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Five Star: Making Rain or Shine was ‘an ordeal’, says Doris Pearson

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Five Star in 1986 (left-right): Delroy, Doris, Denise, Stedman and Lorraine Pearson

Pop group Five Star unexpectedly returned to the headlines over the last few weeks after a boy who swore at them on children’s TV in 1989 apologised for his outburst, only for the apology to be revealed as a hoax.

Coincidentally, the story cropped up as the band marked the 35th anniversary of their formation, which happened in a three-bed townhouse in Romford, Essex.

It’s a story of rags-to-riches-to-rags (depending on how much you trust the tabloids) that ends with the band back on their feet.

We spoke to Doris Pearson who, along with her siblings Denise, Lorraine, Delroy and Steadman, sold more than 15 million records in the 1980s.

They even became the first black group to win a Brit Award, in recognition of the four-times platinum album Silk and Steel.

But looking back, Doris says she only signed up for one reason: to meet Michael Jackson.

“I thought, I’ll either be an air hostess so I can get to travel to America, or I’ll be in the group. Either way I’ll definitely get to meet him,” she laughs.

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The band were portrayed as “young kids out of school who fans could relate to”, the singer says

The band were cast in the mould of the Jackson Five: a ten-legged singing-and-dancing sensation, with matching sequinned jumpsuits and a knack for pop harmonies.

Like their transatlantic counterparts, their career was masterminded by their father – Buster Pearson, a former session musician who had played with Otis Redding, Jimmy Cliff and Wilson Pickett.

Having seen the darker side of the industry, Buster initially resisted their entreaties to form a group “because we were all still in school”, Doris recalls. But the brothers and sisters rehearsed in secret until they felt confident enough to put on a showcase in the living room.

“It wasn’t serious until we really showed that we could handle a song, and not just mime,” says Doris.

Youngest sister Denise became the frontwoman (“she was always singing from when she was tiny, so it was natural”) while Doris took on the choreography and elder brother Steadman designed their ostentatious costumes. Legend has it that their shoulder pads grew so big, Five Star had to walk sideways down corridors.

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The band’s hits included Love Take Over, Find The Time and The Slightest Touch

Their first single, Problematic, was a weirdly upbeat song about struggling to find work in Margaret Thatcher’s Britain that won the band a slot on the BBC magazine show Pebble Mill At One. According to Buster Pearson, RCA Records called to offer Five Star a contract before they had even finished their performance.

But he kept the band independent, signing them to his own label, Tent Records, and licensing the recordings to RCA. It was a shrewd move.

“RCA wanted to pigeonhole us as an R&B group and my dad would not accept that,” Doris says. “Our music wasn’t defined by skin colour and he was very adamant that they understood that.”

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Doris Pearson / Tent Records

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“When we first started out, a lot of people thought we were American,” says Doris

Although their first few singles failed to make an impact, things turned around when Nick Martinelli of soul group Loose Ends took over production duties. All Fall Down became Five Star’s first top 20 hit in June 1985, just two days after Denise’s 17th birthday. In the video, she still had braces on her teeth.

Five Star’s debut album, Luxury of Life, eventually spawned seven singles. Unusually, the biggest one came last: System Addict, a cautionary tale about technological overload, peaked at number three, earning the group a silver disc.

To Doris, however, success wasn’t measured in chart positions or awards. “My perspective was just that I wanted my school friends to know. That was the huge deal to us,” she says.

School was put on hold as the band set off for a promotional tour of the US. There, Disney offered Five Star their own TV show – but Buster declined, prioritising the follow-up to Luxury of Life.

They hit the studio with a completely fresh batch of producers, with one exception: System Addict songwriter Bill Livesy, who had submitted a catchy ballad called Rain Or Shine.

“We had quite an ordeal recording that,” Doris recalls. “The vocal, especially the lead vocal, wasn’t happening. We tried a lot of things – moving around, taking the microphone out into the hallway – but I think it was just technique, she [Denise] was lacking at the time.

“It was tricky, but we got it done in the end. And they do say some of the trickiest ones are the ones that become a hit.”

Sure enough, Rain Or Shine became the band’s biggest-selling single, only held off number one by Madonna’s True Blue. The album, Silk and Steel, produced another five hit singles, and won Five Star the Brit Award for best group.

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The band celebrated their Brit Award win with mother Dolores and father Buster

Continued success allowed the family to move from Romford to a mansion in Sunningdale, Essex, where they installed a £2.5m recording studio, a fleet of expensive cars and a fan club operating out of the gatekeeper’s cottage.

Hits kept coming – Whenever You’re Ready, Strong As Steel, Rock My World – but the chart positions were slipping. By the time Eliot Fletcher phoned up Going Live to ask “Why are Five Star so crap?” they hadn’t been in the top 10 for two years.

“It was quite a shock,” says Doris. “We were just there, doing our work and all of a sudden things ground to a halt. You’d think, ‘For what reason? What’s changed?’

