FORGET Little Mix, The Saturdays or even the Spice Girls.
Long before Geri Halliwell donned that Union Jack dress, Bananarama were flying the flag for girl bands, and they’ve continued to do so for 40 years.
The group – now made up of Sara Dallin, 60, and Keren Woodward, 61, after Siobhan Fahey, 63, left in 1988 – still hold the Guinness World Record for the most UK chart entries by an all-female group, with 32 Top 40 singles.
And now they’re celebrating an incredible four decades together with their single Masquerade, from their new album of the same name.
“Sometimes it really feels like 40 years,” Keren says dryly.
“If you had said 40 years ago that we’d be launching another album, I’d have thought that sounded absolutely ludicrous.
“But you think: ‘Well, as long as we’re enjoying it and it feels right, why would you even contemplate not doing it?’
Sara adds: “The very beginning now seems like a lifetime away. Although we are not in the public eye as much as in the ’80s, we’ve always kept working.
“It makes me laugh when people say we’ve made another comeback. We never went away!”
Friends for 56 years after meeting aged five in the playground at Bromley Heath Infant School in Bristol, the pair’s strong bond is undeniable as they gently rib each other and finish each other’s sentences.
“It is telepathic,” says Keren. “We’re the same in certain ways, but we’re completely different in others. It’s a sort of joke that together we make one complete person.”
It seems a poignant time for them to be releasing new music as we say farewell to one of the last girl bands around, Little Mix, after 10 years, following the final date of their tour last month.
They didn’t have an easy final act, with Jesy Nelson quitting in December 2020 and rumours of discord emerging.
But Sara and Keren think time will be a great healer for the girls, having gone through a similar situation when Siobhan quit to form Shakespears Sister, admitting that her lateness always caused issues between them.
Sara says: “You hold [quitting the band] as if it’s such a terrible thing and then you actually…”
Finishing her sentence, Keren adds: “Let it go.”
The trio briefly reunited in 2017 for a tour and still remain friendly today. Keren explains: “There was unfinished business.
“We really had a riot. [Siobhan] still couldn’t get there on time! I actually spoke to her a couple of weeks ago.”
Sara adds: “I had such a laugh with her on tour.
“When you meet someone when you’re very young and you connect, then the connection is there forever – and I have that with her even though I don’t really see her. I’m still very fond of her.”
Formed in September 1980, after the pair moved to London and Sara met Siobhan at the London College of Fashion, Bananarama – inspired by the Roxy Music song Pyjamarama – happened almost by accident.
Regulars at New Romantic clubs, the girls befriended musicians like Paul Cook from the Sex Pistols and effectively fell into being pop stars after providing backing vocals on Fun Boy Three’s It Ain’t What You Do…, before conquering the charts with hits including Cruel Summer, Venus and Love In The First Degree.
They hadn’t planned on becoming pop stars because, they say, the music scene was so dominated by men.
Sometimes it really feels like 40 years. If you had said 40 years ago that we’d be launching another album, I’d have thought that sounded absolutely ludicrous.
“I never saw anyone that I thought: ‘I want to be like that,’” says Keren. “The first time was when I was 14 and I saw Debbie Harry.
“I thought: ‘Oh my god, a female that looks cool and has great songs.’ But before that there was nothing. You just accepted it was always men on Top Of The Pops.
“There were very few females on TV growing up in the ’70s. You sort of felt sidelined because you were female. I hated that feeling.”
Sara adds: “It is true that as a female you have to work 10 times as hard to be heard. [Labels always say:] ‘We can’t promote girl bands, they don’t have screaming fans.’”
It wasn’t just finding role models that the girls struggled with – it was their image, too. They made their own clothes using Keren’s mum’s sewing machine and had their own distinct style, but found that when they went to photo shoots, they were often given overtly sexy outfits to wear.
“There’s always that double standard,” says Keren. “You should be allowed to dress sexy or not, depending on what you choose.
“For me, if you want to wear next to nothing or a big kaftan, that should be your choice – not the record company’s.
“Men aren’t in that position at all. Bruce Springsteen would just wear jeans and a T-shirt.”
Speaking of ageing rockers, the pair find the judgement of older women frustrating, particularly in the music industry, where Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger are still worshipped, while Madonna is routinely criticised.
“There’s sexism, then in comes ageism too,” Sara rolls her eyes. “Madonna gets such abuse, whether you like what she does or not [to her face].”
Keren agrees: “There is a pressure – it’s quite sad really. Kristin Scott Thomas  is unbelievably beautiful and has aged naturally.
“She gets slated by the media for looking ‘old’, but that’s how everyone looks at that age if they haven’t had their face pumped up.
There were very few females on TV growing up in the ’70s. You sort of felt sidelined because you were female. I hated that feeling.
“You just can’t win, so I think do whatever you choose to do, just as long as it makes you happy and you embrace it.”
But some things are improving in the music industry, particularly for working mums.
Whereas Perrie Edwards and Leigh-Anne Pinnock from Little Mix both recently went on tour soon after giving birth, Keren admitted she was told she was “past it” because she had her son Tom – now 35 and a TV producer – when she was 25, and Sara had her daughter Alice in 1991, aged 29.
Keren says: “At a radio playlist meeting, someone said: ‘They’re not going to play you because you’re pushing 30 and you’re mothers, so you’re not their demographic any more.’
“It’s outrageous. I don’t think you’d be allowed to say stuff like that now. It’s more acceptable for female artists to embrace motherhood.”
Sara adds: “People probably still think that, but they wouldn’t be allowed to say it.”
Another thing that has changed the industry forever is, of course, the #MeToo movement. The girls recount in their 2020 book Really Saying Something “over-familiar, long hugs” from radio DJs and “attempted groping in the back of limos”.
