Fame made Fred Fairbrass too sexy, even for his Ford Fiesta
The hit single made Fred Fairbrass of Right Said Fred a millionaire, but his celebrations were muted, he tells Sarah Ewing
Musician, songwriter and actor Fred Fairbrass, 60, is one half of Right Said Fred, along with his older brother Richard. Fred is married to his second wife, Alex, with whom he has a daughter, Marina. He splits his time between Barcelona and Berkshire.
How did your childhood influence your work ethic and attitude to money?
My parents instilled in us the importance of being punctual. We grew up in East Grinstead, Sussex. Dad was a printer and he came from a long line of printers.
Once Richard, who’s three years older, and I were in our early teens, Mum got a job in the sales team of a garage. My dad was cynical about anything vaguely authoritarian, so we definitely got that from him. From 10 or 11, I had a paper round and at 15 I started working in a record shop before moving to Topshop in London, while Richard collected bottles in a pub.
When did you realise music was going to be your career?
I was actually quite a good footballer, so it could have gone either way, but deep down I knew I probably wouldn’t be good enough.
I went to a school gig and saw I was the only bloke there among all the girls, so I thought those were good odds. I started playing guitar, mostly self-taught, when I was 13, and writing song lyrics came naturally.
We started touring in the late Seventies with Joy Division and moved to London in 1981 when I was 25. In a sea of post-punk new wave music, we were a quirky pop band with progressive rock influences. We didn’t hit it big for another 13 years when we released I’m Too Sexy.
Did you worry about your finances in the early days?
Yes, all the time. By our late 20s we decided we were pretty much unemployable, but having got into fitness by the mid-eighties we both knew we could fall back on working there or in bars.
It was only when we got picked up by EMI America while playing in New York in 1987 that we knew the music we were doing was good enough.
Did you realise I’m Too Sexy was going to be such a big hit?
I knew it was different, but all the record companies we went around told us it wasn’t a hit. Even our agent then sacked us because he thought the album was dreadful.
So we self-published and selffunded, and have done so ever since, bar a small blip in 2007. It was the best decision of our career as it meant we had total control. We borrowed £1,500 to make the single and then another £3,000-£4,000 to make the video.
But with no major record deal, getting radio airplay was going to be a struggle.
However, we got our break when a friend of a friend got in contact with Simon Bates, who had the biggest show on Radio 1. The reaction was instant.
What’s the biggest financial lesson you have learnt?
Just because things are going well doesn’t mean people aren’t making mistakes, and when things are going badly it doesn’t mean everyone’s doing things wrong.
We’d assumed, because I’m Too Sexy was huge, followed by Don’t Talk and
Deeply Dippy, that everyone was doing a good job. It’s only when things start to unravel that you realise how different it could have been, and that includes putting the blame on ourselves. After our hits the majors were like bees to honey because we became a cash cow, but they didn’t have our best interests at heart.
What’s been the best-paid part of your career?
Songwriting, although passing on writing for the Spice Girls was a big mistake on our part. Even though promoting a record globally is unbelievably expensive, it was worth it because I’m Too Sexy was creating a lot of money.
When our career hit the skids around 1996, bizarrely our cashqflow was still going up because our three main hits were being so heavily used in movies and advertising. America fell in love with I’m Too Sexy, so we had ongoing campaigns with Ford, Kodak and Garnier, to name a few.
So, weirdly, while we couldn’t get on telly ourselves or get airplay as easily, our royalty cheques were mounting up.
What’s been the worst decision of your career?
When we re-signed to our original record label in 2007. The deal came crashing down when the label became insolvent.
What did you treat yourself to after the success of I’m Too Sexy?
A Ford Fiesta, would you believe? Hardly a posh car, but to me it was because it had electric windows. After struggling for money for such a long time, I couldn’t believe our luck, so I didn’t want to go silly.
My biggest purchase after the hits was buying houses for cash, which in London in the early Nineties proved to be an incredibly smart thing to do. Both Richard and I bought in Fulham, and the market was very good to us. But not so good when the recession hit and the label fell apart at the same time. The bank we were with was unbelievably predatory and horrible.
And your worst purchase?
A modelling agency in the late Nineties. We had some spare cash at the time, but it was a good lesson that just because you’re successful in one area doesn’t mean it will transfer to other business areas. We got ripped off and lost a lot of money, but it served us right, really.
How comfortable are you dealing with finances?
Very. I pay all our bills and all the invoices come straight to me. When you run a small ship, you have to be mindful. We work with a lot of independent musicians and I don’t want them waiting a month for their money. When a bill comes in, I pay it.
If you have a hit in America it can take up to a year for the royalties to come through, so you’re at the mercy of the exchange rate at the time they stump up.
Does money make you happy?
No, and if you’re fortunate enough to do well, the state will not look after you. When our mum got Alzheimer’s, and subsequently died last year, the state walked away. If we hadn’t had additional finances to soften the blow, it would have been an even more brutal experience. You need that safety net. As a society we need to respect and take care of our elderly better.
Do you invest in stocks and shares?
We have a small portfolio and an investment manager who oversees it for us. It’s not a huge amount, but it gives us a cushion and a little bit of dividend every year. It also financed our new album and tour.
What are your financial priorities over the next 10 years?
We’re both multimillionaires many times over, so we could retire if we wanted, but there’s still stuff we want to accomplish. I think our new album, Exactly!, is great.
What is one thing that you would change about the business world?
I’d make it illegal for record labels to hold artists’ rights in perpetuity.
What charities do you work with or donate to?
They’re all personally meaningful to us. Richard’s partner died in 2010 from cancer, so we work with the Royal Marsden and do their charity walks. We recently gave our video budget to Crisis, the homeless charity.
Fred (left) and Richard Fairbrass at a festival in Austria last year. Below, Fred performs in Scotland in 2012