Exclusive digital cover: The fascinating life & times of Strat winner Peter Loraine

Exclusive digital cover: The fascinating life & times of Strat winner Peter Loraine

Over the past 30 years, Peter Loraine has built a career that has changed the course of pop music. As the launch editor of Top Of The Pops Magazine, he was responsible for naming the Spice Girls, one of a litany of achievements that prompted a call from Sir Lucian Grainge to persuade him to join his Polydor revolution. He was soon right at home, working on S Club 7, ABBA and more before launching pop imprint Fascination Records, through which he steered the careers of The Saturdays and Girls Aloud, among many others. In 2010, he formed Fascination Management, initially looking after The Saturdays before building a roster including All Saints, Steps, Jessie Ware, Will Young and Goldfrapp. Always an innovator, Loraine continues to move with the times and, three decades in, it’s the perfect time to salute his incredible career with the biggest honour Music Week can bestow, The Strat. Here, following a memorable celebration at the Music Week Awards 2024, we delve into the life and times of Peter Loraine…


In Peter Loraine’s house, there is a room that is ostensibly a study, but it’s also a perfect collection of pop music artefacts. 

“What you see here is not necessarily representative of my work,” he says. “These are my personal bits of pop memorabilia.” 

He picks up one frame and says, “This is the record shop, Probe Records in Liverpool, that I used to hang out in when I was a teenager.” 

He picks up another. 

“These are Dusty Springfield’s false eyelashes," he smiles. "A friend of mine was her make-up artist and gave them to me.” 

There are posters showing Kim Wilde, Fun Boy Three, The Go-Gos, The Belle Stars and Blondie. There's also a framed disc of The Smiths’ Hatful Of Hollow, a jukebox that’s currently stuffed with classic disco seven inch records ("It's great for parties," Loraine notes). And floor-to-ceiling shelving holding yet more vinyl, books and magazines. Anyone who loves pop music could happily spend several hours in here. 

“I think of all the things I wanted as a kid, but couldn’t afford,” says Loraine. “Now, I can go on eBay and find them for £1 or whatever.” 

This is also the room that Fascination Management started out in. 

“It was me and Adam Klein [initially] and then Sarah Jackson joined us,” says Loraine. “We were quite squeezed in, with three desks, until we could get ourselves a nice little office space.”

His work with Fascination, which includes playing a key role in the Girls Aloud reunion and masterminding the sell-out Steps comeback tour – not to mention Jessie Ware's pop and podcast renaissance, the continued success of Goldfrapp or Jake Shears' solo rise – is part of the reason Peter Loraine is the winner of The Strat at this year’s Music Week Awards. But The Strat is a whole-career honour, given for an outstanding contribution to the UK music business over a sustained period of time, in this case 30 years. And Peter Loraine has contributed outstandingly in several areas. 

He started as a journalist and rapidly became the launch editor of Top Of The Pops Magazine, hitting staggering circulation highs of 500,000 copies per issue and forever branding the Spice Girls as Scary, Sporty, Baby, Posh and Ginger (he still has a bound copy of the magazine with a picture showing the Girls’ faces superimposed on Schwartz spice jars). 

From there, he moved to Polydor, at the personal request of Sir Lucian Grange, where he worked on launching S Club 7 and the initial development of Mamma Mia!. Still at Polydor, he became the label head of Fascination Records where he turned Girls Aloud from a reality TV show act to an enduring pop juggernaut and launched the multi-million selling career of The Saturdays. 

To those he has worked with, his importance cannot be overstated.

"I had this brainwave and I thought, ‘Peter Loraine is exactly the kind of person that a record company needs, and he was certainly what Polydor needed," says Lucian Grainge, speaking in tribute to Loraine in a video aired at the Music Week Awards. "He was really the beginning of the transformation to what Polydor became in the late ’90s."

"Peter was such an important part of making Polydor the No.1 label at that time, so it just very natural and the right thing to do to give him his own label," adds David Joseph, now Universal Music UK chairman and CEO.

