Observer picture archive: Adam Ant, 9 October 1984

The singer was photographed by Tim Mercer, who regularly captured the great and the good for the Observer magazine’s long-running feature, Room of my own.

This article by Ena Kendall was published in the Observer Magazine on 14 October 1984

Pop singer Adam Ant lives in a ground-floor flat in a late-Victorian house in North London. He always refers to it in conversation as an apartment, the influence of a two-year sojourn in America, and he sees it as his “port of calm” in a, no doubt, restless sea of travel. Mostly he has to work under blazing lights and he reacts to this in private life by preferring restful interiors, low light and muted colours. The contrast extends to himself. Beneath the professional showiness of the pop performer, there is an apparently cool-headed and careful individual whose regularity of feature and clarity of skin is enhanced by the subtlest suggestion of make-up.

He was wearing black ankle-hugging trousers and a shirt with bushy-bearded portraits of Karl Marx over one pocket. The pictures signify nothing, certainly not political attachment. “It’s a hand-made shirt I bought about seven years ago and the trousers the same. It’s called the anarchy shirt. I like the idea of there being some sort of anarchy in fashion, as there was in 1977, a year when I became involved in a sort of anarchy in pop music. But I’m not the slightest bit interested in politics: if you said, what would you rather do, sit through politics or go to the dentist, I would much prefer to go to the dentist.”

He says he’s a very organised person, and while not minding chaos in clothes hates it in his surroundings. Adam Ant was born Stuart Goddard in Marylebone, London in 1954. He chose his punning stage name himself and now he feels it’s part of him. He trained as a graphic designer at Hornsey College of Art for three years before switching to a musical career and forming Adam and the Ants in 1977, so he brings an almost professional eye to the appearance of his flat.

Although it is modest in size – a sitting room with a built-in kitchenette at one end, a bathroom and one bedroom – he called in the experts to help achieve the desired effects. “Just as I prefer to delegate my music to producers, so I delegate the responsibility for my flat to interior designers.” He is particularly proud of the fact that nobody over 30 was involved in its design. “There’s such a wealth of furniture, new fabrics, new ideas coming through in interior design, it’s good to be a patron to some very specialised craftsmen, most of whom are young.”

Despite the startling blue-green stipple covering the walls and woodwork of his small bedroom, the first impression is one of restraint. The decor is based on the ideas of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the Glasgow-born architect and designer who was the leader of the Art Nouveau movement in Britain. “The criss-cross shape on the cupboards is what I like. Mackintosh’s room would have been ornate, but the triangular tables attached to the wall at the bedside are typical of him.” The bed cover falling in an extravagant overflow onto the floor is in a grey handprinted fabric matching the curtain that gather in pools of material at the bottom. “They’re meant to look like soft columns - people say they’re too long but they’re supposed to be like that.” Quickly, he opened the cupboards on either side of the bed, pulled back the cover. “You see? When you come in, the room is muted, low-key, then you suddenly find colour: I thought it should be something a little wild, seedy Soho-ish, and pink is such a kitsch colour, a little bit tacky as well.”

The cupboards are lined with a padded pink silk, matching the lining of the bed-cover, and lit with strip lighting at the back. Neatly arrayed on Perspex rods are some of his 63 pairs of shoes; prominent among them a pair of hand-made red boots, bought in London, that he’s never worn. “I collect shoes; some I wear, some I don’t.” That day he was wearing a pair of black plaited-leather sling-backs, half-way between a sandal and a shoe. “They’re just very comfortable - I have a gold pair up there,” he said. Along with the shoes and shirts, a pink silk laundry bag fights for space with a vacuum cleaner. “It’s the only place in the whole apartment where I have cupboard space.”

The other cupboard is packed with black leather jackets and suits with, folded beneath, a silver shirt made to his own design for one of his video promotion films.

He has a huge thirst for tea. “I get up at about 8.30 and the first thing I want is some tea. Then perhaps I’ll wear a very classic Fifties suit, or a strange Vivienne Westwood suit or a glittering Anthony Price suit.” He is an admirer of the late Montgomery Clift’s way of dressing and also Laurence Harvey’s style. Now he’s keen on what he calls classic Victorian and Edwardian clothes, and has his shirts made in that style.

Adam Ant in Montreux, Switzerland in 1984.
Adam Ant in Montreux, Switzerland in 1984. Photograph: Andre Csillag/REX/Shutterstock

All his stage clothes go to the Victoria and Albert Museum. “I just gave them all my costumes from day one, which added up to £25,000-worth of clothes for the nation.”

