
Keren and Sara initially hired singer Jacquie O’Sullivan to replace her, later just carrying on as a duo. Fahey joined them for a one-off tour in 2017, which was a great success. ‘We just laughed and laughed,’ they say.
Now, fast approaching their mutual 60th birthdays the duo are still going strong, with an album out (In Stereo) and summer dates in the diary. The group pictured in 1985
Now, fast approaching their mutual 60th birthdays the duo are still going strong, with an album out (In Stereo) and summer dates in the diary, including gigs in Japan plus appearances at various UK festivals and at Hyde Park in London.
They still write songs, but I imagine the newer numbers are greeted politely as fans wait urgently for the party bangers such as Really Saying Something and Venus. Thirty-eight years after they had their first hit, Bananarama seem to have had more relaunches that a lifeboat and more comebacks than a greased boomerang, but you have to give them credit for endurance and resilience.
They are a pop product that has been tested to the point of consumer exhaustion, but somehow are still finding fans. Despite everything, they have persisted in a job they say is now ‘more fun than it has ever been’.
In the beginning they were barely more than teenagers, trying to negotiate the shark-rich shallows of the music business.
Pop mogul Pete Waterman, who produced some of their biggest hits, has often remarked how ‘difficult’ he found them — another source of annoyance.
‘He was used to telling people what to do,’ says Keren. ‘But we were girls who knew what we wanted. We had an opinion and he didn’t like that. But it is so sexist! If we were a boy group, it would have been, oh, they are such characters!’
No one ever told Bananarama what to do. The only time they felt manipulated was before they learned how to say no at photoshoots.
‘We had to pose with towels wrapped around us, holding rubber rings, that sort of thing,’ says Keren. ‘The turning point came when a photographer asked us to get on a fur rug and crawl like cats. We said no, because it was sexist and disrespectful.’
Keren and Sara on Good Morning Britain on April 23, 2019, to celebrate their new album, tour and Glastonbury gig
Bananarama (pictured together in 2018) never had a #MeToo moment because they stuck together in a pack and repelled all boarders
Did someone say towels? Suddenly an old memory stirs in the swamp of my brain. I dimly recall interviewing the Bananarama trio in a photo studio circa, what, 1982? Was there some sort of swimming theme?
All I can remember is that Keren was adamant that ‘we are not interested in being glamorous’; Sara’s favourite meal was eggs, chips and bacon; and that Siobhan had to have make up applied to her back to cover some adolescent pimples. And that actually yes, they were quite difficult; all hairspray and spiky attitude.
Yet this was probably the making of them and the saving of them. For example, Bananarama never had a #MeToo moment because they stuck together in a pack and repelled all boarders.
‘There was safety in numbers. We were difficult for men to approach because we moved as one,’ says Keren.
Once in America, record company executives sent a message over the hotel Tannoy for the girls to join them in the Jacuzzi. They went to the bar instead. The only long lasting damage suffered was to their hair. Oh God, I say. Remember those crimping irons we all used? I blame you two.
‘They were hideous,’ says Keren.
‘They made us look like poodles,’ says Sara, who wouldn’t leave Banana House, as they called their flat, if her hair ‘wasn’t big enough’.
Siobhan left the band in 1988. Keren and Sara initially hired singer Jacquie O’Sullivan (pictured together) to replace her, later just carrying on as a duo
They used gel, sprays and ‘sheer determination’ to get the full 80s dandelion effect they so successfully pioneered. It took its toll. Sara recalls rolling out of bed at the YWCA and Keren accidentally standing on her hair.
‘A huge clump of it just came off. It was so overly bleached and back combed. Sometimes it was so abused it turned into dreadlocks and you had to cut them off.’
They were smart enough to get their names on their song publishing rights, where all the money is in the music business. Then they got themselves on the property ladder early.
Bananarama certainly were not one of the many thousands of pop groups, who got ripped off and ended up with nothing. ‘We’ve made a nice living. We’re not particularly ostentatious, but we are very comfortable,’ says Sara.
Yet in the beginning, they had nothing. They would go on promotion tours and steal the hotel sheets to take home to Banana House. ‘Right, these are coming off,’ they would say, and peel off every last pillowcase.
