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Neil Tennant

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Neil Tennant
Tennant performing with Pet Shop Boys at Hyde Park in 2019
Tennant performing with Pet Shop Boys at Hyde Park in 2019
Background information
Birth nameNeil Francis Tennant
Born (1954-07-10) 10 July 1954 (age 69)
North Shields, Northumberland, England
OriginNewcastle upon Tyne, England
  • Singer
  • songwriter
  • music journalist
  • Vocals
  • keyboards
  • synthesizer
  • guitar
Years active1970–present
Member ofPet Shop Boys

Neil Francis Tennant (born 10 July 1954) is an English singer, songwriter and music journalist, and co-founder of the synth-pop duo the Pet Shop Boys, which he formed with Chris Lowe in 1981. He was a journalist for Smash Hits, and assistant editor for the magazine in the mid-1980s.

Tennant coined the phrase imperial phase to describe the period in which a musical artist is regarded to be at their commercial and creative peak simultaneously. This observation was initially self-referential, made as the Pet Shop Boys had achieved commercial success with four British number one hits ("West End Girls", "It's a Sin", "Heart", and "Always on My Mind"), had received unanimous critical praise for their first three albums and had expanded their creative horizons through innovative collaborations in the visual and performing arts.[1]


Early life[edit]

Neil Francis Tennant was born in the town of North Shields (approx 8 miles) east of Newcastle upon Tyne, to William W. Tennant (1923–2009), a sales representative, and Sheila M. (Watson) Tennant (1923–2008).[2] He has an older sister, Susan, and two younger brothers, Simon and Philip.[3] The family moved to Greenfield Road (opposite the corner of South Bend), Brunton Park, shortly after Neil was born.

As a child, Tennant attended St Cuthbert's Grammar School, an all-boys' Catholic school in Newcastle upon Tyne. His songs "This Must Be the Place I Waited Years to Leave" and "It's a Sin" refer to his early life in Catholic school and the strict upbringing there.[4]

While at school, Tennant played guitar and cello. At age 16, he played in a folk music group named Dust, whose most popular song was called "Can You Hear the Dawn Break?". They were heavily influenced by The Incredible String Band. During his teenage years, he was a member of the youth theatre at the People's Theatre, Newcastle upon Tyne.

Early career[edit]

In 1975, having completed a degree in history at North London Polytechnic (now part of London Metropolitan University), Tennant worked for two years as the production editor for Marvel UK, the UK branch of Marvel Comics. He was responsible for anglicising the dialogue of Marvel's catalogue to suit British readers and for indicating where women needed to be redrawn for the British editions.[5] He also wrote occasional features for the comics, including interviews with pop stars Marc Bolan and Alex Harvey. In 1977, he moved to Macdonald Educational Publishing, where he edited The Dairy Book of Home Management and various illustrated books about cookery, playing the guitar and other home interests. Then he moved to ITV Books, where he edited TV tie-in books. After having commissioned Steve Bush, then the designer of Smash Hits and The Face, to design a book about the group Madness, he was offered a job at Smash Hits as news editor of the British teen pop magazine in 1982. The following year, he became assistant editor. He also edited The Smash Hits Yearbook from 1982 to 1985.

At Smash Hits, an opportunity arose for him to go to New York to interview The Police. While there, Tennant arranged to meet Bobby Orlando, a producer whom he and Lowe admired. Tennant mentioned he was writing songs in his spare time, and Orlando agreed to record some tracks with him and Lowe at a later date. Orlando produced the Pet Shop Boys' first single "West End Girls".

