Skin Q&A: “I’ve fallen in love with cacti”

The Skunk Anansie singer discusses life as an RAF kid, Roots, and advice from Alexander McQueen.

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Deborah Dyer was born in London in 1967. As Skin, she is the lead singer of Skunk Anansie. In 1999, she became the first black British performer to headline Glastonbury.

What’s your earliest memory?

Getting in trouble. My dad was in the RAF so we lived in RAF bases. When I was three or four, we were painting a giant for a harvest or something. I decided that the foot needed to be green, messed up the whole thing and got in trouble. I thought: “What are they talking about? It looks so much better with a green foot.”

Who are your heroes?

I don’t have any heroes. I don’t believe in putting people on a pedestal.

What book last changed your thinking?

Black and British by David Olusoga. He writes about how when the Romans came, they brought a lot of people of colour with them. Black people were in England since the Romans. I did not know that.

Which political figure do you look up to?

Angela Davis. She is a highly intelligent orator, spokesperson and thinker.

What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?

Cacti. My other half loves cacti and I have always hated them. Over the summer, she was encouraging me to get some for our place in Ibiza, and I’ve really got into them. I’ve fallen in love with cacti.

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

This is a difficult question for a gay black woman to answer because the best time to be around is now and the future. But I would have loved to live in the Seventies – for the music, activism, politics, fashion – I would have fitted right in!

What TV show could you not live without?

Roots. It changed the world. It empowered black people. Finally, our story was told.

Who would paint your portrait?

Amoako Boafo. There’s a Van Gogh-ian feeling to his work. It blows me away.

What’s your theme tune?

As a kid, I watched a programme called You and Me and the song was: “You and me, me and you, lots and lots for you to do.” Me and my girlfriend sing that to death.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

I was hanging out with Alexander McQueen and there was a group of characters who were famous – I can’t say who – but he said to me: “Darling, be careful of that lot. They will hang you out to dry.” I took his advice. They were all shagging each other, getting into things they shouldn’t. I moved away from them.

What’s currently bugging you?

The government’s response to coronavirus. It has been pathetic.

What single thing would make your life better?

A transport machine. It really upsets me that we haven’t got to the point where there is the technology they had in Star Trek, where you could press a button and beam from one place to another.

When were you happiest?

Now. Having had lockdown to reflect, I’m excited about the next ten years.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

A photojournalist. I love photography, asking people questions and travel.

Are we all doomed?

Absolutely. When the planet gets to the point where there are no more humans on it, I think it will be better for the planet. I don’t think the world is going to end; I just think people will stop being on it. 

“It Takes Blood and Guts” by Skin and Lucy O’Brien is published by Simon & Schuster

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This article appears in the 20 November 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Vaccine nation

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