Sunday, 14 June 2015

My top 5 Defining Moments of the 90s...

Let's take a moment to admire my crazy MS Paint skillz.

I was born in September 1982.  When the 90s dawned, I was 7.  I had white-blonde curls, big blue eyes and a deep love for Jason Donovan.  When the year 2000 came along, I was 17.  I was a scrawny thing with unmanageably curly hair, boobs I wished were bigger and a deep love for Richey Edwards from the Manic Street Preachers, because ONLY HE UNDERSTOOD ME, OKAY?!  

Or, to put it another way, I did most of my growing up in the 90s (and then a whole lot more growing up in the "noughties," because obviously 17 is not a grown up, however much you think it is at the time...).  Lately, there has been a bit of 90s nostalgia on TV and it's really made me appreciate the decade that has such a soft spot in my heart.

You see, I grew up in an era without Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Periscope or anything like that.  We didn't have mobile phones.  We didn't really even have the Internet in any big way.  We had Tamagotchis.  We had to wrap our school books in wallpaper or parcel paper for REASONS I NEVER FULLY UNDERSTOOD and we wore double denim with no sense of irony.  And we didn't entirely know what irony was, because Alanis Morissette used the word wrong in her song of the same name.  Which was ironic, don't ya think?

The nineties were a time of huge personal change, too.  By the end of the decade, I had no grandparents left, which was rubbish.  But we learn and grow from every negative experience in our lives and in spite of the terribly painful moments I went through, I still have an awful lot of love for the 90s as a general period in time.

Last night, I watched a TV show called The 90s: The Decade That Changed The World and that little bubble of nostalgia that I had been feeling, burst into a desperate longing for a TARDIS, just so I could go back and experience the joy of Take That's last single going to number one, again.  Sadly, I don't have a TARDIS.  But I do have a blog.  So here (in no particular order) are my personal top 5 defining moments of the 90s...


1. Musical Rivalry


Britpop happened in the 90s.  And frankly, that was so awesome that I could just end this blog here and tell you to go and search "Britpop classics" on YouTube and BASK IN THE GLORY.

Britpop caused me, as a girl of 12 or 13, to suddenly realise that there was more to music than just boybands.  It was a shock to my hormonal system (especially when I realised that Damon Albarn was just as beautiful looking as any boyband member...).  Suddenly, although I never gave up entirely on pop (and never will!), I thought of myself as liking "grown up music."  Blur, Sleeper, Pulp, Suede, Supergrass, Cast...  I even "discovered" the Manic Street Preachers for the first time in the mid 90s and they were a band that changed my whole life.

But music in the 90s was served up with a side-order of rivalry.  At the height of Britpop, you had to pick your side; Blur or Oasis.  I was - and am - Team Blur.  In a school where every boy in my class was very much Team Oasis and I was already being bullied, I didn't exactly help my case by wandering around, singing The Universal over and over to myself.  But in the spirit of Britpop, I also didn't give a flying fig.

Of course, I wasn't oblivious to Oasis' musical charms, either.  I was obsessed with Don't Look Back In Anger for a long time and it's still a song I absolutely love.  But had you asked me in the 90s, I'd have obviously told you that Liam Gallagher was a total nob and that Blur were far superior.  If you ask me now...  Actually, I think I might say the same... 

And it wasn't just Britpop where rivalry between bands was rife.  Even in the safe world of 90s boybands, magazines like Smash Hits were determined to make you pick a side:

In the 90s, all our boybands appeared exclusively in black and white...


Yes, if you were a teenage girl in the 90s, you were meant to pick between Take That - five handsome boys from Manchester and Boyzone - five handsome boys from Ireland.  YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND THE DIFFICULTIES WE FACED.

I was greedy, so I picked both, although Take That were by far my favourite.  The number of Take That posters on my walls far outweighed the Boyzone ones, even though I obsessively listened to both Nobody Else by Take That and Said And Done by Boyzone at an almost equal frequency.  One of my best friends at the time preferred Boyzone to Take That and so we had a friendly rivalry, in which one of us would explain why the other was so WRONG.  Despite the teen mags' efforts, I continued to love Take That and Boyzone, up until Take That split up and the teen mags declared that Boyzone had therefore won and I kind of felt like I had to hate them for a while out of loyalty to Take That.  There was logic in there, somewhere.  Anyway, my Boyzone hatred only lasted maybe a year or so, before I decided to "forgive" them again, much to my then-friend's relief. And of course, being hormonal teens, we had our favourites from each band.  She fancied Gary Barlow from Take That and Ronan Keating from Boyzone.  I was always into the little cute ones, so I was in love with Mark Owen from Take That and Stephen Gately from Boyzone.  Speaking of which...

