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.
Ondoner Alison, who had dropped out of school, soon found a teenage fantasy, touring the world, performing on top TV shows, strutting at fashion events and appearing on the covers of high-profile magazines.
Her album Boomania reached platinum status and she landed gongs at the British 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 label.
Sadly, it was around this time that Alison’s world fell apart when her beloved mother was diagnosed with cancer. The singer, who had lost her father a few years earlier, decided to give up music to take care of her mother.
As she drops a new single and prepares to hit the festival circuit this summer, Alison opens up about this dark time in her personal life as she chats with Magazine+.
I just wanted to be there for my mom,” she says of her decision to quit music. “I slept in the hospital and was with her the whole time until she sadly died. Then I had to take care of the rest of the family after she left. I had to take care of my grandmother because my mother’s sister, my grandmother’s other daughter, died shortly after, so we had this terrible tragedy in our family.
“It was really horrible for my grandmother to lose two daughters, so taking care of her was my priority then. I also had a younger brother to look after. It was my life. The music is not there. I didn’t even want to go in. I didn’t want to do it at all. We had to support each other. As anyone who’s been there knows, that’s what you have to do.
Alison was still in her mid-twenties at the time and she admits to feeling “confused” and “cursed” at the time. “My father died when I was 17,” she explains. “I was really confused about the whole thing. I thought ‘was it some kind of curse because I was successful? Maybe that’s what’s happening. You can’t be successful without all the terrible stuff as well.”
She had had a strong bond with her father and believes his death inspired her to realize her potential in life. “That could have pushed me to succeed,” Alison thought to herself. “There could be this thing of, ‘I’m going to prove myself, show him, I hope he looks at me.’ He bought me all my records and he played guitar…not professionally, he played the guitar really badly, and I used to sing with him sometimes He taught me sports…how to play cricket, billiards, billiards , ping-pong, all those things.
Looking back, Alison says she doesn’t regret turning down Madonna’s offer. “I couldn’t even think of doing stuff like that back then,” she explains. “I didn’t feel like a recording artist anymore. You have a tragedy and you just have to be there for everyone.
The pop idol then bought her grandmother an apartment near her home and cared for her until her death a few years later. “I just made sure Granny felt safe,” she says.
Alison laughs as she recalls how years earlier she wore her grandmother’s cardigan to an impromptu performance with American rappers Public Enemy after spotting them at 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 asked my grandmother, who looked after us, if I could borrow her vest,” she recalls. “So I was wearing my grandma’s cardigan that night – not exactly the best ‘look’.”
This chance encounter prompted an invitation to the United States, where Public Enemy’s Professor Griff produced Alison’s debut single, Give It A Rest, with her then band She Rockers.
“This 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 mom must have been so worried about me.
After her hiatus years later, it was Simon Cowell, then an unknown man from the A&R record company, who brought her back into the music business to mentor his new band, Girl Thing. She wrote a song called Pure And Simple for them – but it would later become a smash hit for Popstars Hear’Say winners.
Alison has also written songs for many big name artists including Rod Stewart, Paloma Faith and Girls Aloud, but during the lockdown she wrote a new batch for her alter ego Betty Boo, including her latest single, Get Me To The Weekend, which is available now.
“I’m going to be 52 on my next birthday,” adds Alison, who always looks gorgeous. “When you were younger, someone that age was like your grandparent – but today I don’t feel any different to when I started. Betty Boo is definitely back.