Feisty and fearless, 80's pop icon Hazel O'Connor fights biggest battle yet
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It was 1998 and the Mansefield Traquair Church had, deliberately and ironically I like to think, been rebranded as 'Graffiti' for the duration of the Edinburgh Festival.
Now, when I say one woman show, that's not quite true, she was accompanied by virtuoso Irish harpist Cormac de Barre when it came time to perform the songs from her groundbreaking cult film, Breaking Glass. To my generation, that film had made Hazel an iconic figure - the image of her as Kate in her fluorescent electronic-circuit 'Tron' bodysuit performing Eight Day has become emblematic of Eighties' future dreaming.
Spine-tingling as it was to hear these oh so familiar songs live as they echoed around the underground crypt of the church (and later, to hear Eighth Day enhanced by the perfectly balanced acoustics of the nave of the church) it was Hazel's ability to to bring her own story to life that held audiences spell-bound.
Her's was a difficult life, from being raped as young woman to being ripped off by the music industry and left unable to perform her own songs, her recollections left many in the audience in tears, despite Hazel's defiant, no nonsense approach. Her strength and anger shone through, a beacon of hope for any finding themselves in the same situation.
Watching her perform was a profoundly moving experience.
When I met Hazel afterwards for a chat, we'd arranged to do an interview for a magazine I was writing for at the time, I asked what was next for the show.
“Nothing,” she replied, “It's just for the Fringe. Do you think it's got a life after this?”
I did. Beyond Breaking Glass screamed for a life after the Fringe. Long story short, with the help of a theatre manager friend in Hemel Hempstead we arranged a showcase of the production for show-bookers and promoters. Beyond Breaking Glass never looked back, it travelled the world and was still being dusted off from time to time right up to the dawning of the pandemic.
That first meeting was also the start of a great friendship, so I was floored when I heard this week that Hazel was seriously ill in hospital, in France.
Her brother Neil's post on her social media on Monday came out of the blue: ‘This is an important announcement about my darling sister... On Sunday last Hazel was discovered at her place in SW France and was found to have suffered a serious medical event.’
Hazel had suffered a bleed on the brain and had to be put into an induced coma for about 24 hrs.
Asking everyone to send ‘all positive thoughts, vibes and intentions’ Hazel's way, Neil continued: ‘Her recovery is going to take a while but she is tough and is responding to stimuli and to treatment.’
Feisty and fearless, one thing I know about Hazel is that she is a fighter, so come on my lovely friend, you got this lady. Until the next time you drink your coffee and I sip my tea, I’m sending you big love and strength. x