B Magazine, February 1999

Divine Inspiration

By Angeli Parmar

The suave, suited leader of The Divine Comedy talks style

ĎYour star us cold,í proclaims Neil Hannon, coming over all celebrity on us. Unfortunately, his tongue is lodged very firmly in his cheek and heís 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 wonít switch the fans off and to top it all rain is leaking through the roof. Not a very good start.

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

ĎI think Iíve convinced myself that I donít 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 Iíd rather not ever have my photo taken again!í

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

Neil is passionate about his music. ĎI 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 Ė songwriting. Anything else is extra.

ĎI quite like recording and performing, but touring can drive me mad if I do it for more than three weeks. Youíre in each otherís 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 youíre in just to get away from it all and stop yourself from just slouching about in your dressing room.í

Itís hard to imagine Neil Hannon slouching Ė heís probably the best-dressed man in pop. He explains his smart look: ĎWhen 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 werenít 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!í

In fact, he didnít actually look much better than the average office dogsbody in an dodgy, ill-fitting Burton-type suite. ĎYouíd be amazed what a bit of good photography can do for a suit! The number of times Iíve done shoots with clothes that really donít fit me.í

So smartening up his act was a conscious decision to make him and his music stand out from the rest of the indie scene? ĎI wouldnít 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 canít 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 Iím making an album is, "ooh, what I am going to wear on the cover?"í

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. ĎJudging by what I have on now Ė a pair of jeans and a T-shirt Ė the answer would have to be, not really.

ĎObviously I donít want to look stupid, but it depends on what Iím doing on the day. If Iím just settling down at the piano, then I wonít bother putting anything on and Iíll 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 Ė itís wonderful. It does wonders for your anonymity when walking down Clapham High Street.í

Heís 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. ĎI feel I have the perfect right to support any English team because Iím from Northern Ireland and I donít have any allegiances.

ĎThe fact is Iíve supported them since I was a teenager, even though they werenít winning. Iíve always wanted to see them at home at Old Trafford, but Iíve never had the chance. Well, I did in the early days, but I didnít have the money, and now that I have the money, I donít have the time. Iíve seen them play away in London, though.í

Thatís enough footie talk, back to clothes. So where does he like to shop? ĎI go to Kingís Road quite often because itís not far from where I live, but itís generally for the good ladyís benefit! It pretty much just involves me standing there going, "Hmm, thatís lovely dear," and signing the cheques.í

Not that Neil has to shop much anyway. ĎItís a weird thing,í he says, Ďbut 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 Ė 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!í

The most expensive thing in Neilís wardrobe is a custom-made suit by tailor Timothy Everest. ĎIt cost about a grand, but at least it fits! Itís 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, Iím not really sure about this kind of look."

ĎThe 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- Iíd have been completely dwarfed by one of his suits.

ĎFinally 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.'

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