She’s best known as a punk poster girl, but Hazel O’Connor has proved just as adept at karate and DIY... although, as she tells ’M knackered,” declares Hazel O’Connor with a loud laugh, “I’ve just been putting up some fencing. There’s a lot of work involved in fencing, but my dogs are coming soon and I need to get the fencing up to stop them running away – there are a lot of snakes and things out there.”
She’s talking about her homefrom-home in the South of France, which she bought around 10 years ago.
“It’s isolated and there’s such freedom,” Hazel explains happily. “My manager always says I’m better when I come back from France... more relaxed.” She adds with a quick laugh: “I spoke s**t French when I first came here, but I’m quite good at it now.”
In case, anyone thinks Hazel is living it up in a flashy French chateau, she is quick to set the record straight. “It’s not big, it’s a little matchbox, but it’s a little hidden gem.
“The work on the house is never finished. It was not even a building when I first came here. It was half a building. It had a roof and four walls, but there was no stairway and no electricity.”
Hazel promptly set to work and learned how to tackle all the DIY jobs herself needed to transform the property into a home. “Give me a screw gun and I’m happy,” she grins. “I quite enjoyed the challenge of it. It might not be as good a finish as a professional, but it’s the same end result and I didn’t want to ask anyone for help.”
However, she feared her DIY projects might have been the death of her last year when she was badly injured while trying to finish work on a balcony before a friend arrived with their children.
“I’d been using a screw gun and should have made a hole first, but I was rushing to get it finished so the kids would not fall from the balcony and I forced the screw gun and suddenly something went ping in my chest. I thought I’d busted my heart. My arms just went limp.
“I was looking after my neighbour’s dog, Nelly, at the time. I was just lying there and Nelly came along and started licking me. I couldn’t move.”
It turned out Hazel had broken her sternum, but she waited a week before she went for an x-ray to find out what had happened. “I didn’t think there was anything they could do about it and I’m like a wounded animal when I’m hurt – I go to my bed,” she points out.
“I remember lying on the sofa watching a Quentin Tarantino DVD and I couldn’t get up when it was finished. I couldn’t right myself without a huge wave of pain going my chest and body. It kept coming up on the screen ‘Play film and select scenes’ and I couldn’t switch it out.” She laughs: “I didn’t even like the film very much. I found everything difficult and I’m normally an active person.”
But no matter what life throws at the punk favourite, the awardwinning singer, writer and actress always comes back fighting. She became an overnight success after her Bafta-nominated portrayal of Kate in the 1980s cult film Breaking Glass and followed it up with the release of three of her most successful albums – Breaking Glass, Sons And Lovers and Cover Plus, which produced hit singles like Will You and Eighth Day.
She will be playing songs from these albums on her forthcoming tour, on which her brother Neil O’Connor will be joining her. It will be the first time they have performed together since a two-week residency at Ronnie Scott’s back in 1984. Neil played guitar on her albums Sons And Lovers and Cover Plus and has enjoyed his own success as the frontman of the punk band The Flys.
“It’s going to be special,” says the striking 62-year-old. “He lives in Canada now, so it’s going to be great performing together. It was because of him that I started to write songs. He was in The Flys and I remember going to see them supporting The Buzzcocks. I saw my brother play and thought ‘I want to do that.’ It was just the energy of it all.
Hazel took up martial arts when her marriage to artist Kurt Bippert ended in 2000, and she was hoping to gain her black belt in Shotokan karate before her DIY injury. “If I didn’t do karate I would really be screwed up,” she jokes. “I know tai chi is a lot better for the joints, but I love karate too much.
“My friend did her black belt this year, but I had just recovered from the broken sternum and I now have other problems with my back. I have osteoporosis in my back and one good kick could break a vertebrae.”
But Hazel is aiming to finally resolve one long-standing problem after the UK tour.
“I was born with crooked feet and I used to hide them in the sand when we went to the beach when I was a child,” she explains. “I walked like Sinbad the Sailor. I was supposed to have an operation when I was a 16, but I went away to Holland instead.
“My feet have got very bad now. They are both at 40 degree angles so they are going to have to break them and put them in splints.
“I’m having the operation in December and I’ll be on crutches for a few months, but I’ll be touring again next year. It’s not going to stop me.”