I WONDER how much of the bedhead-hairstyled, YWCA-rejected, Pete Waterman-despairing hopeful still exists of Keren Woodward. I'm keen to know if the spirit of the slightly shambolic 18-year-old who left cosy Bristol behind to live in a Sex Pistols’ rehearsal studio has survived 41 years later, the teenager who seriously disappointed her middle-class mother on declaring her desperate desire to become a pop star.

Well, Woodward managed that with Bananarama. (And would later go on to marry half of Wham!) But the question on the edge of my tongue is how much of the group’s record successes (30 chart hits and sales of over 40m) was down to clever music business construction? And how have the band managed to hold it together for an incredible 36 years, with a new album out this week and a national tour underway?

If we set the needle on the record of Keren Woodward’s life on the track entitled Late Seventies it plays out the moment when the dark-haired former pupil of St George’s School For Girls, a classically trained pianist and one-time choral singer declared to her teacher parents that she was abandoning her Radio 3 world, lured to London by the arrival of punk.

“My dad was fine, but I have to say my mum was upset when I said I was leaving home,” Woodward recalls, from her home near a Cornish beach. “But she actually got me the room at the YWCA in London’s West End. It was when I told her I was leaving the job [office work with the BBC] and declared I was going to be a pop star, well, she was even more upset at that.”

Woodward wasn’t alone in scary London for long. Her best friend from school Sara Dallin joined her at the YWCA. Together the pair hit the bright lights. Nightly. And into the morning. “And then we were asked to leave,” she grins, recalling the exit from her first lodgings. “We were keeping too many late nights and dragging the YWCA porter out of his bed.” She laughs: “Well, we were in the West End. What else would an excited teenage girl do?”

Have fun. Start a band. Call it Bananarama (The ‘rama’ part came from Roxy’s Pyjamarama). After the inglorious YWCA exit, the girls lived in what had been the Sex Pistols' rehearsal studio in Denmark Street for a while, alongside old microphones, speakers, the lot. Soon joined by Dallin’s fashion journalism student pal Siobahn Fahey they took to the stage at every opportunity, singing backing vocals for the likes of the Jam.

Before long, they made their own demo of Aie a Mwana, sung in Swahili, which saw them land a record deal. However, the big breakthrough came in 1982 when they teamed up with Terry Hall’s Fun Boy Three and recorded It Aint’ What You Do, which reached Number 5 in the charts. From there the hits, such as Really Saying Something and Shy Boy, kept on coming.

All of that suggests cunning strategy but Woodward maintains the group were as unplanned, uncontrollable and unpredictable as the changing music scene. What early Eighties record companies (and audiences) picked up on was here were three gorgeous girls who had talent but also a delicious sneer, they were always their own women. “Yes, that’s true,” she says. “We never came into the business with a plan beyond the next three months. It’s all been a natural thing for us to go off and travel and then maybe record an album. We just did what we felt like at the time.”

She pauses to reflect. “If we’d had a Svengali manager and done what we would have been told, maybe we would have had a bigger, more hugely successful career. For a while. But I doubt it would have lasted though because we’ve never wanted to be told what to do. And if you make mistakes you at least know it’s your decision. We’ve always been do-it-yourself. In that we’ve had complete control.”

Their post-punk chic and cheek was perfect for the times. But the independent spirit was tested in 1987 when the band signed to the pop factory that was Stock, Aitken and Waterman. Under the aegis of the loud, commanding Pete Waterman, they never accepted his overall authority. Waterman once said; “They were the only people, apart from my mum, who ever called me Peter. It was their way of telling me they were the boss.

“The girls once set off a hotel fire alarm and told the police I was their dad. They would get me out of bed in the early hours to pick them up from a club if they couldn’t find a taxi.”

Woodward enjoyed the SAW pop production line experience but Fahey hated the Kylie and Jason connection. And even though hits emerged such as Love In The First Degree, in 1988, Fahey announced she was for the off. It caused a Bananaramic eruption, and she later set up her own outfit, Shakespeare’s Sister.

“To be honest, when she first left we didn’t speak,” says Woodward. “But Sarah and I never stopped and we got Jacquie (O’Sullivan) in, whom we both knew. Everyone around us thought three was a good number and we did a world tour, which was hugely successful. So we never really fell apart as such.”

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Time proved to be healer and Fahey, Dallin and Woodward eventually became friends again, and agreed to a tour. “The reunion tour of 2017 was a one-off but we have seen her on many occasions.”

Woodward and Dallin never saw the need to bring the band to a halt but Woodward did step back from the music scene for a while and moved to Cornwall. "We had gotten into the Nineties where the world went more indie and we thought, ‘Well, OK. That’s the way of it.’ We knew that if you’re going to have a long career you have to wait and see if it all comes round again.”

