In a small, unloved hotel, the receptionist greets me and Samantha Fox with pursed lips: “There will be no interview here,” she says. I feel as if I’ve wandered into the pages of Fox’s new autobiography, Forever, which is littered with bizarre anecdotes of best-laid plans going awry. From her ill-fated presenting partnership with a spaced-out Mick Fleetwood at the 1989 Brit awards, to a secret naked horseback photo shoot in Antigua – during which her steed galloped off with her to a busy tourist beach – not much has gone as expected in Fox’s life. Not least the day she worked with her childhood idol David Cassidy, who died earlier this month, which she says culminated in being sexually assaulted by him. Despite these, and many other setbacks, she says she is a “lucky girl”.
Fox was just 16 when her mother entered her for the Sunday People’s Face and Shape of 1983 competition – her wholesome, girl-next-door image made her the most popular Page 3 girl ever, and one of the most photographed women of the 1980s, alongside Princess Diana and Margaret Thatcher. By 21, she had made her first pop record and retired from modelling, going on to break the US and sell 30m records worldwide.
Her mother had wanted to be a model herself but didn’t have the money for the requisite clothes and portfolio. Fox went to theatre school as a child – Anna Scher and then Mountview – but there’s no telling if her profile would have risen so high if, she says (after the receptionist relents and lets us book a room), “that photographer hadn’t chosen me out of 20,000 girls”.
During her shoot as a finalist in the Sunday People competition, the photographer told her that “having such ample bosoms and such tiny hips was so unusual”. Summing up her appeal, he told her: “You have the face of a child and the body of a woman.
“When I think about it now, it sounds a bit creepy, to be honest, but he liked that I was very natural, no makeup,” she says. She puts her success as a Page 3 model down to her professionalism and enthusiasm as well as her looks.
Towards the end of the shoot, the photographer encouraged her to do a few topless pictures, promising they weren’t for publication – just to show the editors. Her father took a little convincing, but her mother, she writes, “was about to burst with pride and had no doubts”. Fox was grateful for the opportunity. “You only had to look around where I lived,” she writes. “There were plenty of people who had kids young. Plenty who were unemployed. Plenty who had rough, low-paying jobs.” Her only other ambition had been to join the police; unfortunately, she was too short.
Fox came second in the competition, but despite the photographer’s promises, her bare breasts were printed on the Sunday People front page. Her headteacher was not amused, but Fox was asked to sign autographs by boys at school (this was a contrast to the bullying she had suffered at primary school, when she wore calipers and a platform boot to treat a hip problem). She was offered a three-year contract with the Sun’s Page 3.
Fox says nothing sleazy happened during her time as a glamour model. “I was signed to the Sun exclusively, and I would only work with the photographer Beverley Goodway,” she says. “If I ever did shoots at his swimming pool, his wife would make me dinner and my mum would accompany me. I knew who the sleazy photographers were and I wouldn’t work with them.”
“I would never pose for the Sunday Sport because I found that newspaper rude. There’s a line that you don’t cross in glamour modelling and I never went across the sleazy line,” she says. To her mind, Page 3 was so tasteful that you even had to make sure you didn’t hold any props suggestively. “If it was snooker week for example, you had to think about how you held the cue,” she says. Was she sad when Page 3 came to an end (the Sun dropped the daily picture in 2015)? “Not really,” she says, pointing out that she retired 30 years ago.
While 16 sounds young for glamour modelling, she says: “I was pretty astute after going to drama school and acting with adults, and I had already been in a band. I grew up early and came from a working-class market-trader family, who are very streetwise.” Sexual harassment had become part of everyday life before she started modelling. Boys used to follow her to the bus from school, and teachers would make smutty remarks. She says the incident with Cassidy happened in 1985, when she was hired to star in a video for his comeback record, Romance. In her book, she writes that Cassidy pressed his erection against her throughout filming, and at a restaurant later he barged in on her while she was washing her hands in the loos. He pushed her up against the wall, groping her all over, and when she told him to get off, he shoved his tongue in her mouth. “Straight away, I just kneed him in the bollocks, and told him where to go,” she says, before she returned to her father at the dinner table, acting as though nothing had happened. A similar incident happened in a restaurant in Mauritius with a man she didn’t know. “I did the same to him. I did martial arts from a young age, so my reactions are really quick,” she says.
Those are the only sexual assaults she says she has experienced, although she did have to hire bodyguards from the age of 18. “I’ve had a few stalkers,” she says. One tried to kill himself outside her house. She says: “I realised how fanatical people could be. He was French, and in his letters, he said that I was his wife and he was going to kill himself if I didn’t come out and talk to him.” There was another man, she recalls, “who changed his name to Sam Fox, sold everything he had back home in America and stayed at a bed-and-breakfast around the corner from me, so he could watch me”.
