“Take a look around / At what technology has found / Is it what we need? / Or are we killing the seed? / Dictated by the screen / No more following your dreams / The world's become a difficult place to be
Do do do do do / Do do do do do / Do do do do do / This is Insania.”
So sang Peter Andre on his 2004 single ‘Insania’.
I worked as a music video commissioner at Atlantic Records U.K. between 2004 and 2010. My first assignment in my first week working at the label was to commission the video for the aforementioned ‘Insania’.
Peter was riding high at the time. He had just placed third on ITV’s hit reality show ‘I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here’. The nation fell in love with him during those two steamy weeks in the jungle as he battled witchetty grubs and burrowing cockroaches while encased in a glass sarcophagus for one of the many Bushtucker Trials and as he fell in love with his future wife, the tabloid darling Katie Price. His simple, innocent, everyman charm and good grace in the face of humiliation, coupled with that most British of attributes, being a jolly good sport, won the hearts of millions. So much so that a re-release of his 1995 single ‘Mysterious Girl’ stormed to number one in the U.K. charts. What a time to be alive.
The label smelt the shit flecked odour of a quick buck and duly rushed Peter into the studio to record a long player of songs that he had written while in the jungle. The result was ‘The Long Road Back’, whose 13 track edifice was crowned by the lead single ‘Insania’.
Any illusions that I might have had about my cool new job at a record label were quickly shattered. I was thrust into — no, impaled upon — the sharp end of the dream factory: an industry reeling from internet piracy but unable to adapt a business model carefully tuned and calibrated to putting CDs on supermarket shelves, A&R jobs on the line, relentless mid-week pressure to manufacture hit records — any hit will do — and a beleaguered, low paid staff with low morale who were all wondering why a legacy label that put Aretha Franklin into Fame Studios to bless the world with recordings like ‘Chain of Fools’ were about to release one of the worst songs ever fucking made. Every morning we got to work and heard the creak of Ahmet Ertegun turning in his grave. Also Peter’s management team were absolute cunts.
But hits don’t make themselves so we got to it. My colleague, and great mentor, Richard Skinner gave me the following advice while skinning up in the car park opposite The Electric Lighting Station, the former electricity generating terminal that housed the Atlantic offices and was rumoured to have been Madonna’s one-time London pied-à-terre:
“We don’t have time to fuck about. No one’s gonna wanna make this piece of shit. It’s an abomination. We’re gonna have to beg someone we trust. As long as the video’s five per cent better than shit, we’ll be alright.”
And beg we did, eventually convincing Flynn Productions and director Alex Hemming to take on the project. Admittedly we played it fairly safe with the concept. I’m not sure we did Peter’s brave neologism justice. We never quite captured the alienation and technological dystopia suggested by the lyrics. But this was the second big lesson for me — don’t over think pop videos. We channelled that big Electric Lighting Madonna energy. The idea revolved around a ‘Ray of Light’ inspired green screen performance set up with time-lapse footage of a busy metropolis comped in for the choruses. The verses saw a loose narrative unfold as Peter walked down a street past that music video staple, a couple arguing in slow motion, before meeting a woman and driving off in a red convertible with her.
I remember the marketing meeting where we discussed the rollout of the single. All the stakeholders were there: Peter, his managers, the marketing manager, the marketing director, the A&R director, the A&R, the radio plugger, the TV plugger, and the ghost of Jerry Wexler. When it came to discussing the video I realised that the pressing need for it to just exist outweighed any real interrogation of the creative merits of the idea. The main concern was whether it would be delivered in time for a GMTV exclusive. Peter made a few noises about whether the treatment captured the nuances of the lyrics. These were summarily dismissed with the marketing equivalent of a pat on the head and an admonishing don’t-interrupt-while-the-grown-ups-are-talking wagged finger. That’s another thing you realise about the dream factory. It delights in patronising pop artists.
It is worth pointing out at this stage that I made heavy use of marijuana throughout the noughties. So my recollection of some of these events is hazy. I remember the pre-production process being smooth. We settled on Madrid as the location for the shoot. The first shoot day was in fact a night shoot. Peter’s pick up from the hotel was at 4pm. I was already on set. At 4.20pm someone from local production quietly told me that the driver couldn’t find Peter. “What do you mean he can’t find him? Has he checked with the hotel? He must still be in his room.” Apparently the driver had already been up to his room and knocked on the door several times. He wasn’t in there. “Then where the fuck is he?”
The slow realisation that I might have lost Peter Andre started to creep over me. Cold bleeding nausea tinged with panic. I had one job. One fucking job. Get Peter Andre to set on time. I imagined having to call Korda and Max. “Yeah hi. Something’s come up on the shoot. I’ve lost Peter Andre. Yes lost. As in no longer in possession of him. He is no longer to be found. He’s fucking lost.”
Then, amidst bouts of hyper-ventilating, I had a moment of clarity. Of inspiration. Of providence. From whence it came I’ll never know. Perhaps some primordial survival instinct. I found the local producer and said, “Please call every tanning salon within a 10 minute walk of the hotel.”
Fifteen minutes later Peter James Andrea was located in ‘Soldemar.’
30 minutes later he finally arrived on set looking like a radioactive tangerine. I was elated.
I embraced him and held him close. I could feel his abs beneath his shirt, perhaps not as clearly defined as years gone by, but still firm. I could smell his hair, his essence — the very raw, masculine star power that Madonna had identified when she asked him to open for her 1993 Girlie Tour. I felt a twinge of arousal in my loins — the first stirrings of an erection. Peter, your star shall ascend once more. He smoothed my hair and cooed “Sssssshhhhhhhh.” This moment of intimacy was disturbed by an unbidden thought of the huge colour grading overage I would have to pay to stop him looking like an Oompa Loompa.
Once back in the U.K. I had to spend a couple more days with Peter as we jumped in and out of cabs and attended various edit presentations in Soho. I was struck by what a kind and genuine person he was. He was also thankful — as in he thanked people — which can be rare. He seemed to lack the hubris that accompanies most celebrity. He loved being famous, but in a sweet, uncomplicated way. Despite the viciousness and cynicism of the tabloid press, maybe it was a simpler time for fame; an age before the unrelenting pressure and scrutiny of social media, when tentpole reality television shows like ‘I’m celebrity’, ‘X-factor’, and ‘gogglebox’ served us a more analogue, relatable, quotidian version of fame. Or it could just be a case of rose-tinted-weed-goggles.
On the 12th of June 2004 ‘Insania’ was released. It got to number 3 in the U.K. singles chart. I’m happy to accept that the video was 99 per cent worse than shit.