I can’t remember where I was when I heard that my first record had reached number one, but I can remember exactly where I was when I was told that it managed to hold the spot for a second week.
I was an excited 20-year-old, holed up in the unbelievably modest offices of Universal Music (this was New Zealand, after all), doing a round of interviews for radio stations about the pop group from nowhere that was suddenly all over the place, Deep Obsession.
Grant Kearney, the A&R man for the label at the time, popped his head round the door and gave an enthusiastic thumbs-up before going to the office next door to tell singers Zara and Vanessa the news.
My mind wandered at that point. I’d finished high school three years previously having passed my exams but left mentally shattered after being bullied to the point of a nervous breakdown.
One of the things that kept me going during my time at school was the fantasy that I could be like the Pet Shop Boys and make dance/pop records for a living.
Now I was actually doing it.
Deep Obsession went from strength to strength, with our next two singles reaching number one on the New Zealand charts as well, something that no local group had done at that point. We were sent to Australia to record our first album, which was also a success at home. Two further top twenty singles were released from it.
My partner Dean, whom I’d met at a bookstore day job when I left school, had been financially supporting us as a couple for a while. I was working in a bank call centre at the time we got our record contract, which came with no advance. Nevertheless, despite the lack of cash on offer, I quit my job to concentrate full time on the group.
A few of Dean’s friends thought he shouldn’t be indulging me in a pipe dream, because according to them I was never going to be successful. There were long hours spent in studios on weekends during the times we would normally have spent together.
I can still remember his excitement when The Offer happened.
One of our singles had been remixed in the UK by the producers of Cher’s comeback hit, “Believe.” It was about to be released in the US, and was accompanied by an enthusiastic review in industry bible Billboard.
Universal’s publishing arm in Australia wanted to tie up the group’s members, as apart from our first single, all our other songs were original. A contract was offered to me, and Universal wanted me to move to Australia and work as a professional songwriter for other artists. As the US release date got closer, so the amount of money being put on the table got larger.
When it reached six figures, my mind was blown, and so was Dean’s. It was an astronomical amount of money to hand to a 21-year-old still living with his parents.
Problem is, I’ve never been motivated by money, so I was ripe for making one of the biggest mistakes of my life when temptation came along.
A manager of a UK songwriter who had just hit the big time writing songs for Christina Aguilera came on the scene, and told me I should be working over there instead. He offered to get a deal with a UK publishing company, and like a rabbit in the headlights I mumbled yes.
Going to London really was something out of a storybook for me. Could my fantastical Pet Shop Boys dreams really come true?
I’ll never find out, as the window closed. The US release of our single was not a hit, the UK manager was unsuccessful in attracting any interest in me, and the Australian deal subsequently vanished in a puff of smoke.
After being surrounded for a few weeks by hordes of people grabbing a limb each and pulling me in their direction, telling me what I should do with my career, I had been unceremoniously dumped on the side of the road without so much as ten cents for the bus.
I continued to work as a producer and songwriter in New Zealand, and chalked up a few more hits with other groups, but never scaled the dizzy heights of Deep Obsession again. I left the music industry in 2002, in debt and returning to temp work in offices.
Sometimes things genuinely are on offer for a limited time only. My biggest regret is not that I lost out financially, but that I was paralysed by indecision and naivete that the people around me had my interests at heart and not theirs.
It was a hard lesson to learn, and I was unable to trust anyone for years afterwards.
“I’m always waiting for a red letter day,” sang the Pet Shop Boys in 1996.
Now when an opportunity comes my way, I follow my instincts. Today might be my last day on earth, which makes every number on the calendar into a red letter day.
—Photo courtesy of the author