Jenny Watkins-Isnardi spent her college years with the award-winning Welsh rock band, Manic Street Preachers. For five memorable months in the summer of 1987 she was their lead singer and also the girlfriend of bass guitarist Nicky Wire.
She has written a book based on her memories of a time when a group of young men from a small working class town in Wales used to annoy the locals with their electric guitars, outlandish, punky clothes and most of all, the belief that their band was going to be...BIG.
Starting tomorrow, the Welsh Mirror presents the first in a three-part serialisation of, In The Beginning: My Life With The Manic Street Preachers. Today we discover what convinced Jenny to write the book.Manic Street Preachers. They are like Royalty in Wales, smiles the young woman who for a few brief months was their lead singer.
At the time, Jenny Watkins was a fresh-faced 16-year-old with red hair and a more sophisticated manner that marked her out from the other girls in Blackwood, a small working-class community near Newport, Gwent, south Wales.
Slight and pretty, she attracted the attention of one Nicholas Allen Jones. He was a year and a half older than her and had a novel pulling method.
"He sent me a green letter in a bright green envelope. He asked me if I would sing in his band and then added an extra sentence underneath asking if I would also go out with him," Jenny recalls.
She half-heartedly agreed. It was a decision which was to allow her to witness first-hand the growing pains of what would become one of the most influential of modern rock bands. Jenny Watkins-Isnardi, as she now calls herself after her 1997 marriage to a Uruguayan, has just written a book about her time with the Manics. In The Beginning gives a unique insight into the forces that bound the group together and the tensions that lurked under the surface. Packed with gossipy references to their teenage years, it provides intriguing evidence of the almost suffocatingly close relationship between the three founding band members, James, Nick and Sean. Richey is also remembered as a somewhat strange and lonely youth, already suffering from anorexia.
Initially an outsider with the band, he regarded them with awe and reverence, only later being accepted as a fully fledged member. Jenny, now 29, was there when James, his cousin Sean and Nick Jones - Nicky Wire as he was later to become known - honed their craft in the Bradfield sitting room. They rowed, they sulked, they made music and Jenny sang lead. Even then, she remembers, they had "incredible commitment and intensity".
In that long hot summer of 1987 the Jenny that attracted the amorous and musical interest of Nick, was outwardly at least, a very different creature to the woman before me. In a pink fitted cotton shirt and pale blue jeans, she has a plain face with shoulder length, wavy brown hair. She shows me a couple of photographs of herself at the time, one on her old National Union of Students card, from Crosskeys College, where the band also attended. Her hair was peroxide blonde then, and she usually wore black.
"We all wore black or white, tight black drainpipe jeans and Doc Martens. That was our uniform - although Nick had trouble with the Doc Martens. He couldn't wear them because his legs were so long and thin they made his legs and ankles ache too much," laughs Jenny.
She finished college a year after the three Manics. James and Sean got dead -end jobs in Blackwood, Nick went to university in Swansea. Her father got a job teaching in Uruguay and she went to live out there with her parents and younger sister.
Jenny worked as a teacher and became interested in writing. Jenny followed her family back to Wales in 1998, with her husband, Carlos, a graphic designer -come-waiter. The couple share a simple flat above a rather shabby looking architects studio, not far from Blackwood. It is conservatively furnished and decorated, with cream walls, brown carpet and green and cream throws on an old sofa.
She has spent the past two years on her book and admitted: "Financially it has been a nightmare. It has been very difficult. I came back to Wales with the view to getting something published, but the book I originally planned was very different to the one I have written." Jenny added: "When I returned and discovered how big the Manics are now it was a shock. "Then I heard people repeating stuff about how they started that was complete heresay, myth and fabrication.
"I thought hang on a minute, I know more about how they really started than any of the rubbish that was going around. So I decided to write about how it really was. I was very fond of Nick at the time and we had a close and warm friendship, but the book is not really about that. "It's about the band, the singing, the time and a place - it is the whole package. Growing up in the valleys was tough but this is not a sentimental account. It's deliberately quite dark and gritty, but there was also humour in our lives and I hope that comes through."
The book is steeped in rich prose which evokes a life where hopes and expectations seemed futile. Amid a background of chronic unemployment and the fall-out of Thatcher's brutal programme of pit closures, any humour was usually at someone else's expense.
Jenny is not too coy to admit she wanted to write a book that would sell: "The fact the Manics are now so big and that this would make the book much more commercial, obviously played a part in my decision to write it."
When she was with the Manics she listened to Strawberry Switchblade, or Voice of The Beehive and Nick everything, from Guns 'n' Roses to Wet Wet Wet. Jenny tells me she had red hair when she first met him and wore thick chalky make-up with panda black shadow around her eyes. "I had my hair every colour in those days. Blonde, red, black. I was always dying it - we all were. Nick was always a bit strange looking compared to most people from Blackwood. He was so tall, well over six foot, while James and Sean - especially Sean, are much shorter.
She added: "It's is hard for me to say how I felt about Nick at the time because even though we had a proper boyfriend-girlfriend relation, I can't really remember how strongly I felt about him.
"We split up when he went to university. He said he would write, but only did once. I don't remember being devastated, or there being any tears from me when I realised it was over. Nick was always very moody and vain, he used to wear his mum's blouses and used her hand cream.
"The thing is, I don't have any feelings for him at all now. A few years ago he married Rachel, his girlfriend before me. They live in a little house quite close to here, but I haven't bumped into them. Sean is still with the same girlfriend he had in my book. James used to go out with my best friend at college. But they've split up and they're both with other people."
The only band member Jenny has seen in recent years is James.
"A few years ago, Carlos and I were at a wedding reception of a mutual friend and he sat near us and we talked. He was incredibly modest about the band's achievements because they were pretty big then.
"A few references were made to how well they had done and he visibly cringed. He has always been extremely shy and it was obvious nothing had changed, although he was still polite and considerate.
"James is not the sort of hard, cold person the media image in the past seems to have presented. "He was always the thoughtful one in the band. When I was singing it would be him who got me a glass of water, or asked if I was all right. "I was lucky, privileged to spend those few short months with the Manics. With this book I am offering a slice of life from that time and showing where the Manics really came from."