by Caroline Sullivan
Female rock icons were few in seventies America. If you were a girl looking for a role model, the choices were pretty much limited to three. If you were into New Wave, there was Debbie Harry; if you didn't shave your legs, there was Patti Smith; and if you were a dippy, girlie sort of girl, there was Stevie Nicks. Fans of the other two saw Nicks as unforgivably soppy - that fluttery blonde hair, those diaphanous chiffon skirts, the songs like Rhiannon (the Welsh witch who "comes alive like a fine skylark when the sky is starless" puh-lease). Only with hindsight is it obvious that Nicks, born in Phoenix, Arizona in May 1948, was easily the most interesting of the three.
By 1975, she had formed a band, Buckingham-Nicks, with her boy-friend, Lindsey Buckingham, and was working as a waitress. Fleetwood Mac, meanwhile, had been around since 1967, enjoying moderate success as a blues band. When Mick Fleetwood heard a track from the album Buckingham-Nicks had released, he invited the pair to join him - and the fortunes of both bands altered radically, thanks largely to Nicks.
She has sold 70 million records with Fleetwood Mac and 20 million solo, but that's not the half of it. The woman has lived. In her 49 years, she has embodied every girl's fantasy of decadent rock'n'roll life, surviving affairs with two band members and an addiction to cocaine that cost her millions, as well as an eight-year illness caused, she believes, by breast implants.
In the mysterious way of things, Stevie is suddenly cool. Twenty-one years after Rumours, Fleetwood Mac's artistic and commercial apex, she is being hailed as a style icon by some surprising people. Courtney Love has a picture of her taped to her guitar, Winona Ryder finds her "amazing" and Voyage, the crushingly trendy London fashion emporium, owes its existence to Nicks' look, swirling lace petticoats and all. They are paying homage to a woman who has never been anything but uniquely herself She found her identity early, in layers of silk and velvet and a fascination with Arthurian legend, and she simply hasn't changed since.
"Everyone else changes. I don't change," she acknowledges from the depths of an armchair in Blake's - her favourite London hotel because of touches such as Buddha statues and velvet harem cushions. They appeal to the sensualist in Nicks, who is making the four-room suite feel like home by burning large scented candles. They fill the air with a warm haze and the consequent Moroccan souk atmosphere is complemented, of course, by a typical Nicks outfit: a floor-length red velvet dress and coat. Her blonde hair is silky and waist-length, and as you take in this ethereal vision, you notice she is wearing ... Hush Puppies? "Really comfy" she explains. Girlfriend!
Nicks is a girls' girl. It wasn't obvious from her performance at Monday's Brit awards (Fleetwood Mac picked up a Lifetime Achievement gong), where she was doing a slightly awkward version of her floaty-witchy number, but she is good with women. She even shares her Los Angeles home with three female friends - "We're a bunch of cackly old chickens" - she says with a half-smile: "It's not because I want to live with a group of women, but it's what you do if you don't get married and have kids."
She was married once, for three months, to the husband of a friend who had died of cancer, leaving a baby son. "I thought it was my mission to take care of this baby, but it wasn't my mission to marry this man". She has never had children - neither has the other female Mac singer, Christine McVie - but has grown philosophical about it. "I used to regret it, but I've that I'd have been a half-assed mom and a half-assed singer. I'd have wanted to take two year off and that would have broken up Fleetwood Mac. It was almost like being in the army. Chris and I weren't free to go off and have kids because it was like a little man's world. We were talking about five people's futures." Their futures were more entwined than those of most bands because four-fifths of the group were romantically involved. Christine and John McVie and Stevie and angsty guitar virtuoso Lindsey Buckingham lived, worked and played together, and their enforced closeness destroyed both relationships. After Nicks left Buckingham, inspiring some deeply anguished and vengeful songs, she had a brief, much regretted affair with drummer Mick Fleetwood.
It has taken 10 years for everyone to get back on speaking terms. After the band split in 1987, its members pursued solo careers, until last summer, when a three Million-selling reunion album, The Dance, was followed by a sold-out US tour. The album won them three Grammy nominations, including Best Pop LP; the winners will be announced on February 25. All were in fine fettle on the tour, helped, Nicks says in her California-by-way-of-Phoenix whisper, by the fact that they are drug-free now. She hasn't touched anything for 12 years, since her doctor explained to her the damage a million dollars'worth of coke had done after daily ingestion for 15 years. 'Here, give me your pen." She leans over and makes a little sketch of two noses. "That's the hole in Chris's nose and that's the hole in my nose The first is a tiny dot, the other the size of a 10p piece. "You could put a big gold ring through my septum. It affects my eyes, my sinuses. It was a lot of fun for a long time, because we didn't know it was bad. But eventually it gets hold of you and all you can think about is where your next line is coming from." One 28-day stay in rehab in 1985 was sufficient to straighten her out. She was so "horrified" by the body search she was forced to undergo when she arrived at the Betty Ford Clinic that she resolved on the spot never to do coke again.
After that, there were still the implants to cope with. When she got them, in 1976, to enhance her 5ft 1in figure, there was of course no hint that silicone could be toxic. She is convinced they precipitated her long bout with Epstein-Barr Syndrome (aka chronic fatigue syndrome), which set in in 1987 and culminated in major surgery two years ago to remove the implants. "The operation to take them out is horrible," Nicks says. Leaning forward, she speaks passionately, tracing a finger around her chest. "They were totally broken inside me. All that silicone was all through me, poisoning me. They have to cut all around here and take the nipple off and then reconstruct you. And the scars ... When they were put in they were clear little silicone bags. When they take them out, they're black and green and yellow. I've got them in a freezer in Phoenix to remind me." Frankly, the removal has made no discernible difference to the shape of Nicks' (very pert) bosom. You don't need Pamela Anderson knockers to fill out medieval-damsel bodices and they would only get in the way when she does her gypsy-shimmy onstage.
We won't be seeing that shimmy here, incidentally: there are no plans for a further Fleetwood Mac tour and while Nicks will hit 15,000-seat American arenas in the spring, she doesn't plan to bring the show to Britain.
As I leave, I ask whether she's been to Voyage. She's never heard of it. It's full of clothes like yours, I say. "Write down the address.I'll go on the way to the airport.' She's flattered - a shop full of Stevic Nicks dresses! - but not surprised. In her own mind, she's been an icon all along. The rest of the world is just catching up..
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