How we made Right Said Fred's I'm Too Sexy

‘Every label turned us down. Our booking agent sacked us when he heard it’

Richard Fairbrass, singer-songwriter

My brother Fred and I ran a gym at the back of a theatrical rehearsal studio in London, where we saw lots of narcissism and posing. One day, it was really hot, and there was a mirror on a wardrobe, so I took my shirt off and just started singing “I’m too sexy for my shirt …” in front of the mirror to the rhythm of a bassline we had. Everyone fell about laughing, but we knew we were on to something.

We came up with the rest of the lyrics over the next month. We focused on things that people would know all over the world. So it became “I’m too sexy for my car”, “your party”, “my hat”, and so on. We got the name Right Said Fred from the old Bernard Cribbins hit.

Simon Bates played I’m Too Sexy on Radio 1. Gary Crowley at Capital Radio said, “I don’t know if this is good or crap,” but suddenly, we were besieged with requests for interviews. A tastemaker DJ from Miami heard the song on holiday in Europe and took it back and played it. Our promotion budget for the whole of America was $25,000, but the song just sold itself. When we had the US No 1, Madonna announced that she wanted to go to bed with me. I never met her, but she’s got great taste.

Everyone thought we were a couple of sad gym queens who’d been put together and got lucky, but we were proper musicians who’d been on the circuit since 1977 under different names. As the Actors, we toured with Suicide, supported Joy Division at the Factory and played a punk club in Leeds where someone urinated on my clothes. Fred played guitar for Bob Dylan in the Hearts of Fire film in the 80s, while I worked with Mick Jagger and was in three videos with David Bowie.

I bumped into Bowie again when we did Top of the Pops in 1991. He said: “What are you doing here?” I think he thought I was serving the tea. I said, “I’ve got a hit record, you cheeky bugger!”

Fred Fairbrass, songwriter

I came up with the “I’m a model, you know what I mean” stuff because I was dating a model. It was the start of the supermodel era, things were very hedonistic and I was thinking of big hair and dressing to impress.

I’m Too Sexy was initially an indie-rock track. The studio where we recorded it had gone into liquidation, but we were told that if we bunged the engineer some money at night he still had the keys. So we weren’t allowed to put the lights on in case the landlord saw.

Every label turned us down. Our booking agent sacked us when he heard it. Island Records went to the trouble of sending a fax telling us they hated it and no one would play it. One of the DJ responses was: “Don’t waste money on this shit.” Then we played it to a radio plugger, Guy Holmes. He quickly turned it off, but he had some girls in the car at the time and after he switched it off they started singing, ‘I’m a model …” He thought, “Wait a minute, if they can remember that …”

Guy wanted a club track, but we compromised at pop. I knew a DJ, Tommy D, who programmed some sounds around the original vocal. I wasn’t aware that our guitarist, Rob Manzoli, had played the riff from Jimi Hendrix’s Third Stone from the Sun on I’m Too Sexy until much later. I thought the guitar parts sounded like the theme from Coronation Street, but the Hendrix estate were very cool about it and just asked for a writing credit and a charitable donation.

We couldn’t get signed, so used the plugging company as the label. The plan had been to then do a deal with a real record company, but suddenly we were No 1 in 32 countries and No 2 in the UK.

In America, “I’m too sexy for school” became the most commonly used excuse for truancy. A politician in the House of Representatives actually said, “I can’t comment on this, I’m too sexy.” In Texas, there was a fight in a bar because some girls played the video for eight hours, and when a guy tried to turn it off, they attacked him.

• Right Said Fred play Cornbury festival, Oxfordshire, 7-9 July.


Interviews by Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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