Justin and Dan Hawkins of the Darkness look back: ‘People are terrified of us. And rightly so’

The brothers recreate a family photo and talk about how they came back from a huge fallout – and a best man’s speech starring a puppet testicle

Justin and Dan Hawkins in 1980 and 2021.
Justin Hawkins (on the left) and Dan Hawkins in 1980 and 2021. Later photograph: Pål Hansen/The Guardian. Styling: Andie Redman. Archive photograph: courtesy of Justin and Dan Hawkins

Justin and Dan Hawkins are the Lowestoft brothers behind rock band the Darkness. Puncturing the genteel Dido and Keane-era mainstream of the early noughties with their stadium rock and low-cut catsuits, their music had a short-lived period of ridicule before their debut album Permission to Land went on to sell 3.5m copies. At the peak of their commercial powers they won three Brit awards, an Ivor Novello, and penned the modern Christmas classic, 2003’s Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End). The band split in 2006 after the release of their second album, but they’ve since reformed and released five more records. They are currently on tour.

Justin Hawkins

Based on this image, I wonder if my parents looked at our physiques and temperaments and decided to try and equip us for what they thought would be our career paths. They saw me as the office junior and Dan as the sports hero. Or perhaps I’m dressed so smartly because somebody had died. Although I look a bit too cheerful and my tie is a bit too wide to be respectful.

Growing up, me and Dan were never bored. We had a moped and we’d shoot guns and fire arrows. We really loved music, because our parents did. They were in the right place at a particularly exciting time in the 60s; mum’s got stories about Brian Jones and my dad’s got stories about Peter Sellers. They were always having parties. We’d hear the bass pumping through the walls: Mum was into reggae and the Stones, and Dad liked dad-rock. As a result, Dan and I were fanatic about old artists – industrial bands, hair rock, Aerosmith and Fleetwood Mac.

From a really young age, around 12, we would be guns for hire in other people’s groups. Eventually, I joined one with Frankie [Poullain, the Darkness’ bassist] and Dan – but as a peripheral character in the dynamic. We had a really good singer but he didn’t know how to connect with an audience, so I ended up speaking to them instead, even though I was hidden at the back – I must have sounded like a disembodied voice booming from the side of the stage. In the end we sacked him; there was a pivotal moment when I did a special dance to Bohemian Rhapsody and Dan realised I’d be able to entertain folks. Unfortunately, I didn’t look like a frontman then. I’d been writing music for adverts in the 90s, for Ikea, Mars bar and Tango. But I never thought I’d be a rock star so I didn’t look after myself. I drank beer all the time and sat around being useless.

When the Darkness properly formed, Dan was a driving force in terms of ambition whereas I was doing it in a defiant way: “What’s the point doing the same thing as everyone else? Let’s do something inspired by the music we loved growing up!” We’ve always been drawn to absurd masculinity. Plus I wanted to piss a few people off by not caring about the “cool” house of cards built during the 90s. Dan’s drive was a bit clearer: win an Ivor Novello. We both achieved our goals. But the latter was really significant. When we won the Ivor Novello songwriter of the year award, in 2004, we were surrounded by people we adored, and our parents were there. We spent the whole night looking at each other and going: “Yay!”

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At that point, everything I did was determined by drug addiction. It was really damaging; we would have achieved much more if I’d been able to keep it together. I can remember doing interviews and just about holding on to being conscious. I was white knuckling it and it affected all my relationships – the most important one being the one with my brother. When I went into recovery, I had to leave the whole infrastructure around the Darkness, the lifestyle and people – everything was a trigger. My heart would have exploded if I didn’t. My brother and I went through a two-year period of not really speaking. That was after I left the Darkness. The news didn’t go down well, which is fair enough. But blood is thicker than water; everyone knew we would be all right. We just needed a bit of time.

These days, my relationship with Dan is fearsome. We’re the Hawkins brothers. People are terrified of us. And rightly so.

Dan Hawkins

You can see how different we are from the picture. We’ve been like that throughout our lives. It’s why we get along so well. Physically, we aren’t alike, and Justin is an extrovert while I have moments of being introverted – although on a big night out, you probably wouldn’t realise that.

At school, Justin was two years above me. We got teased for having long hair, but Justin and his friends were also really hard. It was a weird situation where the geeks ruled. He protected me, but we didn’t get along a lot of the time. It was like a boiling pot.

Between the ages of 14 and 16, I didn’t speak to my parents, apart from some grunting noises. Typical teenager, blasting music in his bedroom. Justin, however, got on famously with Mum and Dad. When he left home at 16, we became mates again. The pressure was gone, and I’d visit his little hovel in Lowestoft and make music.

At one of our early Darkness gigs in London, it was the first time Justin wore a white catsuit with thunderbolts on the legs. He got changed into it in the toilet backstage. We all thought it looked amazing. Within three minutes of the first song he’d sweated straight through it. You could see everything.

I had terrible stage fright at the start. Then one day we were playing in some small but pretty packed club and I looked up and saw that no one was looking at me. They were all looking at Justin. I realised, what am I worrying about? After that I could just crack on with playing the guitar. I was really thankful.

When I was 31, I had testicular cancer, and I had to have one of my testicles removed. While I was recovering, I stayed away from my family, so I was going to get chemo on my own. Justin said: “I’ll go. I’ll take you.” I remember sitting there, in the hospital and wondering how many people realise that this bond is still there between us. People didn’t even know we were friends. It was a tender moment. Tender for weeks!

When I got married in 2014, Justin was my best man. He organised the greatest stag I could ever have imagined in Switzerland. When it came to the big day, he made a speech. “You know, Dan’s had a tough time, he’s recovered from cancer,” he said, and the room went quiet. “I don’t know about you, but I often wondered what happened to the other testicle … Well, don’t worry, I found him! Say hello to Tezza!” Justin then brings out a homemade, Jim Henson-style puppet testicle with his own hair sprinkled on it and sings a duet of the Spice Girls’ 2 Become 1 with it. It was the best thing I’ve seen.

Justin and I did have a moment when we needed to be apart. When the band split, it was similar to when Justin left home at 16. It got to boiling point – puff – then we came back stronger. Now we have proper life rules in place that will enable us to avoid reaching boiling point again. So get used to this pair of prats.


Harriet Gibsone

The GuardianTramp

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