Question time with Hannah Pool: Pete Waterman

Pete Waterman on sharing a tour bus with Kylie, the £65m he made with Steps - and how he's not too old to work in pop music

· Audio: Hannah Pool speaks to Pete Waterman

For many people, you're the king of 1980s cheese. Did you mind being thought of as naff?

I never took the criticism seriously - ever. I was doing a job and I did that job to the best of my ability. I loved the records we put out - not every record was great, that's impossible - but from 1986 onwards, boy did we have a run. And we were on the road having fun. We had a tour bus, with 14 acts. You paid a pound to see Kylie Minogue, and you got a free drink and burger. We did 56 nights on that bus. On Sundays we would listen to the Top 40 and on some nights, I guarantee, we would have eight of the Top 10 records. It was like watching Top of the Pops in your local Rialto, it was incredible. We went to Huddersfield, Sheffield, Kilmarnock, places that nobody had ever gone. I didn't have to do it because I was selling a million records whether we went on the road or not, but I just thought that Jason Donovan, Kylie Minogue and whoever had to sit on a bus and go to places like Barnsley.

Was the 80s your golden era?

Well, no, that's the ironic thing. Everybody thinks it was, but we sold more records with Steps than anybody. We did 26 nights at Wembley with Steps. I always say that the Kylie, Jason, Rick Astley years were the training period, and whatever I learned during that period, when we put it into Steps, it was gold. We took probably £65m in business, and that's without the tours and merchandising. People forget how massive they were.

You're now working with the X Factor act Same Difference. Are you gearing up for another hit?

I am always gearing up for another hit, whether or not one comes out. You never know where there is a hit, especially at a time like this when it's hard. At 61, most people think you're too old, but most people thought I was too old at 51 and 41. That's ageism. I'm not too old, I love pop music. I'm only 60, I'm not dead. A hit is a hit, and just because I need a little bit of liniment to walk upstairs now, it doesn't make me too old. I know my hair's going thin, but me ears ain't.

You have never tried to shake the image of the slightly embarrassing uncle who happened to be good with music.

No, I've never ever done that, but everybody forgets I have done some quite ground-breaking music. I managed the Specials, started that whole 2 Tone movement, but I don't worry about it. If I'm asked to do a record and I like the record I will try to do it to the best of my ability. What I can't do is put my name to a rock record because nobody will take it seriously. I love rock music, but I understand that whoever the new rock kids are, they're never going to come to be produced by Pete Waterman because I'm the antichrist.

I totally accept that. I wouldn't even embarrass a young band by saying I would do it. Cliff Richard once told me that he has defended working with me more than he's defended his belief in God.

What do you think of Amy Winehouse?

I feel sorry for her, I really do. We had a Motown ethic. It wasn't about the money. You've got to take responsibility, you have to take ownership. I had a strict anti-drugs policy in [Waterman's production company] PWL, so strict it was silly. We didn't even allow alcohol on the premises.

I think the English football squad [Waterman produced the 1988 football song All the Way] were the only people who ever brought in booze.

Are you making a lot of money out of the 80s revival scene?

I make no money out of it because I won't do it; I get offered fortunes but I won't do it. It's nothing to do with me any more; it's not what I want to do. I don't ever go to see my acts live any more, unless it's Kylie and she's doing new stuff. I'll go and see Rick when he does his shows, because he's not doing old stuff. I've moved on. I'm nostalgic, but I don't wallow in it and I would prefer a Top 10 this week with a new record than with an old record.

· Pete and Foxy's Best Selling Singles: 1988 is on 4Music on Sunday, August 24 at 10am


Hannah Pool

The GuardianTramp

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