“We did our job and delivered. Whatever else was going on in the mix with record companies was just politics.”

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Doris Pearson

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The band’s lavish lifestyle made them a target for a tabloid takedown

Things didn’t improve. The band left their Sunningdale mansion amid tabloid reports that they’d gone bankrupt. Speaking on Terry Wogan’s chat show, they later denied losing all their money, explaining it was only the recording studio business that had gone under. After an underperforming greatest hits album, the band left RCA for Epic Records, and Doris took over as lead singer.

“That was down to the record company. It was a surprise for me. I was like, ‘Oh, OK! I’ll have a go!'”

But even the rejigged line-up didn’t help. Despite two decent singles, the funky drummer-sampling Treat Me Like A Lady and the flirtatious Hot Love (both written by Doris), the group’s fifth album failed to chart.

Their fortunes hit an all-time low when Stedman was fined for public indecency in 1991. Afterwards, the group relocated to the US and released a few more albums. But, ultimately, their recording career was over.

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Doris Pearson

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Meeting the Queen at the 1987 Royal Variety Performance is one of the band’s most treasured memories

These days, Doris has a career as a songwriter, working with Spandau Ballet’s Tony Hadley among others. Denise has performed in the West End in Thriller Live, while Delroy is record producer in LA. They periodically reunite to play the nostalgia circuit and, although Doris isn’t part of Five Star’s current touring line-up, she doesn’t rule out a fully-fledged reunion.

“It’s always a consideration. When everything’s aligned, it’s going to go ‘boom’ and it’s going to happen.”

But most importantly – did she get to meet Michael Jackson?

“Yes! What a gorgeous man!” laughs the singer, who was flown to Sweden to watch Jackson’s Bad tour. Not that their meeting went well.

“I was so rubbish,” she cringes. “All I said was, ‘I thought you were taller!’

“When he left, all I could think was ‘Why did you say that?!”

Five Star’s greatest hits compilation Five Star Gold is out now.

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YouTube star Nikki Lilly to be given BAFTA Special Award

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YouTube star and charity campaigner, Nikki Lilly, 15, will soon become the youngest ever recipient of the BAFTA Special Award.

Nikki will be honoured for her work in raising awareness of social isues, and being a positive influence on young people through her honest vlog posts about life, music and make-up.

Nikki Lilly has AVM – or arteriovenous malformation. It is a very rare medical condition which causes arteries and veins in her face to swell, sometimes causing life-threatening nose bleeds.



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Emilia Clarke and Emma Thompson on Last Christmas and reading reviews

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Emilia ClarkeImage copyright
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Clarke with a less controversial coffee cup than the one she appeared with in Game of Thrones

One thing we definitely aren’t going to do in this article is give away any spoilers about Last Christmas. Apart from anything else, we’re quite scared of Dame Emma Thompson.

“The correct spoiler etiquette is: don’t spoil it!” the actress and writer tells BBC News after a week of critics’ reviews that have revealed the ending.

“It’s easy isn’t it? It’s like ‘don’t punch strangers’. Just don’t spoil it. Easy. Easy rule. Not complex.”

Luckily, Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke, who plays the lead character Kate in the movie, has plenty of experience in keeping plot lines secret.

“I’ve never done a job that didn’t involve a spoiler,” she points out. “Literally, there is no job I’ve done. And some of them are bigger than others. But with this particular twist, there are ways about talking about our characters and the premise without going anywhere near it.”

One thing that definitely isn’t a secret is that the movie is based on the music of George Michael. His (and Wham’s) best-known songs make up the soundtrack, and in a few cases are sung by the characters.

Arguably, the most recent Christmas-themed movie to have become an annual audience favourite is 2003’s Love Actually – which also starred Dame Emma. But she says trying to make the next great festive film “wasn’t her prime motivation” for co-writing Last Christmas.

“Love Actually, of course, was made by one of my best mates,” she says, referring to writer-director Richard Curtis. “And I’m so happy that people are still fond of it. So we certainly weren’t thinking we were in competition with anything. I just wanted to try to make a good film, which has Christmas in it. And a bit of love, a bit of drama, and just everything we could throw at it.”

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George Michael died on Christmas Day 2016 at his home in Oxfordshire

Some reviews so far have been positive. The Mirror gave it five stars, while The Wrap said it “provides enough of a warm, fuzzy glow to light up a bleak midwinter”.

It’s fair to say, however, that many critics have been less enthusiastic.

“Last Christmas is the worst festive film I have ever seen,” wrote Dan Wootton in The Sun. “It’s a woke, remoaning, overly politically correct mess of a movie that manages to suck every inch of fun, joy and togetherness out of the season where we should be jolly.”

‘We couldn’t avoid Brexit’

His comments refer to the film’s Brexit references, along with fact the central family are immigrants. Dame Emma’s character (Kate’s mother) comments that the EU referendum result makes her feel unwelcome, while one scene on a London bus shows someone telling off passengers who aren’t speaking English.

