T’Pau’s Carol Decker looks back: ‘We went ballistic when we got to No 1. Our screaming annoyed Bryan Adams’


Born in Liverpool in 1957, Carol Decker is the lead singer of T’Pau. She was fronting Shropshire band the Lazers when she met BT engineer and musician Ronnie Rogers, with whom she would go on to form T’Pau. Together they became one of the biggest-selling groups of the 1980s, with tracks such as China in Your Hand and Heart and Soul. The group split in 1992 but have since had a renaissance as part of 80s nostalgia tours. They perform at Let’s Rock Scotland and Let’s Rock Leeds festivals this summer.

T’Pau were on tour in Switzerland when the NME decided to cover us. Their vision for the shoot was: the band are at the height of their success with the world at their feet, but Carol is a pizza girl at heart.

We were all locked in this tiny hotel room – a photographer and a journalist I soon realised didn’t like me. She was asking maths questions, which I got wrong, so she was able to write in the article that I was stupid. If that had happened now I would have just said, “Can you fuck off?” But back then it was a very significant music paper, so I shrugged it off and tried to ignore the feeling that I was being stitched up. When I read it in print, I was gutted that they had annihilated me, but I loved how the photo turned out.

Despite the Taittinger, I wouldn’t say life was decadent. But as we got busier and bigger, things did step up. When we were touring and doing international media, the record company would sometimes have to put us in a private jet to get us from A to B. I’ll never forget the first time I chartered one: there were champagne bottles kept in the walls of the jets and we chucked the stuff down our necks, as 25-year-olds do. However, it turned out space was at a premium and there was no toilet. The boys went in empty bottles but I couldn’t, and was almost disabled by my bladder. Once we got off, I waddled very quickly to the nearest toilet and peed out a magnum.

The first time we went to No 1 we were in Germany on tour with Bryan Adams. Our manager told us the midweek charts and we went ballistic, jumping and screaming. Bryan came out of his dressing room really annoyed. He liked to have a bit of a nap before the show to get into the zone, which I now understand, but back then I thought he was just being grumpy. I knew he wouldn’t want the opening act to eclipse his success – everywhere we performed we entered the Top 5 – but he was lovely in the end. He bought us a load of champagne and we went out and played pool.

The success of T’Pau surpassed all my hopes and dreams. On the way up, I had met a lot of cynical people and local papers that were rude and said our band was rubbish. I remember the first time we did Top of the Pops I stared down the barrel of the camera thinking, “Well, you’re all watching me now!” I grinned so much my cheeks hurt that day.

There was no chance of ever getting too big for my boots, though. My family are scousers, and scousers don’t let you rise above yourself. I didn’t have a deprived childhood, but the first seven years of my life were in council flats that were a bit rough. That experience made me grateful and a little nervous that someone might take the success away. Mum was a singer and my dad was a really good piano player, so music was in my blood. They put their dreams aside to raise their kids, and they gave me nothing but support.

I didn’t start singing until I was 22. When I was in the Lazers, we’d play covers in Shropshire and the surrounding areas – mainly doing the working men’s clubs or being the unwelcome interruption in the bingo. My favourite was the young farmers’ balls. We’d play on a lorry trailer where they’d have to hose the cow shit off the walls.

Eventually, I met Ronnie Rogers, who was in another local band. He became my boyfriend and we recruited him into the Lazers. Ronnie and I decided to leave the band and buy home recording equipment so we could focus on writing and sending tapes away to record companies. It was a long time coming, and there were periods when I didn’t think it was going to happen. Fortunately, in 1987, the jeans company Pepe used Heart and Soul for some cinema advertising and we took off in America. The next thing you know, the album’s gone quadruple platinum. It was like holding a comet by the tail.

That kind of success isn’t sustainable, and it was awful when things fell apart. EMI bought our label, Virgin, and 80 bands got dropped, including us, even though our last record went Top 10. I wasn’t in a great place; I was defined by my work. Ronnie and I broke up after 13 years. My dad died of a sudden heart attack in 1990. If the stars had aligned, it was suddenly like somebody put a snooker ball through them and they scattered.

Thankfully, I was a familiar face and still got a bit of work. I did television and radio presenting, a bit of acting and West End. But I didn’t know what to do about Ronnie. We needed distance, personally and creatively, but as he’s the only person that I’m really sympatico with, I couldn’t write without him.

Things turned around in 1997. I met my husband and started a family. Then, in 2001, I got a call about touring the big arenas with Paul Young, Kim Wilde, Go West and other acts from the 80s. Since then it hasn’t stopped. Ronnie is now back in the band and we’re writing again. We are so like-minded, even if we still argue a lot.

Related: Jason Watkins and Clara Francis look back: ‘In a moment of madness, I rented a flat just so I could stand at the window and see if he walked by’

When it comes to live performance, a lot has changed. I can’t just stub out my fag backstage and walk on and sing. I have to prepare: in my old age, I have developed asthma, so I live like a nun in the run-up to a gig. I also feel the pressure of people expecting me to look like the girl they remember from the 80s. I went and had my Botox done before this shoot, because I realised I would be competing with my own face from 35 years ago. It’s not uncommon for me to have a little tweak if I think something’s looking a bit too baggy, but I don’t erase every line on my face, because I don’t want to look plastic.

My daughter is far more philosophical. Scarlet is 25 and thinks I’ve been infantilised by my industry – that I can’t ever grow old. It’s a bit sad, but it’s life. Don’t get me wrong – I still go to Tesco in my tracksuit with no makeup on. I’m not like Joan Collins. I just have a bit of a struggle maturing and accepting that I’m changing. For example, I used to have the metabolism of a whippet, even after I had my second child, and was eating like a horse and drinking like a fish. Now, postmenopause, and because of my underactive thyroid, I am kind of stocky. I work out four times a week but I feel grumpy that I can’t change my size. That being said, I do love good food – I’ve gone on to marry the most amazing chef who trained at the Ritz. Still, you can’t beat a good bit of pizza.