An Interview with Clare Grogan about Gregory’s Girl
By Rachael Popow
Settling down at Junction in Goole to watch a special screening of the teen romance Gregory’s Girl, it’s clear that most of the capacity crowd have seen it many times – for a start, a lot of us are laughing before the jokes in anticipation.
Perhaps the only person who might not know director Bill Forsyth’s much-loved 1981 comedy off by heart is the woman who’s come here tonight to talk about it, actress and Altered Images singer Clare Grogan. During a Q&A with Radio Humberside’s David ‘Burnsy’ Burns as part of the East Riding Film Festival, Grogan, who played Susan in the film, admits that she only saw Gregory’s Girl for the first time in 2015.
She says: “The British Film Institute [BFI] included it in their ‘Love’ season – people do really view it as a romantic film, although because we were just giggling all the way through making it, we didn’t view it that way at the time. They asked [co-stars] John Gordon Sinclair, Dee Hepburn and myself to be part of that evening.
“I’d never seen the film before – I’d been invited to lots of screenings, I went to the premiere, I’ve publicised it all my life, but I’d never actually sat down and watched the whole film. I made the decision that the BFI screening would be a really great way to introduce it to my daughter.”
“I was really surprised by it”
Luckily, Grogan enjoyed it. “For mine and Gordon’s kids – not Dee’s as they’re a bit older – it was the first time they’d seen it, and the first time I’d seen it in its entirety, and it was the most lovely evening, it was honestly very special. What was most fun was seeing the kids’ reaction to Gordon and I kissing!”
But she also loved the film itself. “I was really surprised by it. There are bits that make you think ‘you wouldn’t get away with that now’, but it’s so affectionate. For me, there’s just something universally joyous about it.”
Of course, Grogan couldn’t have known when she was making the film as a 17-year-old that the BFI would one day hail it not just as a fine romance, but also put it at number 30 in its list of the greatest British films of all time. In fact, when Forsyth first approached her about appearing in the film, she suspected the production wasn’t entirely above board.
She recalls: “I used to have this part-time job at a restaurant in Glasgow called the Spaghetti Factory, and Bill Forsyth used to come in quite often, although I didn’t know who he was. One night as he was leaving, he said to me: ‘I’m going to make a film this summer and I’d really like you to be in it, can I have your number?’ And I of course said ‘No you can’t.’ He said ‘But how will I contact you?’ and I said ‘Well, you know where I work.’”
“This film has really travelled”
She laughs: “In my head I was thinking ‘What’s he talking about? I’ll get to his house and he’ll be standing in his pants with a camcorder.’ But he wasn’t like that. He got in touch with the manager of the restaurant, who was was bit older than me, and she said: ‘You know Clare, he really is a film director’ so we met and talked and he was lovely.”
Grogan admits her role in the low-budget production didn’t set her up for life financially – her contract was for £99 a week on what turned out to be a six-week shoot. (“I felt loaded! It was the 1980s.”) However, it did help to establish her as a rising star, and win her fans around the world.
“It wasn’t just a hit here, it was actually really loved in other countries as well. Sometimes, someone would tap me on the shoulder in Australia or New York or Japan and ask me ‘Are you the girl from Gregory’s Girl?’ And at those moments, I’d think ‘This film has really travelled.’”
And even now, she still gets requests to recreate the famous scenes of her and Sinclair dancing while lying down in a park – although she does politely laugh off a suggestion from the audience that she could restage it on the fake grass Junction has laid out in homage to the football-themed film.
“I’ve had amazing adventures”
“People really love that scene – I go to weddings and honestly even funerals and people are like ‘Can we just take a picture of us dancing on the ground?’”
But of course, Gregory’s Girl is far from being her only claim to fame. She’s also had a string of hits with the band Altered Images, acted in Red Dwarf and EastEnders, and written a children’s book. She’s still busy now – less than a week after her appearance at Goole Junction, she’s heading out on her first tour in 13 years alongside Midge Ure and The Christians, and she also hosts a radio show.
It seems we may have John Peel to thank for her diverse career. Grogan becomes visibly emotional when asked about how it felt to be championed by the legendary DJ during the early days of Altered Images, and recalls some of his words of wisdom. “I remember John Peel saying to me when I was really young ‘If people want you, go’. And I just always thought that was a nice way of doing it – if the demand is there, turn up – and I’ve lived by that. And although I never set out to become a presenter or write books, I’ve had amazing adventures because of it.”
“Amazing calling card”
As a member of the audience points out, she can also add muse to her impressive CV after Gary Kemp revealed that she was the inspiration for the Spandau Ballet song, ‘True’.
Grogan says: “Gary Kemp and I were very good friends back in the 1980s, but I never knew he’d written ‘True’ about me – it came out when Gary wrote a book and he talks about it. Before I knew, I used to try to wind my husband up a little bit by going ‘I might have inspired one of the greatest love songs ever and you’re treating me like this?’ And now it’s kind of spoilt the joke, I’m honestly a little embarrassed by it.”
But luckily, she has no such qualms about Gregory’s Girl, which she still clearly views with a great deal of affection. “It’s given me this amazing calling card, that has really helped me stay in this business, so I’ll always be happy to talk about it.”
And if the reaction at Junction is anything to go by, there will always be people who are happy to hear her.
With thanks to Junction Goole for facilitating this interview