IN CONVERSATION: Richard Fairbrass of Right Said Fred

IN CONVERSATION: Richard Fairbrass of Right Said Fred

‘I’m Too Sexy.’ For anyone familiar with pop culture in the past twenty-five years, those three words will conjure up one song in particular. Right Said Fred’s love-it-or-loathe-it pop behemoth has become an enduring classic, defying critics to last as a worldwide cultural phenomenon. Cruelly denied the top spot by Bryan Adams dirge ‘(Everything I Do) I Do It For You’, ‘I’m Too Sexy’ has survived in movies, adverts (Fruitella, anyone?) and even being interpreted by number one girl group Sugababes. Not bad for something that lead singer Richard Fairbrass admits started from a joke.

“I remember we were in the studio and it was a very hot day. I went upstairs and took my shirt off in front of the mirror, and started singing the line – I’m too sexy. It was funny – but not everybody laughed right away. I remember Fred [Fairbrass, Richard’s brother and bandmate] didn’t laugh.” The band had been working on a song for six months with a strong verse, but the chorus riff was too hard to play on the guitar. Richard hit upon the idea of singing it, rather than playing it, and so ‘I’m Too Sexy’ was formed.

He has his own theory about why the song was such a hit. “It was risqué, with that title. I can see how it would be controversial, in the playground and so on. But it’s not sexual. It’s playful. People would look at us and realise that there was nothing sexual about us. Of course we didn’t think we were too sexy.” He recollects that, at the time, Right Said Fred were very self-contained – they had no stylist – and seemed very different to anything that was going on. “We were treated…” Richard pauses to gather his thoughts, carefully choosing his words. “Not as a joke. We were seen as a couple of guys who got very lucky.”

The band went on to have further hits, including ‘Don’t Talk Just Kiss’ and the Number One single ‘Deeply Dippy’ (Richard: “I think ‘Deeply Dippy’ is a better song”). The landscape of pop in the early nineties is very different to the landscape of pop now: would Right Said Fred have had the same success today? Richard is doubtful. “The music industry is a lot more fascistic these days. It’s that Jools Holland, everything has to be cool thing. It was much less fashion-driven then. Pop music is very conservative these days.” When I ask him what excites him just now, he struggles for examples. “’Nothing But Love’ by James is a great song. I’m listening to Leonard Cohen and lots of rock music. Adele bores me. It’s just cabaret. Look at someone like Grayson Perry. He doesn’t care. We need pop music to surprise. I can remember the first time I heard ‘Ride A White Swan’ and feeling excited.”

We talk about their own new music – the band have a forthcoming album, their ninth to date, which Richard becomes especially animated talking about (“It’s a mix of moods. People aren’t always sad or always happy”). There’s also forthcoming modern remixes of ‘I’m Too Sexy’ – including one Richard describes as ‘acid swing’ – as well as plans to record a version sung by fans at Metropolis Studios in the near future. There’s a sense that, for the band, there’s a tension between wanting to celebrate the achievement of their career-shaping moment, and wanting to move on from it.

“It’s the goose that laid the golden egg,” reflects Richard. He tells me some of his fondest memories, from 60,000 people turning up to a roadshow performance, to driving in America and hearing a radio DJ introduce and play it. “The most peculiar experience was hearing it in The West Wing.” But there’s also a hint of regret. He tells me about his partner Stuart, who passed away five years ago. “It was difficult for him. My career was taking off and his wasn’t, and we spent so much time away. But the money allowed me to look after him when he was ill. I think he would have died a lot sooner without the care and treatment I could provide for him.”

One of the most striking things about chatting to Richard is the disconnection between the public perception of him, and the type of person he really is. We talk about all kinds of things, from Olivia Coleman’s incredible acting to the problems facing the live music scene. His gigging anecdotes are hilarious, and he’s exceptionally passionate on the subjects of Brexit and Scottish independence (he favours both, as a measure of democratic accountability than any kind of political alliance). It’s hard to imagine not being won over by his straightforward charm and earnest self-awareness. At the same time, ‘I’m Too Sexy’ is still a divisive single twenty-five years later: there’s people who hate its camp frothiness, and people who love it for exactly that reason. In the face of critics and pop refuseniks, Richard remains unrepentant. “I really love it, I think it’s a great pop song, and I’m not apologising for it.”

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.