Asked by a teenage pop magazine in 1985 to name the last book she had read, Tracey Thorn recalls replying: The British in Northern Ireland: The Case for Withdrawal . "In Smash Hits !" This tells us two things: Thorn is not your average pop star, and she is self-aware enough now to know how ridiculously serious she must have sounded.
Thorn was in the cult all-girl band The Marine Girls, then one half of Everything But the Girl from 1982 to 2000, before taking time out to have children with the other half, Ben Watt. Bedsit Disco Queen (Virago, £8.99), her autobiography, doesn't just track the hits and flops of her career but is also a thoughtful, funny and frank insider's account of the music industry from a female perspective, as well as a social record, charting the changing face of Britain as this child of the 1970s, with its collective thinking and social conscience, comes to terms with the 1980s rise of individualism.
She reflects ruefully on her part in Red Wedge, a right-on but wrong-headed attempt to save Britain for socialism through pop songs, and recounts her hospital vigil as Watt spends two traumatic weeks in intensive care with a rare auto-immune disease.
Everything But the Girl's debut single, Each and Every One , enters the chart at number 28 as she sits her finals at Hull University – she graduates with a number one (or first) in English, later completing a master's on Beckett at Birkbeck, in London – but, "brittle with sincerity", the duo refuse to release a second single from the album so as not to rip off fans, downing a basic promotional tool. Refusing to sell out, they inevitably reach a point when they hardly sell at all.
Just after they are dropped by their record label, Todd Terry's remix of her song Missing is a huge hit. Suddenly her doing what comes naturally – moody melancholy and atmospheric heartbreak – is on trend again. Her greatest stroke of fortune, she writes, is to be given success when old enough to enjoy it without being dazzled by it or taking it for granted.
She turns down the offer of supporting U2 on tour, to have a baby, but she forgets to bring a CD to the maternity ward, so her big moment is spoiled by a nurse putting on a compilation, and her baby is born to Where Do You Go t o My Lovely by Peter Sarstedt. Neil Tennant asks her at a party what she's doing these days "with your lovely voice". "Shouting at the kids," she replies, meant as a witty rejoinder but sounding, she feels, like Waynetta Slob.
Thorn is uncomfortable in the role of a “singing show-off”: “up onstage in front of an audience is a place where neurosis meets narcissism”. Her voice is not the greatest, she knows, but it is unique, “which is all in this genre”. Equally, she knows this is a glimpse of what it is like to be truly beautiful, to be rewarded for something that is “an accidental inheritance, for which I can take no real credit”. Credit where it’s due: this is a deserved chart-topper.