Paul Heaton. A Drink With… Esquire 2001

words Dan Gennoe


Beautiful South singer Paul Heaton, is an unlikely popstar. He never wanted fame, riches or to sing, and formed his first band, the Housemartins with Norman Cook, to escape a tedious office job. 15 years of drinking and 8 million album sales later, the Beautiful South are releasing their second singles compilation, Solid Bronze- Great Hits. Hot off the train from Hull, Paul- now 38 and teetotal- took Esquire straight to his favourite London bar, The Mortimer, but declined the offer of a Coke.

ESQUIRE: What are you having?

PAUL HEATON: A Bitburger Drive. It’s the best alcohol-free beer you can get, which is why we’re here. I have a problem with drinking soft drinks in pubs. Picnics, they’re for soft drinks. 

ESQ: Why did you stop drinking?

PH: I really was a big boozer, and I was letting people down. I like birds of prey, and during my last drinking expedition, February last year, I decided to go to Spain and wait for the migrating birds to arrive. They weren’t due for another two months, but I was going to sit in a bar and wait anyway. I hadn’t told anyone I was going and after a week decided it wasn’t the best idea, and came back. When I got to Gatwick I downed a double whisky and decided to make it my last.

ESQ: Beautiful South drinking sessions are legendary, has it been hard to abstain?

PH: Not really. I spent twenty years finding out that it’s the pubs I like, not the drink. It was an expensive experiment.

ESQ: Just as well; most of your songs are based on people you’ve seen in the pub aren’t they?

PH: Yeah. I like to watch people and predict what sort of person they are. The whole package: whether they’re happy in their marriage, what sort of job they’ve got. I build up a picture of their life.

ESQ: Do you ever put yourself in songs?

PH: No, but they’re people I imagine I could be, which is why I find it easy to write about women. I can imagine what it would be like on the other side of an argument and what must piss women off about men. They’ve heard it all before, and I’ve said it all before.

ESQ: Your songs have a very sly sense of humour.

PH: If people analyse their own situations, they’d probably laugh at them. It all seems so accidental. The people we’ve met, the jobs we’ve done. We’ve gone into them with such vagueness, it’s almost comical. But my humour is probably why I don’t get taken seriously. People want to see their idol crying on stage, not burst out giggling. I want to be taken seriously, but I can’t help taking the piss out of myself. 

ESQ: You were born in Merseyside and lived in Sheffield and Surrey. So how did you come to call Hull home?

PH: I was 21, living in Surrey, but wanted to move back up North. I can’t remember why Hull. Me mate reckons I stuck a pin in the map. I didn’t like it at first, thought it was a bit too laid back. But when the band got going, it was good to go back to. I had my Sunday football team, my pub, my street and it seemed like a little utopia. I think that’s why popstars get married quickly. They’re looking for a constant.

ESQ: Do you still see Norman?

PH: He helped out on the last two albums, Quench and Painting It Red. But I don’t see him regularly. I text him a lot. But he’s one of these people who, if he walked in here now, he’d be straight away with the jokes and leg pulling.

ESQ: What about Jacqueline Abbot, have you spoken to her since she quit the band during your last American tour?

PH: No. She’s changed her numbers.

ESQ: Oh dear. What happened?

PH: You know, it’s one of life’s mysteries. It was a bolt from the blue. She just said that she was unhappy working with the band. I probably shouldn’t have said what I did though. I told her, ‘If you’re not happy you should go home’. I think she was hoping I’d beg her to stay, but I just didn’t want anyone to be unhappy.

ESQ: Her departure must have put an interesting spin on some of the male to female lyrics?

PH: Yeah, she went four hours before our New York gig. So me and our other singer Dave Rotheray sang Perfect 10 to each other and made it into a gay anthem. And we will continue to do so until we find a new female singer. 

ESQ: So this second greatest hits isn’t the end of the Beautiful South?

PH: No, but I don’t think we should have another. Next we’ll have to have Paul Heaton’s hits including the Housemartins, Beautiful South and Biscuit Boy my solo project. Sorry, I have to give the solo album a plug.

ESQ: Go on then, what’s it like?

PH: It’s called Fat Chance, and it’s good. I’m very proud of it. I’m not used to promoting myself, but it’s only sold about 3000 copies, so I’ve got to. It’s not exactly like the Beautiful South, it just sounds like me.

ESQ: Why release it under the name Biscuit Boy?

PH: Fear of failure. It’s a catch 22 really. I didn’t want it to fail with my name on it, but it failed because it didn’t have my name on it. 

ESQ: Apparently you’re writing a book too.

PH: Yeah. It’s pretty bizarre. It’s about a bloke who moves from New York to Bristol. I don’t want to reveal too much, but he’s not cleared his papers, so he can only get paid in cash and he doesn’t have a bank account, so he keeps his money in a guinea pig cage. Which means he has to pretend he’s got a guinea pig. Problem is, his land lady wants to see the guinea pig.

ESQ: Okay. So when’s that out?

PH: Well I don’t know if anyone will publish a story about, as she calls it, a Gerbil. [New York accent] ‘Do I look like the sort of guy who’d keep a fuckin’ gerbil? Do I?’ he keeps asking her. ‘What am I? Mr. Fuckin’ Gerbil?’.


Beautiful South’s ‘Solid Bronze- Great Hits’ (Mercury) and Biscuit Boy’s album Fat Chance (Mercury) are both out now.


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Dan Gennoe

Dan Gennoe is a London based freelance journalist & author. He's written features, interviews and reviews for the likes of Esquire, GQ, Arena, FHM, Q Magazine, Mojo, Red, Time Out, The Independent and The Mail On Sunday. Dan also writes books, both fiction and non-fiction, and has ghost written the odd celebrity biography.

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