Pet Shop Boys[edit]

Tennant performing at Pori Jazz 2014 in Pori, Finland

Solo appearances[edit]

Alongside his work with Chris Lowe as Pet Shop Boys, Tennant has worked on several side projects including:


  • One Hundred Lyrics and a Poem (2018) – a collection of Pet Shop Boys' lyrics and song-by-song commentaries.[7]

Personal life[edit]

Tennant came out as gay in a 1994 interview in Attitude magazine.[8][9] Otherwise he remains quiet about his personal and romantic life, preferring to be a "man of mystery", as he states it.[10] He maintains a house in London and another one in County Durham[11] in the countryside of North East England.[12] He and Lowe also have an apartment in Berlin.[13]

Tennant is a patron of the Elton John AIDS Foundation.[14] In 1998, Tennant was named in a list of the biggest private financial donors to the Labour Party.[15] However, in the 2005 general election he voted for the Liberal Democrats, citing disillusionment with Labour's ID card scheme.[16] The Pet Shop Boys agreed to personal appeals by then-Mayor of London Boris Johnson and then-Prime Minister David Cameron, both prominent Conservative Party politicians, for the group to play at the "winners' parade" taking place shortly after the 2012 Summer Olympics closing ceremony. Enjoying the event's atmosphere and how their stage presence turned into a well-received performance, Tennant subsequently texted Cameron's staff pushing Cameron to use gay scientist Alan Turing's centenary year as impetus for the UK Government to formally pardon Turing.[17] The formal pardon did go through on 24 December 2013, with the related official paperwork signed by Queen Elizabeth II.

Tennant has praised the group The Specials and singer-songwriter Elvis Costello, highlighting "Ghost Town" and "Shipbuilding" as protest songs successfully putting politics into pop music.[17]

He has criticised ageism in the music industry, stating in 2013 that radio professionals would tell him that they want to play Pet Shop Boys songs on the air, but will not because the duo, then in their 50s, were considered to be "too old".[17]


Actor David Tennant adopted his stage name from Tennant when joining Equity, as another actor was already registered with his birth name, David McDonald.[18][19][20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ewing, Tom (28 May 2010). "Imperial". Pitchfork. Retrieved 21 October 2022. I felt at this time that we had the secret of contemporary pop music, that we knew what was required. We entered our imperial phase.
  2. ^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 22 August 2014.
  3. ^ "Literally" by Chris Heath, published 1990
  4. ^ Rivieccio, Genna (17 June 2015). ""It's A Sin": A Song About Shame That More People Should Take to Heart". Culledculture.com.
  5. ^ 'Pet Shop Boys, annually (1989). 1989. ASIN 0723568421.
  6. ^ "Noel Coward — Twentieth Century Blues". Pet Shop Boys.
  7. ^ Tennant, Neil (2018). One Hundred Lyrics and a Poem: 1976–2016. London: Faber & Faber. ISBN 9780571348909. OCLC 1085375005.
  8. ^ Burston, Paul (13 March 2016). "Attitude Archive: Neil Tennant's 1994 Coming Out Interview". Attitude. Archived from the original on 14 March 2016. Retrieved 29 August 2016.
  9. ^ "For Hard-Core Petheads: The Tennant Interview in Full". The Atlantic. 5 June 2009. Retrieved 29 August 2016.
  10. ^ "I prefer to be Neil Tennant, man of mystery". The Herald. 25 January 2020.
  11. ^ "I refuse to be restricted by background - or fear". The Guardian. 4 September 2004. Retrieved 14 February 2016.
  12. ^ Desert Island Discs, BBC Radio 4, Kirsty Young
  13. ^ "Pet Shop Boys: Neil Tennant mag fast alles an Berlin". morgenpost.de. 21 January 2020. Retrieved 4 October 2020.
  14. ^ "Elton John AIDS Foundation patrons". ejaf.com. Retrieved 29 September 2014.
  15. ^ "'Luvvies' for Labour". BBC News. 30 August 1998.
  16. ^ "Pet Shop Boys protest at ID cards". BBC News. 1 March 2006.
  17. ^ a b c "The Pet Shop Boys on texting Cameron and Russian homophobia". New Statesman. 10 June 2021.
  18. ^ Tim Walker "David Tennant: The good doctor", The Independent, 29 March 2008
  19. ^ Shannon, Sarah (7 December 2005). "David Tennant: His days of blissful anonymity are numbered". The Independent. UK. Archived from the original on 21 April 2006.
  20. ^ "David Tennant reveals Pet Shop Boys inspiration". BBC News. 19 March 2015. Retrieved 1 August 2022.

External links[edit]