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The Paul Rider Interview

On the 15th of July 1987, Smash Hits put Mel & Kim on their cover, and in the magazine’s hilariously irreverent style, the accompanying feature pictured the girls in everything from men's pyjamas and prim ladies' cardigans to the well-worn leather jackets of the British hard rock group Zodiac Mindwarp and the Love Reaction – all purportedly in their search for a new look. Shot by Paul Rider, whose portfolio includes the cream of the 80s and 90s music scene, the shoot was (one of, if not) the last professional session the sisters had together. A fact made especially poignant given that it is one of the few which truly captured their youth and their wicked sense of humour as much as their beauty. Here, Paul shares his favorite look from that day, alongside memories of a shoot he recalls as being long and chaotic, but still "great fun".

The idea of that day was ‘Mel & Kim trying to find a new look’, so the lead picture was to be of them looking like ‘Mel & Kim’, with their hats and their rather elaborate hair dos and perfect make-up. But then the other shots were all these really silly looks that were invented by a small committee of people from Smash Hits (mainly Chris Heath, Tom Hibbert and William Shaw). It was during the conceptual period of the magazine where everything was very ideas-heavy and there was a strong comedy element in everything that we did. The Smash Hits style was to slightly take the p*** and debunk things. It wasn’t enough to just turn up and look gorgeous. You had to be made a fool of or do something silly; nothing was taken terribly seriously. The girls were into Smash Hits and they were into the 'search for a new look' idea and thought it was funny. But initially, they were self-conscious about looking good. They loved the hair and make-up and they weren’t quite into the idea of just throwing these things on and off. They wanted to look good in all the outfits (laughs). But, as the process went on, they got into the idea that it was a bit of a p*** take and that it didn’t really matter.

We used a very little studio I had, which was in a basement in Poland Street, Soho, and it took a hell of a long time because the girls kept having to change outfits. But we had a lot of fun and it really was all just a bit of a laugh. We shot it backwards in the sense that the final image, where they’re in their ‘Mel & Kim’ finery, was shot first. That meant there was a lot of waiting around for hair and make-up, and the girls also spent a lot of time debating with the stylist about exactly what they were gonna wear in the pictures of them in their proper 'Mel & Kim' outfits. In fact, I remember that there was a bit of a disagreement about some aspect of their styling, and Kim had words with the stylist about it. She was definitely the more direct and the more business-minded of the two and she was also the one who asked more questions, whereas, Mel was just a bit more easy going, perhaps.

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We spent the most time shooting the lead look, and then we just mucked about with the other ones and had a lot of fun throwing things togetherAs I said, my studio was tiny. Nowadays, you'd have lots of space, and nice furniture... the seating area I had back then was basically a coal hole with a barreled ceiling (laughs). It wasn't very comfortable... and that made things quite difficult logistically. I mean, we had all the outfits, and then there was a load of people squeezed in there. There was a hairdresser, a hairdresser’s assistant, a make-up artist, a stylist and, I think, a publicist as well. Then there was a journalist, me and my assistant – plus Smash Hits’ own designer and stylist, Vicky. That’s quite a lot of people to cram into a very small basement (laughs). It was a bit chaotic!

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There was a lot of talk with the girls about what else we could do looks-wise, and Vicky was there sourcing the leather jackets and all that stuff; so these outfits were turning up during the course of the shoot. I mean, it was all thrown together at the last minute because it was Smash Hits. God, those leather jackets... we borrowed them off the band Zodiac Mindwarp and the Love Reaction (laughs). Remember them? When Zodiac wasn’t being ‘Zodiac’, he was actually a graphic designer called Mark Manning, and Vicky knew him, so he lent us their jackets for the afternoon. With Mel and that look, I remember Kim saying to me something like, ‘Don’t get her started, ‘cause she will actually do that. She actually likes that look’ (laughs). The bubble gum was Mel’s idea. I remember that we had to send out for that. There were lots of those sorts of jokes going on, and the hairdresser, Joe, who was an American guy, was really, really funny and very much a part of it all too. 

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The only thing that was actually really quite uncomfortable was that towards the end of that day, it was obvious that Mel was unwell… but she was a real trooper. We probably finished about 7 o’clock in the evening and I can remember the girls were both really very apologetic about her not carrying on, and William and I were saying, ‘No, no, no, don’t worry. We've got what we need. It’s fine. It’s brilliant’. Mel was just such a bouncy person. She was just great, but it was obvious that she was in real pain with her back. I don’t know what the stage of her diagnosis was at that time. It wasn’t anything that we talked about to any great extent or anything but, not very long after that, we all found out that she was really quite ill.

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Looking back, I think the key thing about that shoot was that it was classic Smash Hits, because it was funny and it didn’t take itself entirely seriously, but the ideas were really good. Also, when you watch the Mel & Kim videos - the way they dance and the way they interact with the camera - our shoot was a lot more like those videos than many of their other shoots where it was just them looking glamorous. To me, glamour can be a bit neutralising, particularly when you’ve got two people like that, because the thing about Mel & Kim was that they were so down to earth. I mean, the fact that Mel called everyone ‘mate’ - all the time! No sentence ended without ‘mate’ at the end (laughs), and I remember [the editor] kept all the ‘mate’-s in [the magazine feature]. That’s simply how she was, how she talked. They were both very warm, very friendly and… they were just ‘Mel & Kim’. Everybody at Smash Hits really loved them because they weren’t snooty and they were so willing to step out of the glamour bubble a bit, whereas that would just freak a lot of other people out. Photographing Mel & Kim was great fun. I like that shoot a lot.

A favourite ‘look’ from the day? Oh, I like the ones in the pyjamas. I think the pyjamas are really cool.

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