Tom Watkins, pop manager behind Pet Shop Boys, Bros and East 17, dies aged 70

The celebrated music mogul and designer had suffered from a series of health issues including diabetes and a liver transplant

Tom Watkins, the music manager who launched the careers of some of the UK’s biggest pop acts, has died aged 70.

Friends confirmed that he died on 24 February, and his funeral took place on 10 March. The cause of death was not announced, but he had suffered a series of health issues in recent years, including strokes, a liver transplant and diabetes.

Watkins first found fame managing Pet Shop Boys in 1984, shepherding their early successes including all four of their No 1 singles: West End Girls, It’s a Sin, Always on My Mind and Heart. He went on to manage pop trio Bros, and co-wrote their biggest hits When Will I Be Famous?, Drop the Boy and I Owe You Nothing. The trio quickly became one of the biggest pop acts in the UK and headlined Wembley stadium in 1989, though couldn’t sustain their fame beyond a second album, and the departure of their bass player Craig Logan.

Relationships with both groups were occasionally troubled, with Matt Goss saying in 2017 that “there was a compassion that was lacking” in Watkins, as well as saying of their contract: “We ended up with nothing, less than nothing.”

Watkins with East 17, 1993.
Watkins with East 17 in 1993. Photograph: Rick Colls/Rex/Shutterstock

Watkins, meanwhile, once said of the Pet Shop Boys: “They just developed super-egos and tried to make out that I had nothing to do with their success, which is bullshit.”

He had another major success in the 1990s with boy band East 17, who scored 11 Top 10 singles including the 1994 Christmas No 1 Stay Another Day. He managed other less successful artists, including the cult 70s glam rock groups Ice Cream and Giggles, and the 90s pop groups Deuce, North and South and Electribe 101.

Watkins was also a celebrated graphic designer, initially working under Terence Conran before starting his own company, XL Design, who created record sleeves for Wham!, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Duran Duran and more.

The Bauhaus-style house he designed for himself in Pett Level, East Sussex, was featured on the TV show Grand Designs. His collection of items from the Italian design movement Memphis is world-renowned.

He is survived by his partner Marc.


Ben Beaumont-Thomas

The GuardianTramp

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