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Interview: Hazel O'Connor

PUBLISHED: 13:14 31 October 2008 | UPDATED: 15:39 29 October 2010

Hazel O'Conor on Top of the Pops in the 1980s.

Hazel O'Conor on Top of the Pops in the 1980s.

Abigail Saltmarsh

In the 1980s she was one of Britain's best known rebellious singers and star of the cult classic Breaking Glass. Now Hazel O'Connor is calmer but no less outspoken.

Further listening: Hazel O'Connor

In the 1980s she was one of Britain's best known rebellious singers and star of the cult classic Breaking Glass. Now Hazel O'Connor is calmer but no less outspoken. ABIGAIL SALTMARSH spoke to her.

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She was an enfant terrible of the 80s - a female punk singer who seemed to relish shocking audiences of the era.

Yet as Hazel O'Connor sits on her sofa in her pyjamas and chats happily about the past, present and future, it's easy to believe her when she says a lot of it simply wasn't true.

“A lot of that stuff was the national media. They just enjoyed coming up with these shocking stories about me,” she said.

“I was forever having to call my mum and say: 'Just don't believe it, it's not true.'

“It wasn't nice when she was tearful after reading yet another story about me.”

Yet the star, who also became known for her award-winning role in film Breaking Glass, admitted the roller-coaster ride was fun.

And the success of her glittering past is what brought her back into the public eye ten years ago - and has kept her there ever since.

“Beyond Breaking Glass is autobiographical. It's me singing and telling stories. There are some of my old songs and some new songs, and Cormac De Barra plays the harp.

“I love all the anecdotal stuff. To be honest, I wasn't sure how it would all work to start with but it came together well and now I love the intimacy of it.

“I try to take people on a journey from when I started out to where I am today,” she said.

The show first exploded when O'Conner took it to the Edinburgh Fringe. And its on-going success remains a pleasant surprise to her.

“It's lovely to see eight year olds as well as 70 year-olds there,” she admitted.

“One of the nicest things is not only seeing those people who listened to my music in the 80s - but also their parents.

“These were the people who hated me when their children rebelled but now they have been persuaded to come and see me themselves - and they realise that it is really all just about the music.”

Born in Coventry, O'Conner left home at 16, lived in a squat in Amsterdam, travelled to Morocco then headed across the pole to Japan where she worked as a dancer.

At 21, and inspired by her older brother Neil O'Connor and the punk movement, she decided to try her hand at singing and song writing.

She was picked by director Brian Gibson to star in the film Breaking Glass, Dodi Fayed's first film as an executive producer, alongside Phil Daniels, Jim Broadbent and Jonathan Price.

She won the Variety Club of Great Britain's 1980 Film Actress of the Year Award and was also nominated for Best Newcomer.

O'Conner wrote and performed all the songs for the film and the best selling album (produced by Tony Visconti) was also nominated for a BAFTA for the Best Film Soundtrack.

Her next album Sons and Lovers spawned the hit Decadent Days (aka D-Days).

When she performed the song on Top Of the Pops, she shocked the nation when she stripped down to her black bra and miniskirt.

Over the years, O'Conner has returned to acting as well as singing.

She starred in the BBC drama series Fighting Back, with Derek Thompson, of Casualty fame, and has appeared in other series.

“I would like to do more TV,” she said. “I prefer it to film. It gives me time to do other things as well - to get back to my singing and the stage.”

O'Conner said Norwich will always hold a soft spot in her heart. When she first decided to take Beyond Breaking Glass on the Road, the Arts Centre was one of the first places she performed.

“It was funny. At that time I had no-one to help me so I called round these places myself.

“I had this speech I would reel off, explaining who I was! It really depended on how old the person was on the other end of the phone as to whether they knew me,” she said.

“I felt like an idiot doing it but Norwich was one of the places that was very welcoming. I have played at the Arts Centre since then and it's always packed.

“Now I'm looking forward to performing for the Norwichians again!”

t Hazel O'Connor performs Beyond Breaking Glass at Norwich Arts Centre on November 5, £12.50 (£10.50 cons), 01603 660352, www.norwichartscentre.co.uk

Further listening: Hazel O'Connor

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