Spotlight on Gary Numan

Loving the alien

Back in 1979, when Gary Numan became a pop star, an 11-year-old girl, Gemma O'Neill, tearfully handed her idol an album to sign. Her father had managed to get her into the Virgin record company's London headquarters through his job as a security guard. More than 18 years later, on August 28 this year, O'Neill and Numan were married.

"It is a bit unusual," admits Numan, 39. "About eight or nine years ago, the fans got together in a big demonstration outside [London's] Radio One, which hasn't playlisted any of my records since 1983. I saw a photo the other day, and there she was in the front with a Gary Numan banner."

Numan concedes that he lost his way badly after songs such as 'Are Friends Electric?' and 'Cars' catapulted him into the spotlight. In 1981 he decided to quit touring, and a couple of years later he set up his own label - with disastrous results. "I was my own worst enemy in many ways. I nearly lost my house. I was over half a million pounds in debt, and I carried that for years. For a while there every single penny we earned went somewhere else, to this slimy horrible man."

It sounds like ideal fodder for a Numan song. Are the feelings of paranoia and alienation in his music a direct result of his personality? "As I've got older I've got better, but I was certainly like that when I was younger. I was very shy and I did feel alienated. I had terrible trouble at school. I had behavioural problems. One headmaster said I was the worst pupil he'd known in 21 years of teaching. I didn't want to be there. I wanted to get out and be a pop star."

With Foo Fighters recording his 'Down in the Park' for the Songs in the Key of X album, and now a double CD tribute, Random (Beggars Banquet/Shock, $29.50), in the shops, it seems the rehabilitation of Gary Numan is complete. "I'll be honest with you, it's one of the three proudest things that have ever happened to me," he says of Random. And the other two? "Getting to No. 1 was a major thing, and I've also become a leading air-display pilot. I fly World War II combat aeroplanes in formation aerobatics. I'm one of only two civilian instructors in Britain, so I'm really proud of that."