...In 1999, Stephen Gately came out as gay.  It was one of the first times I'd had a crush on someone who turned out to be gay, but I didn't have a "broken heart" over it, as the papers suggested fans at the time would.  I was proud of him - hugely so - for being true to who he was.  No, what broke my heart was what happened ten years later, when Stephen died suddenly from a congenital heart defect.  he was just 33.  The press had a field day before the cause of death was known, claiming that his was a "troubling" death, involving drugs, alcohol and his sexuality.  It was no such thing.  It was just a tragic twist of fate.

Last night, I discovered that Stephen Gately had been afraid of the dark and didn't like sleeping alone.  When Boyzone went on tour, the other band members would take turns to sleep in Stephen's room so that he wouldn't be by himself.  On the night before his funeral, the rest of the band carried Stephen's coffin into the church where the service was to be held.  And then, with sleeping bags and pillows, they bedded down and slept on the church floor, so that for one last time, they could ensure that Stephen wasn't alone in the dark.

I JUST HAVE SOMETHING IN MY EYE...

Sleep soundly, Stephen.


2. "Football's Coming Home" (even though it didn't)...

I still pretty much idolise these guys.

Football passed me by for the first half of the 90s.  I knew Gazza had cried during Italia 90, but I just didn't get the nation's obsession with the "Beautiful Game."  Then Euro 96 happened.

I don't know quite what caused my obsession - maybe I should blame David Baddiel, Frank Skinner and The Lightning Seeds for creating quite probably the greatest football single ever, in Three Lions.  But whatever the reason, 13 year old me fell in love with football during Euro 96 and I've never really fallen back out.

Nowadays, we kind of expect England to do badly.  But back in the 90s, we had a pretty strong team and hope was high.  We had a genuine belief in the team that, sadly, is lacking today.

Euro 96 was going pretty well, too.  It was on home turf (that might be another reason I got so into it, actually) and the nation began to hold its breath, thinking maybe, maybe, this time it wouldn't all end in tears. 

Then we met Spain in the quarter finals.  It was a nail-biting game, which ended in penalties.  Any England supporter will be happy to give you a list of things they'd rather do than watch England in a penalty shoot-out and it will probably feature things like "stick pins in my own eyes" or "swallow razor blades."

That penalty shoot-out is etched in my memory for one reason.  And I can sum that reason up in two words:  STUART. PEARCE.

Pearce had been involved in England's losing penalty shoot-out during Italia 90, when the team had crashed out and missed their place in the World Cup final.  Stuart Pearce had taken one of those penalties and missed.  It wasn't just Gazza who famously cried as he left the pitch.

So, when Stuart Pearce stepped up to take a penalty in that Euro 96 quarter final, I can still vividly remember my dad holding his hands up over his eyes and shrieking: "OH NO!"

And then this happened...



He didn't just score.  He blasted that ball into the back of the net and the passion and relief etched all over his face in the moments afterwards brought tears to my eyes then and frankly, it still does now.  There was a man who embodied those three lions on his chest.  My fledgling love of football was galvanised in that moment and it's Stuart Pearce who remains my ultimate footballing hero.

Which of course made it all the more painful when we crashed out of the tournament in the semi finals.  On penalties.  Again.  This time it was Gareth Southgate whose miss sent England home and I still feel sorry for him, all these years later.  I cried myself to sleep that night and I still haven't forgiven Andreas Moller.

By the time the World Cup rolled around in 1998, I was cocky enough to consider myself to really know my stuff.  Confident enough to argue with boys at school as to who Glenn Hoddle would play upfront.

"Shearer and Owen," the boys insisted, as we skipped lessons and crammed into a lecture theatre to watch the team's first game of the tournament (we lived in an age where supporting the team in the World Cup was classed by our teachers as more important than school work, apparently).  "Micheal Owen is the kid everyone's talking about; he's going to play upfront with Shearer."

