Terri Hall guides the careers of some of the biggest names in music, from Oasis and Radiohead to the Manic Street Preachers. But first she had to overcome the grief of losing her young husband to cancer and then the tragic disappearance of her rock-star friend.
Journalists. What are they like?" Terri Hall replaces her phone with mock exasperation, leaving the rhetorical question hanging in mid-air. Oasis's Ignition Management have called to warn her that the "Noel-and-Meg-to-split" story is all over tomorrow morning's front pages. It's a shock to her because Noel and Meg seemed like rock's odd couple. Happy. But Ignition need an official statement. Now. It's 7.30pm and Terri had been at home ill in bed. She can't be ill now.
At the Shepherds Bush HQ of Hall or Nothing, Terri has held the reins since her late husband, the much-loved Philip Hall, succumbed to lung cancer on December 7, 1993, aged 34. His presence remains tangible, from the Leslie Perrin and Music Week awards on the walls (for campaigns involving the Pogues and the Stone Roses), to the informal meeting room where Philip's books about Soho in its heyday are strewn around, much as he left them.
Terri says she doesn't know how she went from being "Housewife Superstar" to becoming PR for the modern rock gentry, but as her clients also include the Manic Street Preachers, Radiohead, Stereophonics, Super Furry Animals, Mansun and the Reading/Leeds Festival, she must be doing something right. Simply, Hall or Nothing are the most successful independent music PR company in Britain. They regularly outdo the major corporate press offices when it comes to front covers won and column inches notched up.
In 1987 Terri met Philip in the Ship pub in Wardour Street. A former press officer at post-punk Stiff Records, Hall or Nothing was his company and this was his lunchtime office. He fancied her but she didn't reciprocate at first, until a mutual girlfriend pulled Cupid's bow. Their first date was at the Coach and Horses on Greek Street. "After six months he moved in, like men do. Thenit was the cats, then it was the cupboards and finally we bought a house in Shepherds Bush. We got married after three years. I was 25. God, so young. We'd have been wed ten years."
When Philip's cancer was diagnosed in late 1991 he threw himself even deeper into publicising and managing the Stone Roses and the emerging Manic Street Preachers. The music press front covers that adorn the walls testify to his success at coining slogans like "Generation Terrorist - Style, Sex and Subversion". Hall sighs. "It's true. I'm surrounded all the time, always aware of his memory. There are so many bittersweet moments, like when Martin (Philip's brother who manages the Manic Street Preachers) had his child, he should have been there. And when the Manics played the Millennium Gig at Cardiff in front of 60,000 people, he'd have been in his element..."
At first Hall needed "all his stuff like an airbag. Sometimes I think I've turned myself into a professional widow. Even now someone will introduce me as Philip's missus and I'm thinking - actually, I'm moving on a bit now. I do have a life," she says. "Although I've never even got close to remarrying. Not out of choice, I just haven't met any men of any note."
Terri Hall is entitled to wallow in the present success of Hall or Nothing. She was instrumental in setting up the Help album, raising several million for Bosnian charity War Child in 1995. She is the holder of the prestigious Nordoff-Robbins Woman of the Year award, making her the most significant female player in the rock PR business.
The award was probably long overdue. Typically, she squirmed in her seat while James Dean Bradfield of the Manics read the congratulatory speech. The framed certificate sits with Philip's accolades in her office. "That meant a lot, but I still wondered, 'Is this a sympathy vote?' The best thing was seeing my mum and dad's faces and people like Vince Power, Big Uncle Vince, one of our oldest clients, all with tears in their eyes.
"Mind you," she smiles wryly, "people were still coming up and saying, 'Well done, he'd be really proud of you'. No one said, 'That's the best campaign you've done.' Even when they sent me through the introductory details, it was all about Philip. I hope I'm seen as a PR who runs a great company, not some whimpering widow. Philip left me a living but he didn't leave a book of rules. I didn't want to do this, I thought it was ludicrous, but when people like Vince and Ian Brown called up and said, 'We want you to take over,' I was persuaded."
According to Oasis co-manager Alec McKinley she is "a firefighter. When rumours start she has to scotch them to prevent them spreading. We like her because she can laugh at the journalists without alienating them. A healthy sense of humour is a key asset in this business."
That, and a hide like a rhinoceros. As the PR for Oasis, Hall has had to get used to handling the Gallaghers' marital problems. Earlier this year, I was with her when she received similar phone calls to the one she'd been handling on the split between Noel and Meg. A removal van had been spotted outside Liam and Patsy's house and the tabloids scented blood. The phone rang so hard it exploded.
"Look, I'm not giving you a running commentary on their marriage. No, I haven't seen the photos of Patsy without her wedding ring. If you're so worried, why don't you offer to help Patsy shift a few boxes?" Well, that told them. The 35-year-old doyenne of public relations points at a large carton by her desk, containing a pair of red boxing gloves and a cryptic note from The Sun's showbiz columnist Dominic Mohan, addressed to would-be pugilist Liam Gallagher. Will Liam ever receive this unsolicited gift? Hall is in no hurry to order a courier for Regent's Park.
Hall is a local west London Irish girl who never likes to sit still. At 15 she had Saturday jobs hairdressing in the morning and selling hotdogs at QPR's Loftus Road ground in the afternoon. "Even when I was earning 30 quid a week I took cabs everywhere," she recalls. "I wasn't born to be poor." Now, from her mews office, hard by the Hammersmith and City underground line, she overlooks the Uxbridge Road and gazes into Shepherds Bush market, where teenage Terri had her ears pierced, bought trashy clothes and worked in a chart return shop, persuading customers to invest in American rap records. "We may have doctored the sales a bit," she admits.
