LONDON (Reuters) - Flamboyant and wild, Adam Ant stormed the British pop scene in the 1980s dressed as a pirate and highwayman, but crashed out of the music world in 1995, exhausted and battling mental illness.
The British singer/songwriter spent these years raising his daughter and in and out of psychiatric care with bipolar disorder before slowly re-emerging with concerts leading to the release this year of his first album in 18 years.
Quiet-spoken and calm, Ant does not quite fit the image of the frenetic performer with white stripes over his nose who rose to fame as lead singer of the New Wave group Adam and the Ants with hits such as “Stand and Deliver” and “Prince Charming”.
After the band split in 1982, Ant went solo, releasing five albums in the 1980s and 1990s and notching up 10 Top 10 songs in the UK between 1980 and 1983, including “Goody Two Shoes”.
Now 58, Ant still has the eye liner, goatee beard, bandana over his greying ponytail and heavy silver jewelry.
He has no television and loves to read, particularly historical books, and has a tattoo on his left arm of Nelson’s inspirational last prayer before Trafalgar below the image of his grandfather who served in the navy during World War One.
On his right arm he has a tattoo of the Oscar Wilde quote: “Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes.”
“I can certainly say I have had that experience,” Ant told Reuters in his London office, surrounded by framed gold and silver records and piles of books.
“But I feel a sense of serenity now that I have never felt before.”
Ant, whose real name is Stuart Goddard, said his tattoos tell a story, as does his latest album, “Adam Ant is the Blueback Hussar in Marrying the Gunner’s Daughter,” released on his own record label.
He said the 17 songs on the double album were semi-autobiographical, with two or three of them dealing with his struggles with mental illness.
He was diagnosed as bipolar after deciding to leave the music industry in the mid-1990s to have a break after 17 years of touring, and to start a family and to act. Once life slowed down, his health problems emerged.
“Things catch up with you, the overwork, the stress ... things lie buried and catch up with you if you don’t feel you have the license or time to deal with them at the time,” said Ant, brandishing a huge silver skull ring on his right hand.
“We made one album, then another one straight afterwards, then another and another. Nowadays people will demand at least two years off between albums ... It was a treadmill and once you got off it took a bit of time to realize I had become a robot.”
Ant said his lowest point was in 2002 when he was sectioned - temporarily placed in an institution - after confronting a man with a starting gun following a row in a pub.
“That was absolutely the worst time of my life. A lot of things happened and a threat was made against my daughter (who is now aged 15) and I very stupidly thought that I would deal with it. It was not the way to go,” he said.
Now he is involved in the Black Dog campaign which promotes better understanding of mental health.
“For me it is nothing to be ashamed of ... and people in the public eye have the opportunity to share their experiences and help others,” he said.
Ant said he missed music during his years out of the industry and three years ago started writing songs again.
“It felt like the right time. I had missed it a great deal ... It is almost a blessing to work in rock ‘n roll and play live,” he said, while lamenting the lack of edge and danger in today’s musicians.
Reviews in the UK for the album have been mixed. The Independent gave it four out of five stars, saying it was “sprawling, overdue and not for everyone” while the Guardian gave it three stars saying Ant “is as riotous as he’s sounded in three decades”.
This year Ant is planning to tour in the UK and return to the United States while also working on a screenplay of his autobiography, “Stand and Deliver” and planning a fashion line.
“It is nice to feel that there are adventures and there are things out there that I’d still like to do and there are goals to reach,” he said. “I am absolutely surprised that I have been able to enjoy as long a career as I have.”
Editing by Sonya Hepinstall