When their song Robert De Niro’s Waiting became a hit, the actor asked them out for a drink. There is a telling photograph of them all outside the Zanzibar, the coolest club in London at the time. In jeans, tweeds and tatty coats, the girls look a trio of uproarious artful dodgers — Sara is even wearing trainers. Bob looks alarmed, as well he might. ‘I snogged him,’ Sara admitted in 2005. Of course she did.
Today Bananarama are slightly posher and much more polished than I remember, but still a tiny bit scarifying.
For a start, their close friendship of over half a century has made them psychic with each other, like a pair of white witches.
‘Yes,’ says Keren. ‘We don’t communicate by facial movements, just a tiny look.’
‘A lot of thoughts we share don’t even need to be spoken,’ says Sara.
Oh, that is frightening, I say.
They are a pop product that has been tested to the point of consumer exhaustion, but somehow are still finding fans (the band in 1986)
‘Wha-ha ha ha,’ they roar together, which is actually terrifying. As befits best girlfriends, they are excellent at buying gifts for each other. Today, Keren is carrying a navy leather tote Sara gave her for her last birthday, while Sara wears a Dunhill watch gifted by Keren.
‘I’m good at giving her coats, bags and dresses. I’m good at choosing clothes for her,’ says Sara. ‘I am like a husband, really, aren’t I?’
‘The husband I never had!’ cries Keren.
Neither of them ever married. In 1986, Keren had a son, Tom, with then boyfriend, model David Scott-Evans, but they split soon afterwards. Tom is now a successful TV producer.
After she fell in love with Wham’s Andrew Ridgeley in 1990, the couple moved to Cornwall, where she still lives. Newspaper reports say that relationship ended in 2017, but she tells me a different story.
‘I am single and have lived on my own for seven years,’ she says. ‘And I am rather enjoying it. I’m not in any hurry. I had never really been single for any period of time before and I had never lived on my own. Now I absolutely love it.’
‘I am sometimes in a relationship,’ says Sara, who is the more guarded of the two. She was once engaged to Bananarama dancer Bassey Walker, with whom she had a child, Alice, in 1991. They later separated. Her daughter is a singer, who performs under the name of Alice D.
Keren and Sara were ‘single mothers on and off,’ and clearly, the most enduring and important relationship in their lives has been with each other.
They supported each other through life’s major milestones and now keep each other from going a bit sixtysomething nuts, like Madonna.
Where once they battled sexism and chauvinism for years, now the war is against ageing and ageism (the group pictured in 2017)
‘But do you know what? She should do exactly what she wants to do. If she wants to wear an eyepatch, wear an eyepatch,’ says Keren.
Where once they battled sexism and chauvinism for years, now the war is against ageing and ageism. ‘Women shouldn’t have to apologise for their age or growing old. It is just inevitable. You can’t pull everything back,’ says Keren.
In many ways, they say their recent hormonal travails have been among the most challenging time of their lives.
‘Your kids have grown up and left home and what happens?’ says Keren. ‘I loved my 40s, we had such a laugh. We went to Ibiza. Then I went to a place that was very difficult. I was hormonal and my parents were ill, and all that stuff. Just when you think you have got through the child bit and got your life back, you suddenly have to deal with those sorts of things. Going through all these changes makes life very difficult for women.’
Even Bananarama women. Still, at least they have each other and a pop adventure that never ends. Imagine doing all they have done, with a best friend at your side? What a scream!
The other thing you have to know about them is that they never go to the gym or exercise, curtailing their keep fit to dancing onstage. ‘No sitting around on stools for us,’ says Sara. ‘Our dancing and singing have improved,’ says Keren. ‘It’s not like we don’t have any talent. We can’t sing like Whitney Houston, but we can sing well.’
In a way it is sad Bananarama still feel the need to justify themselves, which is certainly not something one would ever hear from a boy band. Yet who among the chaps has any of their dazzling girl grit? Just look at them 40 years on.
Beauties. Pals. Survivors.
Bananarama headline Newmarket Racecourses on August 9.
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