Woodward was married to Wham! star Andrew Ridgley whom she began dating in 1990. The couple have now split. What happens when your relationship breaks up and you have to live with that in the public eye? “To be honest, you don’t need to live your life in the papers. If you bring celebrity into your life and court attention you can’t complain when it all goes wrong. But I haven’t done that. My break-up didn’t become public until three years later, so it wasn’t that big a deal. Bearing in mind we are both quite well known it could have been played out publicly but why would you want to do that.? My private life is that. It’s not about celebrity. I’m not that keen on social media, for example. I don’t want to let everybody into my life."

She smiles. “Maybe that’s me. Maybe I’m just an old-fashioned girl. But maybe that’s why I haven’t gone mad.” She sounds fairly sane, I suggest. “Maybe I’m pretending to be normal,” she laughs.

What the hiatus revealed was that Woodward wasn’t consumed by the music business. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t love performing. Thankfully, she says, the 1980s “is a decade that refuses to go away” and Bananarama, now a duo featuring the St George’s School For Girls ex-pupils, are on the road again.

While the reunion tour with Fahey saw the trio play major halls around the world, this time around, Bananarama will play smaller spaces. “The shows will be a huge departure from Sarah and I standing in a field somewhere at a festival,” she says.

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The new shows, “old songs played in a new style, plus new material” will take on an audience with format. “Every time we do gigs there is so much banter with the audiences we’ve decided to build it in. They will be up close and personal, right in at the deep end stuff.”

How personal? She laughs. “Yeah, who knows what questions the audience will throw at us. But I suppose we can always say, ‘I’m not answering that!’”

What emerges from talking to Keren Woodward is she hasn’t changed too much since she took off to live in the YWCA. She still has a zest for life. She has a grown up son (Tom) and she manages to combine her love for the pop world with a private existence.

And it seems Woodward’s appetite for the pop business has been encouraged by the fact she doesn’t live it 24/7. Just back from a drizzly walk on the beach with her dog she explains: “This is a calm world. I love being up there on stage but for me celebrity and fame is my least favourite thing. I’ve always been quite uncomfortable with it. I think that’s why I choose to live where I do, where I am part of the furniture and the locals couldn’t care less. I can walk around wearing a bobble hat and no make-up and I’m anonymous. It’s great.”

A double life? “That’s exactly what it is. And I’m lucky I can drop in and out.” She adds: “I came back to the business because I missed the buzz. And the last decade has been the busiest since the mid-1980s.”

Taking a relaxed overview of the pop industry has clearly helped Bananarama’s longevity, and fuelled hits such as Robert De Niro’s Waiting. But so has an innate toughness. “When you’re young you can be suckered in. When we first signed up we didn’t get any money. We didn’t know you were supposed to ask for money. I think we were seen as a novelty act in some ways, kids who had been on the London club scene who’d get up there on stage. We were just so excited about the chance to get a demo or record out.

“But we were pretty much left alone because what we did was working. And we worked hard. And because it hasn’t been about fame and fortune for us that’s probably why it’s lasted.”

Did the Bananaramas have to fight off sexual predators along the way? “We had the odd moment, some silly situations,” she reflects, “but we always had safety in numbers. And we used humiliation to deal with it.” She grins. “And we were quite mouthy.”

Pete Waterman said Bananarama were trailblazers for the likes of Madonna. “I’ve always had this attitude you can do whatever you want if you put your mind to it,” says Woodward. “And not be held back by the fact you’re a woman. That said, I do think it’s harder for women. It still is. I hope attitudes have changed but I’m guessing not that much in most businesses. Women just aren’t treated as equals.”

The Spice Girls credit Bananarama with showing them the road to possibility. Does she appreciate the impact she had on young girls? “I think in hindsight we can consider that. I’d never have thought I could influence young girls. We just did what we felt like doing.”

Which is setting an example in itself? “I guess that’s true. Taking off to London as a teenager for example was a brilliant experience. My feeling is if you don’t try you don’t know. That’s why I would never push my son [now 32] into something.” She says: “I took a chance but I could have always gone back to the office job.”

Woodward, at 58, is certainly enjoying life. “There is no pressure at all on us. It’s actually more fun these days. And we’ve come to appreciate the impact the music has made on people. We get to have a good sing-song and have fun.” She adds: “And if I don’t enjoy myself on stage how can I expect the audience to?"

It’s not hard to imagine the fans having fun, too. Woodward (whose hair is brushed regularly these days) has a great sense of fun. She can be delightfully sarcastic in conversation and has bite and intelligence.

What of disappointments. Is she downbeat over the fact Siobahn isn’t with them on stage? “No,” she says without hesitation. “We’re still friends.”

What about her mum? Did she come round eventually to the idea of her daughter becoming a pop star? “No,” she says sharply, revealing great comic timing. What about when she saw you on Top of the Pops singing the likes of Shy Boy? “She probably just switched it off.”

Woodward adds with a very dry deliver. “You can’t please everyone, can you?”

Bananarama will play St Luke’s in Glasgow on May 2, their new album In Stereo is out now.