Clare Grogan: How The Change made me realise I needed to be heard

Claire Grogan of Altered Images performs during Day 3 of Cornbury Festival in July 2022

Claire Grogan of Altered Images performs during Day 3 of Cornbury Festival in July 2022 (Image: Getty)

Forty-four years after driving from Glasgow to London in a Transit van as a fresh-faced 16-year-old to record a John Peel session for Radio One, Clare Grogan has lost little of her impish Scottish spirit. And judging by her infectious excitement over the imminent release of Altered Images’ first album of new music since 1983, neither has her creative appetite dimmed.

That spark turned her into a pop star in the early 80s, whilst earning her a place in movie history with her unforgettable performance in the iconic coming of age film Gregory’s Girl in 1981.

“I might have just turned 60 but for me what’s really important is not being viewed as an age but as a person,” says Clare, who enjoyed six top 40 hits – including Happy Birthday and I Could Be Happy – and three top 20 albums.

“But, having said that, it does feel very different releasing this record than the last one, Bite, all those years ago. I feel much more in control this time.”

Even today, when stars are expected to have so-called “portfolio careers”, it’s incredible to recall quite how much she crammed in before she even turned 20.

“I will never quite understand how the summer I left school I ended up making Gregory’s Girl and getting signed for a record deal. It’s kind of gobsmacking,” she admits.

“I look back and think, ‘How did that happen?’ Gregory’s Girl is such a gift to have in my life.”

All these years on, her energy seems undiminished. “I feel a lot more confident about what I’ve done,” she says. “I have absolutely made this record on my own terms with people I love and I know it might sound a bit corny, but I love the result.”

Unlike Altered Images’ previous releases, the new album Mascara Streakz – named after Clare’s propensity to burst into tears at the drop of a hat – is very much a north London creation, concocted from her Crouch End kitchen table with the help of former bandmate Stephen Lironi, who is also her husband of 28 years, ex-Suede guitarist and songwriter Bernard Butler and Bluebells founder Robert Hodgens.

“Although I’m a more confident person now, which comes with age and maturity, this album is incredibly personal so I’m as terrified of putting this one out as I was the last time,” says Clare.

“I had that fearlessness of youth the first time round but I think I learnt early that I am quite thin-skinned.

“There’s something quite similar about being a teenager and reaching the menopause because you’re pretty crazy and everything becomes a bit more intense.”

Clare knows a bit about that, having spent lockdown with her husband and their adopted daughter Ellie, now 17.

She admits that with all the fluctuating hormone levels it was a bit of a challenge for Stephen.

“You have this feeling of being right,” she says, “so with me and a teenager in the house, my husband had a lot of fun!

“But it’s just energy. You almost lose the ability to edit yourself and creatively that’s quite interesting.

“In the same way a teenager needs to be heard, I suddenly felt I really needed to be heard. I just felt allowed to say what I really thought and to be a bit bolder about it.”

Following Altered Images’ original split in 1983, Clare carved out a successful acting career, with roles in Red Dwarf, Father Ted and EastEnders – including a love scene with Ian Beale.

Claire Grogan in 1982

Claire in 1982 (Image: TV Times/Getty)

She also popped up on Skins andWaterloo Road and will be back on cinema screens again this September in an Alan Cumming movie called My Old School.

Always an on-stage extrovert, lockdown brought home to her how much she craves the thrill of live performance. “I love being on stage on a level that really surprised me when it got taken away,” she says.

“After bingeing on crisps and wine like the rest of the country, by the second lockdown I needed to do something constructive and focusing on the album really helped me through that.

“Did I become an unbearable show off at home? Not really, but my goodness such a big part of me is standing on a stage having lots of people look at me and liking it.

“That feeling of connection is overwhelming. I very rarely get through a show without crying, just feeling you’re in a moment with people.

“It makes me feel that everyone in the room, we are all genuinely in it together. I love being the cheerleader of that.”