“I don’t think people realise how instrumental Peter has been in a huge part of what the Spice Girls went on to become," says Melanie C. "Him giving us our nicknames was a game changer for the Spice Girls.”

Cheryl Cole notes that, when he started Fascination, Loraine was one of the first people to pursue Girls Aloud.

"Without him, I daresay we wouldn’t even be here today,” Cole says.

Of course, Loraine was also instrumental for a slew of acts that he didn't work directly with. Take That's contribution to our collection of tributes is to say that Loraine's early support is "part of our DNA", while Kylie also speaks fondly about her memories of TOTP Magazine.

“Well, it was the ’90s and I was on the cover, which was a huge thrill, covering Jarvis Cocker in kisses," she says. "So it was a good day at the office, thank you Peter Loraine!”

“There’s one thing that I feel is really special about this,” says Loraine of his win. “And it’s that I’m an out-and-out pop person. And there can be a lot of snobbery around pop music and I think this is a really lovely acknowledgement that it matters and it's important. I've managed to make a proper career out of what was just a bedroom hobby as a child. And so I think that this is an acknowledgement that pop music, within the music industry, is important and it's recognised. And I find it incredibly overwhelming and special and I'm so touched and delighted.” 

Loraine, however, is very much a team player and points out on several occasions that many other people have played significant roles in things that are listed as his achievements. 

“I don't like acknowledgement for things that weren't just me, because so many people work so hard,” he explains. “I want to acknowledge the fact that wherever I've worked, I've always been so lucky to have amazing people that have become friends, people with the same pop brains. You make each other laugh and you build with each other's ideas, and I've always had that, whether it's Top Of The Pops, throughout Polydor, through Fascination Records, to now.”

And so, in a room decorated with pop history, Music Week sits down with Peter Loraine to talk about his own outstanding contribution to the world of pop.

You’re from a working-class background in the North West of England, what did pop music mean to you growing up? 

“I grew up on a diet of pop music. I saw someone post an old cover of Smash Hits [online] recently and it was an issue I’d bought. The date on the front was 1982, so I would have been 10. I used to buy Smash Hits and Record Mirror and, the following year when it came out, Number One magazine. I spent all my pocket money. In 1984, when I got a paper round, I started buying Music Week too."

You bought Music Week as a teenager?

“I wanted to keep up to date with what was going on. I’d look at the job adverts in the back. Obviously, it had the charts in it and that was important. A lot of it went over my head, and I didn’t buy it every week, but it was quite often. Record Mirror had a gossip column about what was going on in different clubs and where pop stars were hanging out and it mentioned PRs and stuff like that. It was this whole other world that existed, although at that point London felt miles away. I had also realised that you could look on the back of a record and it would say, in Bananarama’s case London Records, so I would phone up and ask when a band was going to be on TV and they’d put me through to the promotions department. I would phone up Smash Hits and someone on reception or the news desk would humour me. People would say, ‘What are you going to do when you leave school?’ I would always say, ‘I'm going to move to London, I'm going to be friends with Bananarama. I'm going to work at a magazine or a record company.’ And that was all I wanted to do."

How did the people around you react to those ambitions? 

“Try to explain that to a careers officer or a teacher! My careers report to my parents recommended I do a youth training scheme at the video library. My O-Level English report said that too much Smash Hits was ruining my work and they told my parents they needed to knock my stupid ideas on the head. When I won the BSME award as the editor of Top Of The Pops [in 1997], there was a picture of me and my dad took it into my old school and found the teacher. I think his comment was, ‘Well, I got that one wrong’. My dad only told me afterwards.”

You were also producing a Bananarama fanzine at the time. Tell us about that...

“My history teacher leant me £100 to get the first one printed. That’s a real 'Sliding Doors' moment in my life, it could have unfolded quite differently. I had little reviews in Smash Hits and Record Mirror and people would send a pound for a copy. Smash Hits invited me in for a meeting, thinking I was an adult. I got the train from Liverpool and went to Carnaby Street. I met [editor] Barry McIlheney and I really wasn’t what he expected. But they said, ‘Come in for four weeks the next time you have a school holiday.’ I hated school. I was unconfident, I was frightened and it was aggressive. But when I got to London I had this drive, everything was amazing and I wasn’t intimidated.