I sat and shook my head and told them: "Michael Owen is untested at this level.  Teddy Sherringham has a known partnership with Alan Shearer.  Hoddle won't risk putting a newbie upfront straight away.  He'll come on after half time."

In short, I was right and those boys were all wrong.  HA!

But all that paled into insignificance when our boys later met Argentina.  David Beckham kicked out like a petulant brat (and briefly became the most hated man in England) and got a red card for his troubles and we went out on penalties.  AGAIN.  And I cried myself to sleep.  AGAIN.



3. F*R*I*E*N*D*S

I had a pencil case with this image on the front.  It was my pride and joy.

Nowadays, we have about a zillion TV channels and dozens and dozens of sitcoms and drama series exported from America.  But in April 1995, we were sent a little comedy that had first aired the previous year in the USA.  That little comedy was called Friends and you probably know it as that show that's endlessly repeated on Sky.  But at the time, it was brand, spanking new and it's not hyperbole to say that it was an absolute game-changer in terms of television situation comedy.

In this modern era of Netflix and YouTube, anyone can watch pretty much anything at any time.  But back in 1995, when Rachel first crashed into Central Perk in her wedding dress, having jilted her fiance Barry at the alter, we had to watch live and wait a week before we knew what was going to happen next.

It may have been fiction, but the lives of these six singletons in New York City - Joey, Chandler, Ross, Monica, Phoebe and Rachel - took the UK by storm and you were nobody at school if you didn't have a favourite cast member and couldn't quote huge reams of the script off pat.

We genuinely yelled at the telly when Ross cheated on Rachel with the girl from the Xerox copy place (and then insisted that it didn't count, because they were "on a break").  We found ourselves feeling distinctly unpatriotic by loathing English Emily with a fiery passion.  We couldn't hear the words "so no one told you life was gonna be this way..." without instinctively clapping.  We actually toyed with using "how you doin'?" as a chat-up line. 


And this is still how I swear.


Friends laid the foundations for so many other comedies - on both sides of the Atlantic - that it would take the rest of the afternoon to list them all.  Suffice to say, if you have a show you're fond of, you can almost certainly thank Friends for paving the way.

Friends may have lasted beyond the 90s, but the early days of the show captured the decade almost better than anything else.  The fashions, the values... Just everything.  

I still can't watch the last episode without breaking down the second Rachel says "I got off the plane."



THERE IS SOMETHING IN MY EYE.  AGAIN.



4.  GIRL POWER!

I wanted platform trainers.  I did not GET platform trainers.  Knowing how clumsy I am, I think it's for the best.

There will be plenty of people reading this, thinking "The Spice Girls?  Really?!  Not Labour's historic landslide election victory in 1997?!"  

It's hard to explain why The Spice Girls are so important, but I'll give it a go.

I was almost 14 when Wannabe came out.  I was being horribly bullied at school, whilst fantasising about pretty male popstars who seemed much less threatening than the boys who treated me so appallingly on a daily basis.  I felt very isolated, living on a RAF housing base where there wasn't much to do to take my mind off the whole "being bullied so badly I was suicidal" thing.

Then along came five pretty normal girls who were telling the world that women could be anything they wanted to be and that friendship was just as important as romance.  For a hormonal teen who'd never had a boyfriend, it was quite literally music to my ears.

Pretty much all the girls I knew had a favourite Spice Girl, because they were packaged in such a way that there was a band member for everyone to identify with.  The sports mad girls championed Mel C.  The glamorous ones who spent their weekends testing the make up in Miss Selfridge were fans of Victoria.  The feisty girls got to pick between Geri and Mel B.  And then there was "Baby," Emma.  She had the same name as me, so obviously she was my favourite, but she was also the very girly, sweet one and I identified with her more than anyone else.

There was a sense of fun and friendship about The Spice Girls that seemed at odds with other girlbands of the time, who were more focused on being sultry and soulful.  The Spice Girls had hits that were effortlessly catchy and the "girl power" rhetoric just made you want to get involved, somehow.  They were a bit of escapism from the negative aspects of my life back then and on a broader scale, they paved the way for more girl groups to come along and be taken more seriously.  After all, The Spice Girls had sales figures that you just couldn't argue with and they proved that girlbands had every bit as much "pulling power" as Britpop rock groups or boybands did.  They changed the landscape of the music scene in terms of female artists in a lot of ways and they did it whilst being awesome.