But Dame Emma argues: “I think [the political references] are very lightly brushed in. Because our main character is the daughter of immigrants, it would be very difficult to tell this story without mentioning, at least, the fear that people have who are immigrants with Brexit.

“Because it’s set in a very particular time as well, it’s set in 2016, we couldn’t avoid it. Having it not there would’ve been slightly psychotic. And I think what’s more important about what’s under the fun of the movie is a message about kindness.”

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As well as co-writing the film, Dame Emma Thompson plays Kate’s mother

Clarke has her own policy when it comes to reading reviews. “I don’t look at them at all. It’s partly drama school training, and then you do a bit of theatre, and it’s just not helpful,” she says.

“The way I see it, right, is that I stopped Googling myself within a year of Game of Thrones happening. Because I was like, ‘I don’t need to know what people think about the size of my bottom, thank you so much.’

“And then when you stop Googling yourself, you then stop reading reviews. If someone says something really good, if you get a 15 million-star review, someone will tell you, and if you get a ‘one-star coal in the rectum’, someone’s going to tell you!” She laughs while glaring at her co-star Henry Golding.

(She’s referring to the rather graphic way Rolling Stone described the experience of watching the film, which Clarke says Golding drew to her attention “right before we stepped on live TV!”)

George Michael’s ‘poetry’

Last Christmas is the latest in a string of movies that have been based on the back catalogues of a particular musical act. Queen, Bruce Springsteen and Elton John have all had the Hollywood treatment recently. “Maybe Mamma Mia put that idea on the map,” Dame Emma says.

Golding, who is best known for starring in Crazy Rich Asians, says the benefit of such films is that they “spark joy, memory, nostalgia”.

“Especially with Freddie Mercury and Elton John,” he continues. “It’s music we all grew up with, and to see what was actually happening, a glimpse of their biography, it kind of invigorates us, and makes us fall in love with that artist over and over again.

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Universal

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Crazy Rich Asians star Henry Golding stars in Last Christmas alongside Clarke

“And hopefully that’s what happens with George, and a broader market gets to listen to George for the first time, which I think is going to happen.”

Dame Emma met Michael before his death in 2016. The singer gave the movie is blessing, and his family and management have been involved in the production since, even gifting a previously unheard recording to the soundtrack.

“The songs just kind of slid in naturally,” Dame Emma says. “I didn’t realise how his poetry describes so much of the acts of self-care and kindness that this film really speaks about.”

The fact that Dame Emma, along with husband Greg Wise, co-wrote the film’s screenplay meant she could personally monitor how the movie was taking shape.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who both wrote and starred in Fleabag, was known for rewriting scenes while shooting. Was that a luxury Dame Emma enjoyed as well?

“Deffo. Absolutely,” she says. “You go, ‘Oh I don’t think that’s quite right’. Or, ‘That could be funnier’. And then we make stuff up as we go. We riff a bit. So yes, it’s useful to be on set, because if someone says, ‘Oh that doesn’t really work’, you can think about something else.”

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HBO

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A disposable coffee cup appeared on the table next to Clarke in Game of Thrones

This is our first interview with Dame Emma since she personally phoned the manager of Mayfair restaurant Brown’s to ask them to reinstate a waiter who was sacked for asking for a selfie with her. Has she heard whether he eventually got his job back?

“Oh yes, of course he did!” she replies. “Taking a selfie is not a sacking offence. I mean, well done Brown’s for bringing it up. But the selfie thing is something we all need to talk about and think about a little bit, face-to-face.”

Coffee cup culprit

We also have one final question for Clarke before we go, regarding the Game of Thrones coffee cup saga, which has been rumbling on for several months.

After the continuity error in the eighth season, Clarke revealed her co-star Conleth Hill had privately confessed he was the one responsible for leaving it in shot.

The day before our interview, however, he jokingly told Sunday Brunch that his guilt could not be proved.

“THAT LITTLE CHEEKY… NO!” Clarke explodes while we’re only a few words into the question. “STOP! I’m not having it!”

He has, we try to continue through the laughter, playfully threatened legal action against Clarke for dobbing him in. Has she heard from his lawyer?

“No I haven’t heard from his lawyer, he’s going to hear from mine in a minute though!” she laughs.

And with that, we wrap up, wishing Clarke and Golding well with that evening’s premiere.

“Thank you,” Clarke smiles, before adding: “Let us know if Rolling Stone are going to be there…”

Last Christmas is released on Friday.

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Leonardo da Vinci goes ‘immersive’ at London’s National Gallery

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London’s National Gallery is running a digital show of Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, The Virgin of the Rocks.

The show is an “immersive” exhibition that allows visitors to walk through multi-sensory rooms and explore different aspects of the painting.

This exhibition is a commemoration of the 500th anniversary of da Vinci’s death.



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