“Bananarama’s management also really liked the fanzine and sent me a train ticket for a meeting. I’d written something about London Records being rubbish because they didn’t know how to market the records. They said they’d like to make my fanzine the official fanzine, but I couldn’t say that about the record company and the fanzine would need to be approved. They also wanted me to deal with the fan mail. There were sacks and sacks of mail in the room and they wanted me to take it all away and reply to it all. They said, ‘We’ll pay you £40 a week’ and at that point I was making about £2 doing a paper round. I’d won the jackpot. And all these letters were from people just like me.” 

You’ve previously said that you would lie awake worrying about the marketing campaigns for your favourite artists from the age of 13. Which is an extraordinary level of knowledge and concern for someone that age...

“I was just so genuinely into it and so interested. It wasn’t even just the acts I liked. I'd wonder why a record company was doing [certain things]. Why are the band on this programme? They don't have a record out. When Love In The First Degree came out [in September 1987], it was Bananarama’s biggest, biggest record and it was No.3. And the week that it was still No.3, nothing happened. And I thought, ‘What are you doing to get this to No.2, to No.1, next weekend?’ I knew Siobhan [Fahey] was in America, they weren't on Top Of The Pops, there wasn't any special formatting. With Robert De Niro's Waiting [in 1984] there were all these different coloured 12”s to collect and stuff. So they knew what to do. But this particular week, they didn't. My mind was working like that all the time. So yeah, I had sleepless nights about it. But I didn't know what midweeks were then…”

Rolling back a bit, how did those Spice Girls nicknames come about? 

“Virgin Records asked us, at Top Of The Pops magazine, to come and have lunch and meet this new band. And, at the time, they didn’t really have anyone big, maybe Shaggy. But me and Susie Boone, who was the deputy editor, went to Portobello and met them. We were there first and sat on a rooftop. I remember the sound of a car screeching up and the noise of them getting out and charging up the wooden stairs. They were so loud and funny and amazing. We were with them for a few hours. During that lunch, I said, ‘We're going to give you your own Top Of The Pops names. So our readers can have their own ownership of you.’ It was based on two things. The Belle Stars used to use their band name as their surname. And, in the ’80s, Fuzzbox had their own personal nicknames in Smash Hits. So it was a combination of the two. 

“Fast-forward a few weeks and Wannabe had just come out and they were in Top Of The Pops and we didn’t know what we were going to call them, so it was us in the office saying, ‘The posh one in the dress’. I didn't think of all five of the names. There were a few of us, but there was no real time spent because it was only meant to be in our magazine. Then a columnist from the Daily Star phoned and said, ‘It’s so funny, do you mind if we use them?’. It was mentioned in a Sunday Times article. And it started to creep up. Simon Fuller phoned me from LAX and said, ‘We've landed in LA, everyone's going nuts, but no one knows their real names.’”

You seem to have an instinctive understanding of how fandom works. How has that influenced your career? 

“I think fans are the most important people in the whole of our industry. Because if you don't have any fans, you've got nothing. I used to send fan letters to Bananarama when I was around 12 and they would write back to me. And it blew my mind. So at Top Of The Pops we had someone, as I used to do, to answer all the mail. Because if you are 11 and you get a handwritten postcard with Top Of The Pops on it, then chances are you are going to tell your friends at school and you’re going to buy the magazine again. So, by the time I got to Polydor, it was crucial that those fanbases were nurtured. If we were with a band doing CD:UK or whatever then you would absolutely, if it was safe, take them out the front and do autographs and have them meet people.”

How do you think the nature of fandom has changed over the years? 

“I think people expect more now. And that makes me feel a bit sad, because of the pressure to keep up with social media and what is expected is pictures at home of your family and your friends, a lot more personal stuff. And I think that's a bit of a shame really, you can look on her Instagram and see what Madonna's loo looks like.”

