Then & now Betty Boo, musician
“BETTY BOO/ Betty Boo just doin’ the do/ And you are through/ And there’s nothing you can do.” As rap putdowns go, Betty Boo’s 1990 debut single was hardly going to have gangstas quaking in their Reeboks, but it did inspire a generation of wannabes to get out there and start “doin’ the do”. Betty Boo – aka Alison Moira Clarkson, a Londoner of Scots-Malaysian descent – was an exotic blend of Mary Quant model, Barbarella and belle of St Trinian’s, and for a time in the early 1990s, her fame threatened to outstrip even that of her cartoon near-namesake. When Chris Herbert was putting together a new, female pop group called The Spice Girls in the mid-1990s, he was clear about what he wanted: “Five Betty Boos.”
Betty Boo made her first chart appearance in 1989 as guest vocalist on The Beatmasters’ hit, Hey DJ I Can’t Dance (To That Music You’re Playing). But when she burst on to our screens in latex and boots in the video for Doin’ The Do, even the dads put down their newspapers and took a sneaky peek at the telly. Here was Britain’s riposte to Salt’n’Pepa, a superfly, supermodel rap girl who wrote her own material and looked good in a catsuit. Soon, the world was gripped by Boo-mania, as Doin’ The Dosmashed the UK Top 10 and topped the US dance charts. The follow-up, Where Are You Baby?,did even better, but it wasn’t long before pop fans were asking, where are you, Betty?
When Madonna was launching her Maverick label, and was casting around for artists to sign, her eye fell on her Wiltshire neighbour with the comic-strip alias. Clarkson came tantalisingly close to becoming labelmates with Alanis Morissette, but behind the scenes she was dealing with a major family trauma. Her mother had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, and Clarkson made the difficult decision to take time out from her career to care for her dying mum.
Clarkson may have been out of the limelight, but she stayed very much in the game, co-writing the song Pure And Simple, which became a massive hit in 2001 for the reality TV band Hear’say. The song earned her an Ivor Novello award, and since then she has penned songs for Girls Aloud, Dannii Minogue and, em, The Tweenies. She was coaxed back onto the stage by another Wiltshire neighbour, Alex James from Blur. The pair formed the dance-pop duo WigWam in 2006, but the project folded after just one flop single. She took another crack at the charts in 2007 with Take Off, a collaboration with dance artist Jack Rokka, but the tune didn’t take off either.
There’s been a lot of activity on Planet Boo in recent months, and she’s been tweeting about it: “Songs out this year w/Soundgirl, The Feeling, Paradeand some US artists . . . also exec prod on nu film.”
Her collaboration with The Feelingis called Virtually Art. “We asked her if she’d mind doing a rap as Betty Boo and she said yes and did an absolutely marvellous job,” says the band’s singer, Dan Gillespie Sells. She has also co-written a song, Is It Love?,with Sophie Ellis-Bextor, and written songs for a stage version of Kate Williams’s book England’s Mistress,about the life of Nelson’s lover, Emma Hamilton.