She has seen her posters stuck on the ceilings above the bunks of a warship. She went to Lemmy’s house in 1985 to collaborate on a song and his walls were plastered with images of her. Did it make her feel uncomfortable that men all over the world were fantasising about her? “I used to think: ‘Wow, my god, my posters are everywhere,’” she says. “I think it’s fantastic.” Her parents vetted her fan mail when she was younger, to spare her the details.
In the book, she describes record signings that attracted uncontrollable crowds of men. “None of them wanted to grab me in the obvious places,” she says. “It was hysteria, just to get near me. Most of them would touch my hair. You’d see them all breaking windows, and risking their own lives, and I had to escape in helicopters off roofs. Sometimes I used to chuckle to myself and think: ‘I can’t believe what’s happening to me.’”
These days the fans are not all blokes. After a recent show in Russia, she recalls that a crowd were waiting in her hotel lobby. “This young girl, she must have been 23, said: ‘Samantha I love you, you’re so beautiful, I love your movies.’” She’d seen the 1995 Bollywood film Fox starred in, called Rock Dancer. “They’re all ages when you do retro shows,” she says, referring to the 80s-revival tours with Kim Wilde, Rick Astley, Bonnie Tyler and others, that are her stock in trade these days. “A lot of young people are into 80s music now,” she says. “It was an exciting time. The songs always had a story and the choruses were anthemic.”
In Britain, Fox struggled to be seen as a musician rather than a model. “At the beginning,” she says, “many people didn’t believe it was me on the record.” Her record label suggested she pose on a bed in the video for her first single, Touch Me (I Want Your Body). “Going forward,” she writes, “every single record label representative would suggest that exact scenario.” She had envisioned more of a Debbie Harry-style video, with her singing on stage, and that is what she did.
She learned to write songs while touring her first album (she is working on her seventh), and co-wrote the song Dreams, which appeared on All Saint’s William Orbit-produced album Saints & Sinners, released in 2000. Although they had agreed to split the writing credit, the band didn’t want Fox’s name on the record. Fox reluctantly agreed to use her mother’s maiden name. “I earned about £60,000 from the song,” she writes, “so maybe it was worth it after all.”
The saddest story involves her father’s betrayal. He was her manager from early on – a controlling character who increasingly spent more time drinking and taking cocaine than doing his job. “If Dad wanted me to sign something, I signed it. And if I wanted to buy anything, I had to ask him for money,” she writes. During her childhood, her mother kept a suitcase packed in case the arguments escalated and he became violent. Eventually, in 1991, he beat up his daughter, leaving her bleeding with a black eye. This gave her the resolve to sack him and take control of her business, only to discover he had been embezzling her money and hadn’t paid a scrap of tax on her behalf for three years. She sued him for £1m, but it all went on the tax bill and she had to start from scratch.
Years later, her father got back in touch, but he didn’t apologise. It turned out he had been offered a book deal for their story and wanted to be able to write that they had “found our way back to one another and put all that shit behind us”. They never spoke again, and he died in 2000. He was one of a number of men who sold stories about her over the years.
Fox had been attracted to women since childhood, but for many years felt confused about her sexuality. “I don’t think it’s until you meet the right person that you really know for sure,” she says. She certainly felt more at ease with women. “When I was with a woman,” she writes, “I didn’t have to step into the role of Samantha Fox, either in bed or in my everyday life. Being myself was enough.”
She was first introduced to her long-term partner, Myra Stratton, as a potential new manager in 1999, and they lived happily together until Stratton died of cancer in 2015. Having kept her previous relationships with women quiet, she says: “I was scared to come out. But then I thought: ‘I’m not a pinup any more … I can’t live a lie.’” The couple went on to appear on Celebrity Wife Swap together.
She was pleasantly surprised by the public’s reaction. “It was no big deal,” she says (although there was a stalker who threatened to kill Myra and break into their home). Coming out has politicised her a little, and she has joined forces with Ian McKellen, among others, to promote the Albert Kennedy Trust, which supports gay people who become homeless after being thrown out by their families.
During her Page 3 days, she writes: “It was probably the feminists who least appreciated what I was doing.” She recalls a female politician blaming Page 3 for a rise in rapes – an argument she thought “insane”, especially when “Glenda Jackson could be topless in a film and it would be seen as art”. Has her outlook become more feminist as she has got older? She nods cautiously. “I’ve always been a strong woman. And Myra was my manager – a woman in the male-dominated music business. She never took no shit from any man, and that made me stronger. I’ve never let anybody take advantage of me and I was never pushed into anything, or made to do anything I didn’t want to do.”
She wouldn’t advise women to go into the glamour industry now. “It used to be a proper job,” she says, “but it’s over now because of the internet.” She used to say that if she looked good at 50, she’d do Playboy again, “but there is no more Playboy, because young boys or anybody can go on their phone and look at anything they want to look at”. If she had a son, she says: “I’d rather him buy a tasteful glamour magazine than going on the internet.”
Credit: The Guardian