So, you started out in publishing, then went to a label and now you work in management. You’ve proven yourself to be a triple threat in music, which is one of the reasons we think you’re such a worthy winner of The Strat. How do you reflect on your moves across the business? 

“I had initially imagined my career would be in publishing. I was at BBC magazines and there was always this thought in my mind that maybe one day I might be able to edit the Radio Times. And then when Spice-mania became such a huge thing, I got a phone call from Lucian Grange who had quite recently become the head of Polydor… At that time they had Shed Seven, they had Cast, Silver Sun, Ian Brown, they’d signed Peter Hook’s band Monaco. We were just coming out of Britpop and The Spice Girls were massive, Simon Cowell was launching 5ive and Lucian thought they needed a pop person or a pop division. I kept saying, ‘What’s the job?’ and he kept saying, ‘Just come’. It was an agonising decision. It was a different world for me and, at Top Of The Pops, I had my own version of Smash Hits and it was selling half a million copies. But Lucian was calm and Boyzone were signed to Polydor and he told me to just watch and get involved… It took me a while to find my feet, but I became an artist development manager. We were all in this long corridor and A&R was on one side of me and marketing on the other. When we did S Club it was great. Simon Fuller was their manager and he knew me from The Spice Girls and Lucian was friends with him too. Then we had David Joseph who had come in as the marketing director. It was a dream team. And for David and I, it was our first thing and so David was like, ‘This needs to be magnificent, we need to be big, we need to be launching the new Spice Girls’… 

How quickly did your instincts as a label exec develop?

“When David was promoted I went into marketing full time and worked across the whole roster. There were many people in that department working very hard, I was overseeing them, but I don’t want to diminish their contributions at all. We had an absolutely phenomenal team of people… Sometimes we’d have a quiet week and David would say, ‘Oh, we won’t have a record in the Top 10 this week’ and I would say, ‘Well, what about if I make a new TV ad for ABBA?’ We did one once with people lip-syncing and the slogan, ‘Everyone in the UK loves ABBA’ and it went to No.1. I also worked on Mamma Mia! from when it was first an idea and Polydor were the official soundtrack partners.”

What has been the hardest moment of your career and what did you learn from it?

“When I was marketing manager at Polydor, David Joseph came to me and said, ‘We’d like to offer you your own label.’ It turned out to be Fascination Records and Polydor’s pop imprint. I was asked to pick some things to go through Fascination and employ teams. It was a really huge moment. Girls Aloud came with me, Sophie Ellis-Bextor came with me and ABBA and we did the deal with Mamma Mia! We sold millions of copies of the soundtrack right off the bat. I’m proud I’ve been a part of keeping ABBA going, because there was definitely a time when people were a bit sniffy about them. But it felt very pressurising, because suddenly you're responsible for what's coming next and signing new things. I wouldn't say that I'm not an A&R person, but it’s like a machine, you’ve got to keep churning stuff [out]. And it's not good enough that something is doing well. It's like, ‘What's next?’ Looking back, we did really well because we launched The Saturdays. But the pressure of coming up with the next thing, I found that really hard. And then we did a deal with Hollywood Records and we launched Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers and Selena Gomez in the UK, so I did the strategy and the releases of all their first UK releases and that was fun. Looking back, it was good.”

Can you outline the transition from Fascination Records to Fascination Management

“We did really well with The Saturdays and they were managerless and looking for someone new. We had a conversation and I thought, ‘Okay, this could be my next move. If this is my next move and I can get it right, then probably it would be my last move, the road ahead’. With a management company, I was only going to work with acts that I really love and acts that I understand… That’s what I wanted to create with Fascination. I wanted it to be the management version of what London Records was in the 1980s: they weren’t an indie label, but they behaved like an indie label. They had a pop roster of successful acts and a small team that killed it and were very focused. But it was more about the collective of people that were signed to them. It felt like they all fit together. If, 10 years ago, someone had shown me now and said, ‘This is where you’ll be’ then I would have been pleased.”

Among many successes, the company has been instrumental in the Steps reunion... 

