He used to top the charts. Now, Jane Austin finds out, Dave Stewart
According to the Daily Mirror, aliens visit Dave Stewart, the ex-
Eurythmics guitarist, in his sleep and inspire him to create wacky ads.
The piece quotes Stewart as saying: ‘The more creative I’m being, the
more powerful the visitations are. When I’m composing or dreaming up
ads, I’m often taken up in a spaceship and operated on by aliens.’
Consequently, it was with some trepidation that I picked up the phone to
call Stewart. ‘Is that Dave?’ I ventured gingerly as a man answered the
phone. ‘Yes, I’m eating my breakfast. Call me back in 14 minutes, or
between 14 to 16 minutes,’ the voice said. The accent, nasal and
northern, was reasonably normal. He eats breakfast, that’s reassuring -
nothing interplanetary or galactic about that. But what’s with this 14
minute thing? Why can’t he say 15 minutes like everyone else?
He can’t because he’s a multi-millionaire rock star, recognised the
world over. His wife, Siobhan Fahey, is a former member of Bananarama
and is now in Shakepears Sister. And he managed to drag along Jerry
Hall, Mick Jagger, Fahey, Bryan Ferry, Carrie Fisher, Marie Helvin and
Daryl Hall to a recent D&AD lecture he gave at Graham Fink’s behest.
Because now, Dave Stewart is a jobbing commercials director and
advertising photographer. The question is, what agency is going to hand
over its clients’ lucre so that Dave can shoot some arty film of his
The answer is quite a few. In the couple of years he has been
represented as a photographer by Lifeboat Matey, Stewart has shot stills
for Russell Athletic, Live TV, Greater Manchester Police, National
Lottery Instants and Sony. He recently composed, with Brian Eno, the
soundtrack for WCRS’s launch campaign for the third generation BMW 5
series. He got a bit of a slagging for his BT payphones venture with
Tony Kaye and Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO’s Tom Carty and Walter Campbell.
The ad was nominated as the Scam of ’95 in the Guardian, as the film
doubled as both pop promo and commercial. The ad used Stewart’s single
at the time, and showed him singing in a phone box surrounded by a
gaggle of semi-clad models draping themselves around BT phone boxes. The
promo version was two minutes longer than the ad and was shown on MTV at
the same time as the campaign broke in cinemas.
Stewart realises that being rich and famous has its drawbacks when
trying to get an ordinary advertising job. ‘Maybe I am just dabbling,’
Stewart says. ‘I could do what a lot of rich people do and hang out in
the Caribbean and crank out a crap album every year, but I prefer to try
other things and keep busy. My personality type is one that never stops
working. I’ve got hypermania. My mind never stops and I hardly get any
sleep. I have to keep on doing things. I’m driven by black humour and
What the man has got, which is so despised and misunderstood in dear old
Blighty, is drive, ambition and imagination. There is no denying that he
is eccentric and, in his time, has done too many drugs, but he is one of
the most talkative people I’ve ever interviewed.
Stewart claims that he has spent his life making funny little ads. ‘When
I was a kid, I shoved a cigar up my arse and filmed it. I used to tape
record the milkman or anyone else who came to the house, talking about
their day’s activities. I dislike sickly lifestyle ads like the Gold
Blend couple. I hate all this falseness at a time when most people are
working really hard and desperately trying to keep their relationships
together. Why hasn’t the amazing black sense of humour that is so
prevalent in British films translated to ads?
‘For me, the ideal script is a blank one. I’m realistic as I realise
that most agencies wouldn’t go for this. So, until then, I’ll carry on
with my films and ad ideas. I always carry a digital camera with me to
catch anything that takes my interest.
‘I’m currently working on a film called Honest and on a script with
Carrie Fisher about a nail salon called Nails. I made a series of test
commercials to show at my D&AD lecture. One showed an old Yorkshire
woman reminiscing about the fun she used to have in the past, when she
was a lesbian. Now, she likes to curl up with a cup of Cadbury’s cocoa
and remember the past,’ he recalls.
‘I think the Tango ads are funny, although they’re not really my kind of
humour. They’re like a quick line of coke - personally I prefer a
William Burroughs’ type of musical,’ he adds.
‘You know when you do the headline?’ he says, as we finish the
conversation. ‘Why don’t you call it ‘A man for no reasons’?’
It makes a change from ‘Aliens tell Wacky Dave he’s Elvis’.