Clare is also a big cheerleader for her daughter Ellie, who she and Stephen adopted in 2004 after an emotionally draining decade of six miscarriages and four failed IVF attempts. “Why did I not give up?” ponders Clare. “Where did I get that drive? I just honestly couldn’t accept that it wasn’t going to be my story.

“Even in those earlyAltered Images days I talked about wanting to be a mum. It was there from the word go and it was always going to be a part of me.”

After two years of gruelling adoption interviews, meetings and background checks, Ellie eventually arrived and is clearly the apple of her mother’s eye.

“I became a mum for the first time at 43, which was an absolute joy for me,” says Clare. “But parenting is definitely the toughest gig. Having a lot more life experience has really helped but being a product of great parenting has been invaluable.” She lost her father – who was 93 and suffering from dementia – just before the pandemic, 13 years after her mother died prematurely from a bug caught in hospital in 2007.

And unlike her own parents, who reluctantly allowed their adventurous daughter to spread her wings, Clare admits that she’s struggling to let go of the apron strings.

“I didn’t suspect that I would be quite so worried all the time,” she says.

“I’ve just got this absolutely overwhelming desire to protect her, which is probably a bit unbearable for Ellie sometimes, but I just can’t help it.

“The worry thing has taken me by surprise a bit because I’m well aware she’s going to be 18 in December so of course she’s absolutely entitled to her freedom and to go out and have a good time but it’s easy to forget what we were like, so I do have to remind myself to get off her case.”

By Clare’s side from those early Transit van journeys, right through to their shared teenage daughter angst, is her husband Stephen, with whom she co-wrote one of Altered Images’ biggest hits Don’t Talk To Me About Love.

But love at first sight, it definitely wasn’t. “If anyone had said to me at that point, ‘You’re going to end up married to this man and be with him for the next 35 years’, I’d have been like, ‘What’? I’d love to say that w sp cas writing that song together lit a spark between us but that’s not the case. We actually only became closer when the band split up. “Where I fly off the handle, Stephen is very different. He always takes a breath, but it definitely works.”

If life wasn’t busy enough, Clare and Stephen are restaurateurs, too. They own Bar Esteban in Crouch End and Escocesa in Stoke Newington, both north London, and their third, Moresco, is due to open in September in Soho, central London.

“They’re a mix of Spanish and Scottish dishes, so sort of Scottish tapas,” admits Clare.

“We do haggis croquettes on Burns night, but I have to admit I’m not that hands on, except for the eating and drinking aspect, which I’m very hands on at. They’re very much Stephen’s thing.”

Clare also promises to be hands on – and infinitely quicker – when it comes to releasing the next album.

“I know if I wait as long to release the next one as I did to release this one, I’ll be getting a telegram from King William, but I’m definitely not going to wait that long,” she laughs.

“I’ve got a two-album deal and I’m already starting to think about what comes next.

“I just want to go for it and make sure I have no regrets.”

Mascara Streakz by Altered Images is released on Cooking Vinyl on August 26

The truth about True

It is a defining song of the 80s. And True by Spandau Ballet was written by Gary Kemp about Clare Grogan, she laughingly confirms.

“That’s just the kind of inspirational person I am,” she smiles, tongue firmly in cheek.

“I sort of feel like this is Gary’s story to tell and feel slightly embarrassed about it. When it comes on the radio, I tend to laugh but we were once good friends back in the Eighties. Altered Images used to hang out with Spandau Ballet – we used to play five a side with et them and other groups like Wham and The Bluebells when they came to perform in Glasgow – and we used to hang out a lot.

“When the song came out, I didn’t know it was actually written about me, but I used to joke to my friends that it was.

“I’d flag up the fact that Gary and I were friends at the time it came out, but I honestly said it as a joke.

“Then, when Gary published his autobiography I Know This Much, is a line from True – he talked it and I realised that it actually True. It’s actually very touching. lovely that someone wanted to that for me.”