Eve Ferret is feeling nostalgic. We’re sitting in a small, independent coffee shop near her home in Pimlico as the cabaret artiste – who counts a film with David Bowie among her many credits – recalls her childhood. She indicates a pub just down the road. “My grandparents ran that,” she explains. “In the war my mum was evacuated to Pease Pottage. I’ve always felt a very strong link to Sussex.
“As a child my dad would drive us up to the coast in a soft top car. We’d usually break down, but if we got there we’d have fish and chips in the back seat. Sussex is special to me. Gawd, I can’t get away from it – I was even born on 14 Oct, which is Battle of Hastings Day.” She lets out a guffaw of laughter. “And it’s been a bloody battle ever since!”
I’ve known Ferret for a few years now, and in that time she has had enjoyed the kind of unexpected career renaissance that many performers dream of, but rarely achieve. No one is more surprised about this than Ferret – a naturally self-deprecating woman with an infectious sense of fun and mischief. Ferret first came to prominence in the 1980s, as a a hugely popular turn at Covent Garden’s notorious Blitz club, with her singing partner, Biddie. She immersed herself in the madcap, avant-garde Eighties scene, working alongside club legends and pop stars such as Boy George, Philip Salon, and Steve Strange. She was – even though she is too modest to admit it – one of the key players in creating the Eighties myth: that intoxicating, slightly dangerous mixture of hedonism and glamour. Ferret saw it all, and then in the 1990s, when her agent went bankrupt, quit it all.
It was acclaimed singer Barb Jungr who coaxed Ferret back into performing. Ferret was doubtful at first, but after successful gigs at London’s Royal Vauxhall Tavern, she has once more conquered the West End, with sold-out engagements at Piccadilly’s premier cabaret venue The Crazy Coqs and, most recently, a show at the St James Theatre.
“I was talking to Gary Kemp about the Eighties the other day,” she tells me, before immediately apologising: “I’m not name dropping, it’s just the way things were then – these were just people around town, people who would turn up.
“We were saying that neither of us really liked that term the ‘New Romantics’. I was still at the Blitz when that era came in. Punk, as far as I was concerned, was over and the defining moment for us was when Charles and Di got married in July 1981. That was the last night of the Blitz – almost like the last night of an era for us.”
It was shortly after this that Ferret met George O’Dowd in Carnaby Street. He told her that he was thinking of doing a record, but voiced doubts, unsure it would be a success. “‘Oh, you never know. Give it a go, George,’ I told him,” says Ferret. “And, of course, he went on to be the biggest star of them all.” But, Ferret quickly adds, “the thing with these people is that everyone thinks they’re unobtainable, but actually they’re very centred. We were all just people looking for the next party – and we still are. It didn’t feel pretentious or fake – it wasn’t.”
Ferret’s own career also took off, but as with so much in the Eighties, it was unplanned. She found herself in Jazzin’ for Blue Jean with David Bowie, Mr Majeika with Stanley Baxter, films including Absolute Beginners and Foreign Bodies, and numerous TV shows such as Blankety Blank and Give Us a Clue. Her joie de vivre and zany presence were a draw. These were, Ferret believes, “much naiver times.”
“With no internet or mobile phones we had to remember numbers. If you said you’d be somewhere, you just turned up. None of this Facebook malarkey.
“You could easily get hold of people. I used to phone up producers and introduce myself. I got through to the casting director of a Bond film and asked to play the baddie. They said I’d be wrong for it, but that they knew someone I should meet the next day…Gene Wilder.”
A short walk to Belgravia led to Ferret being cast in a Wilder movie. “Things like that happened all the time,” she explains. “The opportunities came along if you put yourself out there. It was mental.”
As part of Biddie and Eve, Ferret went on to tour with groups such as Blancmange, Classix Nouveaux and Theatre of Hate. “It was wonderful,” she recalls. “But it was also simple. We didn’t have a lot of money – much like the austerity today – but we made do. We’d grab a lift home on the back of a dust cart in the Strand the early hours. Can you imagine doing that today with all this health and safety nonsense?”
It’s precisely this sense of wide-eyed adventure that Ferret has incorporated into her new act. Clad in her signature peignoir, with her luscious red hair, Ferret’s a striking, larger-than-life figure (with a soaring voice to match), combining quick-fire wit with vibrant covers and self-penned numbers. How would she herself describe her style?
“An eclectic mix. I’m having a laugh, a bit of a cry and giving my point of view on life. Now that I’ve finally found my way of being I don’t want to slip back into make-do, so things are quite out there in the sense that I’m not just singing old standards with a nice frock on. I can do those and I love them but they’ve also been done by the best. I’ve started writing my own songs to tell the story of my life as it is now. The show’s like being at a party.”
That festival spirit – everyone laughing and being happy together – has always driven Ferret. It’s what takes her back to Hastings each year for the firework display on her birthday, Battle of Hastings Day.
“It’s such a magical occasion,” says Ferret. “And for me seeing the streets lit up with fire like that in the procession symbolises a kind of freedom. That, I think, was the essence of the Eighties that I was a part of – and at the heart of everything I still try to do.”
Eve Ferret, cabaret artiste and child of Punk, talks to Alex Hopkins about her memories of the Blitz club crowd and the rebirth of a very exciting cabaret career