The daughter of an active trade union official called John Gould ("a bit of a commie," she says proudly), young Terri attended Hammersmith County on the White City estate and dreamt of being a social worker until she discovered the after-school theatre workshop. An older sister found her a job as office junior at Arista Records but dad packed her off to London Chamber of Commerce, rather than have her move to Why Go Bald?, her aunt's trichology salon in Dublin.
On leaving school she took a job at Chrysalis and befriended Simon Fuller, who would later be Svengali for the Spice Girls and S Club 7. They formed 19 Management in 1985. "That was great. The pressure was fantastic," Hall recalls. "Mike Oldfield was suing Paul Hardcastle, our main client, for ripping off Tubular Bells. Hardcastle's Nineteen single was selling 65,000 copies a day. You're lucky to sell that in a whole campaign now." Oldfield ended up with his cut.
Fuller recounts how the red-haired 17-year-old girl went from being his PA to his right-hand woman. "She was passionate about every aspect of the job and she learnt the ropes instinctively. She had a sixth sense about artists and knew what was appropriate - whether to hold the ground or be easygoing. She's also very loyal to everyone, unless she thinks a project is utter crap. The random nature of entertainment, where anything can happen, appeals to Terri."
Although they parted company when Hall set up This Much Talent, providing management PR for record producers such as Robin Millar and Nellee Hooper, Fuller says they remain close friends. "I could go a year without speaking to her and yet when we do it's like yesterday. She's very private, very discreet and the artists have always adored her. People can smell bullshit but she's totally straight." Fuller apologises for gushing, before adding, "I'll be very surprised if you can find anyone whose got a bad word to say about her. That's pretty unique in this game."
Not that she need worry unduly. Simon Fuller's eulogy proved accurate. Dominic Mohan reckons that until the indie-loving Hall took on Oasis this year she wasn't comfortable dealing with showbiz-slash-gossip journalists. "She's learning the art of spin-doctoring, yet she isn't completely paranoid like some PRs are. She accepts that her clients aren't necessarily perfect, but being a grown-up she deals with that and doesn't try to be obstructive. I doubt if she likes everything that we do, nor does she try to stop us."
In fact, Hall's tabloid experiences started when Manics' guitarist and songwriter Richey Edwards disappeared in February, 1995, allegedly having committed suicide by jumping off the Severn Bridge, though no body was ever recovered. It was yet another blow that could have put her, and her career, off the rails. "I wondered whether we were jinxed," she says. "I felt I'd know if he was dead, so I fantasised that he was in a monastery in Thailand scrubbing the floors with a toothbrush to get rid of the rock'n'roll virus. I still fear for him and then I get very angry with him. We analysed all the CCTV films from the bridge. It took two weeks to find his car. We had private detectives on the case, but he'd done nothing criminal. Maybe he didn't want to be found, which is fine, except it's flipping hard on everyone else, his parents especially. With Philip we had a body, a funeral and a ceremony, and while I still have nightmares about the last few days of his life, they've got nothing." Although Hall affords all her clients equal courtesy ("Elbow playing Upstairs at the Garage gets my attention just as much as Oasis at Wembley"), she feels a soft spot for the Manics. They moved into her house as callow Welsh teenagers three months after she got married. "My girlfriends were appalled when they saw all the equipment in the corridors; all these kids kipping on the floor. But Philip loved them and they were like a ready-made family who were as quiet as church mice."
Manics bassist Nicky Wire remembers this time somewhat ruefully. "It was an amazing thing to take in these four scruffy wastrels when she didn't even know us. Plus, Philip was lending us loads of money. We were very quiet and domesticated - I used to clean the skirting boards - and she never resented us. She cooked us lovely food and lent us her make-up remover. We were very naive and she provided a homely environment. It was a hell of a sacrifice for anyone, let alone two newlyweds. At that time we were wearing all white, so there was a lot of washing - tight white jeans dripping over the radiators. I never heard her complain."
Ten years later Wire characterises Hall as a tough businesswoman who gains loyalty and respect. "Philip was a genius PR but he was totally disorganised. His offices were full of cardboard boxes. Terri streamlined the operation but kept the spirit. He didn't care about money. He used to encourage us to smash our instruments. Maybe Terri wouldn't do that."
Philip's death, swiftly followed by Edwards's disappearance, cemented the Manics' link when Bradfield moved into her house in Shepherds Bush and stayed another two years. "Me, my sister and him. We were like a mutual support system," she recollects. "Cups of tea at 1am turned into bottles of Jameson's and no bed until 5am. James needed someone to talk to. It wasn't a good idea for him to be living alone in London. Besides, it was a peculiar time. Not only did fans put strange things through the letterbox but we were stalked by an unmarked car for months and our dustbins were regularly stolen. Police? Journalists? God knows what they found, apart from the remains of James's Heinz Toast Toppers."
Hall admits she works very hard, or "way beyond the call of duty," according to Fuller. "She could cut back 25 per cent and still be the best."
Terri blushes several shades of crimson when this is pointed out to her. "It's true that in this business you're always worrying about other people's welfare. There are times when I'd rather be home in Chiswick watching Frost than freezing in Cambridge watching a little band. I know tonight I'll be getting more Liam and Patsy calls at midnight. As if it mattered. Is it urgent? Is someone dead? No, they're not. I suppose I'm not even hugely ambitious. I'm just very thorough. I hate failure. I'll do it if it kills me."