“I could talk for hours about all of our artists, but I think what we've been able to help Steps achieve is so special. If you were to pay attention to most people in the music industry, Steps shouldn't perform how they perform. They receive streaming cheques, they sell out arenas, the last record was No.1, they’re A-listed on radio, with better radio play than they had in their heyday. It's defying everything that probably should happen with them. And it’s with the five of them, and a team at Fascination, a very, very small team of people that completely understand it and completely get it… We went to meet labels and we were able to say, ‘We want to make a new album, and when we do we have a 20-date arena tour and we have financial backing for that’. And not one person at any label was interested. So we did it ourselves with Absolute and I think we sold around 100,000 albums.”

You manage Girls Aloud now. Nicola Roberts told us about how she remembers you being so dedicated that you went over to her and Cheryl's flat to teach them how to use the thermostat...

“I don’t actually remember that, but I do remember them calling and saying they had no electricity. I asked if it was working in the flat next door and it was. I asked if they had paid their bill… They were teenagers, they had no idea. They’d just been cut off, but they were very young. I also remember that Tuesday mornings at Polydor were very busy because that’s when the midweeks came in. There was a big meeting and I wasn’t there because I was buying Cheryl a Hoover on my way to work because she was having a breakdown about the state of their flat.” 

How do you reflect on the period when Sarah Harding passed away?

“We’d all stayed in touch over the years and they weren’t performing as Girls Aloud at that point. But it was just after Covid and I thought I hadn’t heard from Sarah in years, so I just sent her a message and we got chatting again. Then one day she called and said, ‘I think I might need your help.’ She said, ‘I've found out that I have breast cancer and I don't want anyone to know, but obviously they might find out and I don't have management, I don't have a publicist.’ At that point, she’d decided she didn't want to do it anymore. And then one day, someone tweeted that they’d seen Sarah Harding in the oncology ward. So we prepared for what would happen when it did come out, which included me going to see the other four girls to tell them. We decided to beat the press to it. So we did a story on her Instagram about her being unwell. We went away for a couple of days, as did the four of them, just to spend some time together… I feel that as fast as her cancer was dealt with, it popped up somewhere else. She didn’t get a break with it at all. It was so sad. She’d learned to play guitar in lockdown and she first thought the lump was caused by pressure from the guitar strap.” 

And now you're working on the Girls Aloud reunion...

“Sarah’s death was what brought everybody back together. And, surprisingly, from there they said, ‘Yes, we would like to do it and we'd like to do it for her.’ She’d said she would have been first in the line, I think. And she did say, ‘If I'm not here, you should’. And then the outpouring of love they received, I think they were amazed that anyone was still interested in their songs, but I don’t know how they could possibly think that. It's exciting that the four of them are in a really good place. Sarah will be embraced and acknowledged and applauded and appreciated in the show. Will it be the same without her? No, not at all. It will be brilliant, but it won't be the same. It is lovely to be working with them again.”

What's your most interesting story from your years working in the industry?

“There are lots to choose from, but a really special moment occurred when I’d only been at Polydor for a few weeks. Lucian asked me if I would like to spend Sunday afternoon with him – he was going to meet Björn Ulvaeus. To spend the afternoon with one of ABBA was one thing, but to find myself in a situation where he was asking me my thoughts on things and seemed generally interested in my ideas was mind blowing. At the end of the meeting Björn shook my hand, said it had been great to meet and asked if I could lend him a tenner for a cab back to his hotel.”

And what is the biggest mistake you've ever made? 

“The Saturdays spent months in America recording a reality show for the US network E!. The production team were the team who made Keeping Up With The Kardashians and I somehow found myself persuaded to be on camera. Reality TV is definitely not for me. Never again.”

Finally, Nicola Roberts said to us that if you could sing, you would have been the biggest pop star of all. Do you think that’s true?

“No, I wouldn’t! I don’t think she’s heard me sing, but I absolutely cannot. I 100% love being on this side and there is no part of me that would want to be on the other. When artists aren’t pleased with a performance on the day, or how they look in a particular photo, well, I would be terrible at that too. I haven’t chosen to do it and I wouldn’t do it. It is a funny and nice comment though.”

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