a short site about The Divine Comedy

Divine Inspiration

The suave, suited leader of The Divine Comedy talks style

'Your star us cold,' proclaims Neil Hannon, coming over all celebrity on us. Unfortunately, his tongue is lodged very firmly in his cheek and he's not about to chuck a star strop. He does have a point, though. The studio is absolutely freezing because the heater blew up about ten minutes before we arrived. Not only that, but some bright spark won't switch the fans off and to top it all rain is leaking through the roof. Not a very good start.

Despite the niggles, Neil's a good sport for the photo session, especially given the fact that he's not a big fan of photo shoots. When I ask him if he enjoyed the day, he looks suitably embarrassed and tells me that it's a bad question. 'I didn't not enjoy it, but I just put up with these things I'm afraid,' he says, referring to having his picture taken.

'I think I've convinced myself that I don't actually mind it because obviously you have to do quite a lot of it in this job. I think my natural ego eventually comes to f ore in cases like this, even though deep down I'd rather not ever have my photo taken again!'

It's quite clear that publicity work is Neil's least favourite aspect if his job. For him, the best buts are things like getting a gold disc. 'I've got mine in the hallway, but if you keep the door open, you can see it from the toilet!'

Neil is passionate about his music. 'I like writing. I like sitting at home and spending days on end mulling over things and rearranging things and doing what I consider to be my job - songwriting. Anything else is extra.

'I quite like recording and performing, but touring can drive me mad if I do it for more than three weeks. You're in each other's faces and you start to lose track of who you are and where you come from. You have to force yourself to make the effort to go out and look at the city you're in just to get away from it all and stop yourself from just slouching about in your dressing room.'

It's hard to imagine Neil Hannon slouching - he's probably the best-dressed man in pop. He explains his smart look: 'When it comes to performing on stage and dealing with the music business, I have always worn suits, ever since 1992. That came about because The Divine Comedy had been together since 1989 and we weren't getting anywhere. We had all been identified with stripy shirts, horrible and baggy everything. I just desperately wanted to get as far away from that as possible because it had been a complete disaster. I thought the best way to stand out was to dress like an office worker!'

In fact, he didn't actually look much better than the average office dogsbody in an dodgy, ill-fitting Burton-type suite. 'You'd be amazed what a bit of good photography can do for a suit! The number of times I've done shoots with clothes that really don't fit me.'

So smartening up his act was a conscious decision to make him and his music stand out from the rest of the indie scene? 'I wouldn't say it was a cynical move to get attention, but it was important to me that I looked like my music. My music is generally structured and precise so you can't go around wearing ripped jeans. Not that I would, obviously. That would give false impression of the music, but generally the last thing I am think about when I'm making an album is, "ooh, what I am going to wear on the cover?"'

His personal style is another question altogether. I catch up with him a couple of days alter when he calls me from a TV studio in Paris. I ask him if he cares much about what he wears in his private life. 'Judging by what I have on now - a pair of jeans and a T-shirt - the answer would have to be, not really.

'Obviously I don't want to look stupid, but it depends on what I'm doing on the day. If I'm just settling down at the piano, then I won't bother putting anything on and I'll just stay in my dressing gown.

"I just thank God that I can take the horribly fitting photo-shoot clothes off and wear copulate crap - it's wonderful. It does wonders for your anonymity when walking down Clapham High Street.'

He's not wrong! The following day, I happen to walk past him on the very same street and am half-way cross before I realise who it is!

So how does Neil relax? Like many blokes, Neil enjoys watching the footie and supporting his fave team- Manchester United. 'I feel I have the perfect right to support any English team because I'm from Northern Ireland and I don't have any allegiances.

'The fact is I've supported them since I was a teenager, even though they weren't winning. I've always wanted to see them at home at Old Trafford, but I've never had the chance. Well, I did in the early days, but I didn't have the money, and now that I have the money, I don't have the time. I've seen them play away in London, though.'

That's enough footie talk, back to clothes. So where does he like to shop? 'I go to King's Road quite often because it's not far from where I live, but it's generally for the good lady's benefit! It pretty much just involves me standing there going, "Hmm, that's lovely dear," and signing the cheques.'

Not that Neil has to shop much anyway. 'It's a weird thing,' he says, 'but as soon as you have enough money to buy some new clothes, companies start giving them to you for free! Dr Martens gave me lots of free stuff - I really like this big felt shirt. And Ben Sherman gave me loads as well which was very good because at least I have a clean shirt to wear every morning now!'

The most expensive thing in Neil's wardrobe is a custom-made suit by tailor Timothy Everest. 'It cost about a grand, but at least it fits! It's very lovely and hopefully it will last me forever. I found him by complete fluke. I was doing a shoot for one of the Sunday supplements and they wanted to take me shopping for some clothes. We went to an old East End tailor and I thought, "Hmmm, I'm not really sure about this kind of look."

'The we decided to check out Ozwald Boateng and they were a little too shiny for my taste. The man can obviously make great suits but I just thought his proportions were all wrong. He obviously designs for his own stature, which is huge- I'd have been completely dwarfed by one of his suits.

'Finally we went to Timothy Everest, who was a nice chap. I liked his fabrics, and the slightly Edwardian look to his suits, so he got the job.'

Angeli Parmar
B Magazine 02/1999