5.  The Death of "The People's Princess."

The owner of the second most copied haircut of the 90s.

On Sunday August 31st 1997, I was having my usual lie-in.  It's a well-known fact that I don't like early mornings and it's rare for me to surface before 9am on a Sunday.  To use the Michael McIntyre line, if you wake a woman on a lie-in, it should only ever be because it's snowing, or because a major celebrity has died.

And so it was that on that day, my dad burst into my bedroom, with the words: "You will not believe who's died!"

I groaned, yawned, just about managed to lift my head a bit and mumbled: "Who?"

Dad replied: "Diana!"

I, being tired and grouchy, grumbled: "Which Diana?"  In hindsight, I don't know which other Diana he might have meant, but it seemed like an appropriate question at the time.

Dad simply emphasised: "The PRINCESS!"

I then sat bolt upright in bed and shouted: "You're lying!"  

Quite why my dad would feel the need to make up the death of "the people's princess" is beyond me, but I guess it was shock talking.  I just remember leaping from my bed and rushing into my parents' room, where my mum was sitting up with the radio on.

Now, I should highlight here that none of my family is exactly a royalist (well, except maybe my dad, with his RAF past and all that).  So the sight of me, mum, dad and my sister all sitting there on the bed, waiting for the news to come on is, in hindsight, almost morbidly comical.  I suppose none of us could really believe that someone who was, at that time, one of the most famous women in the world, had suddenly been killed in such awful circumstances, leaving behind two young sons, one of which was the future King of England.

The 9 o'clock news came on and it was preceded by the national anthem.  All these years later, I can still remember a chill running down my spine: it was true.

Whatever you thought of Diana herself, you'd have to have had a heart of stone not to be moved by the thought that she'd died so young and left her two sons motherless, especially when she seemed to have finally found some happiness in her life.  

What perhaps nobody expected was the nationwide outpouring of grief that followed.  The last time I'd ever seen so many flowers laid in tribute had been after the Hillsborough disaster.  Kensington Palace became a sea of floral memorials from people who simply felt that they had to do something.



There are people who talk about this outpouring of emotion as being mawkish and unnecessary.  And whilst I can understand where those people are coming from, I also think they're wrong.  I think it's very fitting that a woman who shamelessly wore her own heart on her sleeve and became famous not only for demonstrating affection to her sons in a very un-royal manner, but for touching the hands of AIDS sufferers at a time when the disease was still massively understood, should have caused a turnaround in the way we stiff-upper-lipped Brits demonstrate emotions, in the wake of her death.  In many ways, Diana's legacy was to teach us that it's actually not a good thing to hold in our emotions and that there's nothing wrong with letting it all out.  Indeed, it was our Queen's reluctance to display any emotional response to Diana's untimely passing - or even to talk publicly in the first few days after the accident - that almost caused the downfall of the monarchy entirely.  The British people were finally shedding that emotionless stereotype and we wanted to see our figurehead do the same.

When you look at the way Diana's sons (especially Harry) react to people now - the way they shake hands openly, laugh with people and speak passionately on topics they feel strongly about - it's clear to see that Diana's influence is still strong.  In a lot of ways, Diana, the woman who wanted to be thought of as "a Queen in people's hearts," managed to change the monarchy in a greater way after her death than she could ever have achieved in her short lifetime.




2.5billion people watched Diana's funeral, as it was broadcast around the world.  Elton John sang a new version of Candle In The Wind (which I went out and bought on cassette because of course I did) and Princes William and Harry walked behind their mother's coffin, bringing pretty much all of those 2.5billion people to tears.


Unless you had a heart of STONE.

I genuinely feel as though Diana's death kick started a more emotionally open age for Britain and in my eyes, being more open is no bad thing.  It was certainly a massively defining moment of the 90s.


So, that's my list.  I could go on and on, but well... Maybe I'll save some more for another time.  After all, I've not touched on the brilliance of 90s kids' TV (Byker Grove, Knightmare and The Girl From Tomorrow, to name just three pieces of fabulousness), the trend for party dances (which I still celebrate on every trip to Butlin's), or any of the incredible films that came out in the 90s.

Ah, the 90s.  The decade that shaped me more than any other.  Thank you.

















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