Keren says: “You almost accepted it as part of life – you wouldn’t think of reporting someone. It’s brilliant that people can’t get away with things any more.
“It should have been done years ago. It makes you think we should have [said something]… or felt that it should have come up much earlier.”
Sara adds: “You grew up in the ’70s with sitcoms like On The Buses, where it was like: ‘It’s cheeky, it doesn’t mean anything,’ when actually it does.
“But that’s pervasive and it’s in your head from childhood. It’s difficult [to speak out], especially if they are in a position of power.”
Reminiscing about happier times, the duo claim another huge difference between then and now is that they were “allowed to have much more fun” than today’s crop of pop stars.
There’s sexism, then in comes ageism too. Madonna gets such abuse, whether you like what she does or not [to her face].
“Everything’s so pre-planned nowadays,” Sara says with a sigh. “The three of us were just kids who went to clubs. It suddenly happened for us and then we were travelling the world and it was all totally organic.
“There was no: ‘You must have this outfit, you must have your hair like this.’ And it felt better that way.”
“We were just allowed to get on with it,” adds Keren. “I’m not sure that most artists now would be given the freedom we were. There was no marketing then. We’re still those kids we were when we started. We’ve always just been ourselves.”
Sara agrees: “I hate saying: ‘In our day…’ but in our day there was no endorsement of products. It wasn’t until the Spice Girls that started to come in. We were offered a million dollars in America to promote hair curlers.
“We went: ‘Ugh, we just wouldn’t do that… That is so not us!’ But now you don’t know what’s real and what’s fake. This is the real us. Sometimes we have fun – it’s never been forced. And I think that makes us different from a lot of artists now, because they have to be professional.”
Cackling, the pair reminisce over how “dreadful” they looked recording Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas? in 1984.
Keren says: “Nowadays, everyone would have thought about what clothes to wear or brought their glam squad. They wouldn’t have rolled out of a Volkswagen Golf having been clubbing all night.
“I was particularly poorly turned out. As usual, we weren’t overly informed [about the song]. We didn’t know who would be involved and we were quite overwhelmed.”
“I don’t think we really understood,” says Sara.
“I remember getting out of the car and seeing Sting and thinking: ‘What’s he doing here?’ Then I spotted Duran Duran. And it was the first time I realised that George [Michael] was such an amazing singer. And now it’s very nostalgic when we hear it and amazing that it was for such a good cause.”
They both light up at the mention of George Michael’s name – most of their youth was spent hanging out with the Wham! boys, George and Andrew Ridgeley.
Andrew and Keren became a couple in the early ’90s and moved to Cornwall together, before splitting in November 2017. These days, the women are keen to keep their romantic life private.
I’m not sure that most artists now would be given the freedom we were. There was no marketing then. We’re still those kids we were when we started. We’ve always just been ourselves.
“We just loved to go dancing in The Wag Club in Soho,” says Sara. “Everyone would be there. Wham!, Marilyn, the Spandau [Ballet] boys. We used to play netball with Sade, which was remarkable.”
Keren says: “Yes [Andrew and I are still in touch]. I’m not the best at keeping in touch with old friends, but there are certain friends that we’ve had for years and you just see them when you see them.”
The pair reveal George was hugely generous, letting them stay at his home in Highgate and taking them on exotic holidays, but they had no idea until after he died in 2016 how much money he gave away.
“He was just the most generous person,” says Keren. “He paid for everyone because obviously not everybody he knew could afford to go to the places he liked.
“He took everyone to Necker Island [in the Caribbean], but I couldn’t go because I was in Tuscany with Andrew for a magazine shoot. I was furious! But I don’t think his friends even knew the extent of his giving – like paying for a stranger’s IVF. That’s really lovely.”
George’s untimely death devastated them both, but they find comfort in old home movies of the gang together back in the day.
Keren says: “I have so many home movies of us all. I didn’t have anything to play them on, so I bought a second-hand TV with VHS.
“I didn’t want to just send them off [to be digitised], because they are not for public consumption! It’s really special. It was great to have these memories with him.”
As for old footage of them in the band, do they enjoy watching that, too?
“Absolutely no!” says Keren. “When you watch old videos of interviews, Sara and Siobhan just start giggling and I’m compelled to answer because someone has to speak. Then one word will make me laugh too. It’s just so immature, but sweet.
“We try to look forward, because of the exciting stuff we’re doing, but of course you do have a legacy. It’s not until someone says: ‘Wow, you’ve done this?’ that you stop and go: ‘Yeah! We’ve actually done pretty well!’”
- Bananarama’s new single Masquerade is out on Wednesday. The album Masquerade follows on July 22.
IN THE MAKE-UP CHAIR WITH BANANARAMA
WHAT ARE YOUR SKINCARE HEROES?
Keren: I don’t really have a go-to thing, but I’ve just bought three pots of Nivea Creme moisturiser because it was half-price on my Tesco Clubcard! I’ve gone through phases of buying expensive stuff, but they never make my skin look any different.
ANY MAKE-UP BAG ESSENTIALS?
Sara: Eyebrow pencil and blush from Bobbi Brown.
WHAT DO YOU SPLURGE ON?
Keren: I love nice perfumes. Dior’s Ambre Nuit is just delicious. I like buying small bottles because you can chuck them in a handbag.
WHO’S YOUR BEAUTY ICON?
Sara: Julianne Moore is a stunner – and natural. She always looks stylish.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR BEAUTY EVOLUTION?
Keren: I trashed my delicate hair by backcombing it in the ’80s. The amount of bird nests I had that needed to have chunks cut out of them! I think less is more as you get older.
https://www.the-sun.com/lifestyle/5542214/bananarama-mum-shamed-trolled-old/ We were mum-shamed, trolled for being old and had to work 10 times harder because we are women, say 80s icons Bananarama