As we talked, a Frank Sinatra record was playing – but his chief influences were Tommy Steele, Lonnie Donegan, Hank Williams. He has a great regard for Elvis Presley, whose mansion, Gracelands, he has visited. “You could see the man was overwhelmingly honest. The place might seem tasteless but he never professed any taste other than his own, that is, country boy made good. He never pretended to be anyone else.”

The only trophies Adam Ant displays (in his sitting room fireplace) are two Ivor Novello Awards for song-writing. He calls himself a workaholic, has made a film in America, where he did 200 concerts and played 80 cities.

He is a Romany on his mother’s side and, as he put it, “wandering is my heritage”, but he is glad of his British roots. “People often ask me why I don’t go on holiday but my ideal holiday is having a couple of days off in London with a cash card, being able to walk around, buy clothes, have tea, walk in the parks, go and see my family and friends. I’ve been to America, and it’s a great country, Paris is a beautiful city, Rome is gorgeous, Japan is wonderful, Australia magnificent, but when it comes to England, I’m a boomerang – I just come back. I’ve never had any intention of leaving.” He looked around. “It’s just great to be home.”

The Guardian and Observer archive has more than 200 years of articles and images available to view. Find out more about how to access them.


selected by Greg Whitmore, Observer picture editor

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Observer picture archive: Ibiza, 9 September 1984
Photographer John Reardon and reporter Robert Low travelled to the Balearic island to witness the problem of young Brits on holiday.

selected by Greg Whitmore, Observer picture editor

08, Sep, 2018 @5:00 PM

Article image
Observer picture archive: Dennis Hopper, 24 October 1982
When the actor and director came to London to promote his film The Last Movie, Philip French spoke to him and Jane Bown caught the moment

selected by Greg Whitmore, Observer picture editor

20, Oct, 2018 @5:30 PM

Article image
Observer picture archive: Alf Ramsey, 28 October 1962
Following Ramsey’s appointment as England football manager, John Arlott explained why it was the ideal appointment, Arthur Hopcraft reported on Everton vs Ramsey’s Ipswich Town, and Ray Green photographed the man and the match

selected by Greg Whitmore, Observer picture editor

27, Oct, 2018 @5:30 PM

Article image
Observer picture archive: Gypsies in Hampshire, 14 October 1956
Jane Bown photographed migrant workers and their families extensively, throughout her long career.

selected by Greg Whitmore, Observer picture editor

13, Oct, 2018 @5:30 PM

Article image
Observer picture archive: The postman's picnic, 2 October 1966
Driving through Norfolk, Jane Bown came across this couple enjoying a companionable moment.

selected by Greg Whitmore, Observer picture editor

29, Sep, 2018 @5:00 PM

Article image
Observer picture archive: The standalone photograph
Jane Bown captured the Amalfi Grocer when on holiday in Italy. It was published on page 8 of the Observer on 29 August 1954, and is a classic example of a standalone photograph, published during the heyday of the genre

selected by Greg Whitmore Observer picture editor

25, Aug, 2018 @5:30 PM

Article image
Observer picture archive: Twiggy, 12 August 1966
Of photographing the model, David Newell-Smith said: “She’s a product of the photographer’s imagination. I’ve tried to suggest this by increasing the contrast to emphasise the lines of the composition, the oval shapes that blend into each other giving an overall abstract effect.”

selected by Greg Whitmore, Observer picture editor

11, Aug, 2018 @5:00 PM

Article image
Observer picture archive: Glyndebourne, 9 August 1957
Jane Bown attended the opera festival in Sussex and came back with this wistful page one picture

selected by Greg Whitmore, Observer picture editor

04, Aug, 2018 @5:00 PM

Article image
Observer picture archive: Mods at the Greyhound, 11 April 1980
Observer photographer Lorrie Graham ventured into the gloom of the famous music venue in Fulham, west London, to photograph teenagers getting ready for a bank holiday scooter run to Brighton

selected by Greg Whitmore, Observer picture editor

08, Apr, 2018 @7:00 AM

Article image
Observer picture archive: Bridget Riley, 25 May 1969
David Newell-Smith captured the artist in her London studio, ahead of a national tour of her drawings.

selected by Greg Whitmore, Observer picture editor

18, May, 2019 @4:30 PM