Redoin' the do | 

Alison Clarkson reveals how tragedy halted music career but now Betty Boo is back

"The music just didn’t even come into it. I didn’t want to do it at all. We had to support each other. As anyone who has gone through that would know, it’s what you have to do.”
Singer/songwriter Alison Clarkson

Singer/songwriter Alison Clarkson

Eddie Rowley

IN the 1990s, Alison Clarkson became a pop-rap sensation with hits such as Doin’ The Do and a larger than life alter ego known as Betty Boo.

Londoner Alison, who had dropped out of school, was soon enjoying a teenage fantasy, jet-setting around the world, performing on top TV shows, strutting her stuff at fashion events and gracing the covers of prestigious magazines.

Her Boomania album hit platinum status and she picked up gongs at the Brits and our own IRMA awards.

The ‘Queen of Pop’ herself, Madonna, became a huge fan and came calling with an offer for Betty Boo to join her new record label.

Sadly, it was around this time that Alison’s world collapsed when her beloved mother was diagnosed with cancer.

The singer, who had lost her father only a few years earlier, decided to drop out of music to care for her mum.

Alison Clarkson during her Betty Boo heyday in the 1990s

Alison Clarkson during her Betty Boo heyday in the 1990s

As she releases a new single and gets set to hit the festival circuit this summer, Alison opens up about that dark period in her personal life as she chats with Magazine+.

"I just wanted to be there for my mum,” she says of her decision to quit music. “I slept in the hospital and I was with her all the time until she, sadly, died. Then I had to look after the rest of the family after she’d gone.

"I had to look after my granny because my mother’s sister, Granny’s other daughter, died shortly after that. So we had this terrible tragedy in our family.

“It was really awful for my granny losing two daughters, so looking after her was then my priority. I also had a younger brother to look out for. That was my life. The music just didn’t even come into it. I didn’t want to do it at all. We had to support each other. As anyone who has gone through that would know, it’s what you have to do.”

Alison was then still in her mid-20s, and she admits to feeling “confused” and “cursed” at the time.

“My dad had died when I was 17,” she explains. “I was really confused about it all. I thought ‘was it some kind of curse because I had success? Maybe this is what happens. You can’t have success without all the terrible things as well.’”

She’d had a strong bond with her father and believes his death spurred her on to achieve her potential in life. “It could have pushed me to be successful,” Alison reflects.

“There could be that thing of, ‘I’m going to prove myself, show him, I hope he’s watching me.’

"He had bought me all my records and he used to play the guitar…not professionally, just play the guitar really badly, and I used to sing along with him sometimes. He used to teach me sport…how to play cricket, snooker, pool, ping-pong, all those things.”

Looking back, Alison says she has no regrets about turning down Madonna’s offer. “I just couldn’t even think about doing stuff like that at the time,” she explains. “I just didn’t feel like a recording artist anymore. You have a tragedy and you just have to be there for everybody.”

The pop idol then then bought her grandmother a flat close to where she lived, and looked after her until she died a few years later. “I just made sure that Granny felt safe,” she says.

Alison laughs as she recalls how years earlier she’d been wearing her grandmother’s cardigan during an impromptu performance with American rappers Public Enemy after spotting them in a local McDonald’s when she was 17. The encounter was filmed and can be seen today on YouTube today.

“I was 17, I had a cold and I had asked my granny, who was looking after us, if I could borrow her cardigan,” she recalls. “So I was wearing my granny’s cardigan that night - not exactly the best ‘look’.”

That chance meeting prompted an invitation to the US, where Public Enemy’s Professor Griff produced Alison’s debut single, Give It A Rest, with her then group She Rockers.

“That trip was an apprenticeship,” she says. “I left my A-Levels, went to New York and toured with Public Enemy. We were really young and completely fearless. My mum must have worried so much about me.”

After her time out years later, it was Simon Cowell, then an unknown record company A&R man, who brought her back into the music business to mentor his new group, Girl Thing.

She wrote a song called Pure And Simple for them – but it would later become a smash hit for Popstars’ winners Hear’Say.

Alison has also written songs for many top artists including Rod Stewart, Paloma Faith and Girls Aloud, but during lockdown she wrote a new batch for her alter ego Betty Boo, including her latest single, Get Me To The Weekend, which is out now.

“I’m going to be 52 on my next birthday,” adds Alison, who still looks stunning. “When you were younger someone that age was like your grandparent – but today I don’t feel any different to when I was starting out. Betty Boo is definitely back.”

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