INTERVIEW By Hilary Porter

SPANDAU Ballet frontman Tony Hadley is not one to let the grass grow under his feet - literally!

Busier than ever the eighties icon is set to headline Let's Rock on Southampton Common on Saturday and is poised to release a new album and three new singles.

And when I called him for a chat he was heavily involved in a spot of gardening!

The silky voiced crooner known for his mighty vocals on hits like Through the Barricades, Gold and True doesn't profess to be 'green fingered' but it is fair to say that all he touches turns to 'Gold'!

"I'm not good at the little things but I'm good at mowing, hedge trimming and getting the chain saw out!" six foot 4 inch Tony laughed." It's been looking beautiful but now the daffodils have gone it needs a bit more TLC. "

Now 56 and a father of five, Tony lives in Buckinghamshire in a village called Ford after moving from London five years ago.

"We are a bit barking mad. It was a lovely thatched cottage. It's still there but we did this extension that's a bit more than that- it's more another house!"

He says the space is good for "when the big kids" come to stay( Thomas, Toni and Mackenzie from first marriage to Leonie Lawson). Tony also has two daughters with second wife Alison Evers, Zara, 10 and Genevieve, five.

It soon becomes clear that Tony's long awaited solo album is top of his agenda now and he's very excited about it. Daughter Zara is having a big influence despite being only ten.

"Zara is into music and drama and is getting us into new music which is great. I'm working on the new album and have virtually finished three singles for release and it's great listening to new stuff with all the production techniques; I'm really into it.

"Retro stuff is good but things like 'Barricades' would become boring if that's all I did. As a musician I'm always trying to keep up with what's going on. I could take a step back and just play stuff people expect me to play. People say why write a new album because people will stream it and there's no money in it. But you must challenge yourself.

"I don't want to play old stuff all the time but those songs are part of people's lives and I get a kick out of it because of the reaction of people."

Anyone hoping for another Spandau Ballet reunion, however, will be disappointed. After the group found fame in the 80s with hits such as Gold and True they split up in 1989, leading to legal battles over royalty fees.

They reformed in 2009 for a lucrative world tour, and did so again in 2015. Tony took part in I'm a Celebrity get Me Out of Here in the same year.

But now the Tony Hadley band is Tony's priority, with bookings both here and in the States.

"We played the Microsoft Theatre in LA to all these crazy American fans and that led to us doing a headline tour of America. Everytime we play there we get a great reaction. We are possibly going back to play with the LA Philharmonic Orchestra at the Holywood Bowl!In fact we are touring South East Asia, America and Europe.

I'm keeping very busy. I'm lucky my voice is ok; I think I'm singing better than ever."

Why does he sound so much better at 56?

"One of the biggest things was giving up smoking 18 years ago- you can still feel the difference. When I look back - and when you watch the Spandau Ballet film 'Soul Boys of the Western World' I was practically chain smoking all the time.

I use to smoke so much and now I bloody hate it!They talk about the Tony Blair legacy and him not being popular but he did ban smoking and that's one of the best things ever."

I can vouch for his chain smoking! I recall meeting Tony not long after Spandau Ballet broke up. My friend and I sat in a cramped, cupboard-sized room with Tony backstage at the Showbar in Bournemouth. He not only smoked a packet of his own cigarettes but worked his way through my friend's too!I sat there the passive smoker breathing it all in!

At that point he was at a very low point in his life. He told me that night 'Hell will freeze over before Spandau Ballet get together again'! He performed an incredible solo show but it was a cold winter's night and the audience was thin on the ground in numbers and enthusiasm.

"Oh God I remember that gig! I remember getting there and thinking is this it? Is this what it's come to?!

The music business is up and down: I've been up there, and down there.

"The Tony Hadley band has been together a long time. We go out and perform to people and we are a cracking live band and that's why we get to play at so many festivals.The great thing for us is we have such a crack backstage."

Is playing 80's music more fun now than back in the day?

"You didn't have these kind of festivals back then. You had them in places like Germany but not the UK.

We already have 20 shows booked for next year including festivals and we are going to China and India. It's gone a bit crazy. The first of my three singles will be released when I find time to put a vocal on it!The third single 'Delirious' has a chorus but I've still got to write the verse!It all keeps me out of trouble!"

Finding time for family life must be difficult?

"It does get bonkers. You want to be here to see your kids and I'm also trying to keep up with my big kids who are working. Tom has his own office and works six days a week- he's 33.Toni is 31, Max, 26, Zara is ten and G five. I just keep up with them."

As we spoke Tony was performing four shows over one weekend and said:"It's kind of crazy but it's what I love to do and I still get a kick out of it and the minute I can't stand it, the travelling and going on stage, I'd stop."

Does he still get nervous?

"I do get nervous before a show. I learnt years ago to control it because it can defeat you and can take over. So, I have a couple of glasses of wine or a beer before or a "99".

What's a 99, I ask?

"It's 99 per cent alcohol and 1 per cent mixer! It's a shot. All the band have that and Ritchie my guitarist does a speech!"

The mind boggles and I'm laughing but Tony explains:

"We don't hold hands and pray! He has a little speech - a little anecdote and it's funny as we all clunk glasses - it's more like a Viking ceremony!By that time all nerves have pretty much gone.

In the past when I was 16 I would literally be throwing up in the toilets before a show. The first couple of gigs I did I was so nervous but if you are too nervous you will make mistakes. Sometimes you are tired and the voice is tired and you need that adrenalin to cut through but you never want it to get to that point that it stops you."

Meanwhile fans of the TV show Benidorm will be interested t know Tony has filmed an episode for it!

"I love Benidorm! I'm a massive fan of the show. We filmed it in the Easter holidays so I took Ali and the girls with me. We had such a fun time with all the cast and crew. We got there on the Monday and filmed from Tuesday to Thursday and all I did was laugh. We had a terrific time. It's all 'tats', piercings and kebabs and one and a half euros a pint!"

"The show is all old style humour, like a modern day Carry On- all innuendo and tongue-in-cheek. I'm not a snob at all. The night before we were leaving I was out with the cast and crew and we went to this restaurant that was all rock n roll and there was this Elvis tribute - it was brilliant!"

Celebrities it seems are queuing up for cameo roles on Benidorm. The final episode of series nine featured guest stars Jason Manford, John Challis and Dame Joan Collins, with none other than Madness performing in Neptune's Bar!

Other stars of the series have included Uri Geller, Amanda Barrie and Nigel Havers!

Now Tony along with The Chuckle Brother are in the bag for the tenth series.

Tony laughs:"Even my mate Shane Richie is going back in. It's become a cult thing to do for artists- especially when Nigel Havers says he wants to do Benidorm and he's a real 'actooor'!"

But don't imagine this is the start of Tony doing lots of TV - far from it.

"I get asked to do loads of TV, from the ice skating to the dance show but I say no, no, no. I'm just concentrating on getting my album out and getting my singles ready and I'm gigging and having fun. There's not much TV for music. "