Alison Moira Clarkson
(born 6 March 1970 in Kensington, London) better known as Betty Boo
, is an English singer, songwriter and pop rap artist. She first came to mainstream prominence in the late 1980s and early 1990s following a collaboration with The Beatmasters and her subsequent solo career, which spawned a number of chart-placing singles, most notably in 1990 with "Doin' the Do".Betty BooClarkson studied sound engineering at the Holloway School of Audio Engineering before having a string of hits between 1989 and 1992. Originally nicknamed "Betty Boop" for her similarity to the cartoon character, she changed it to avoid trademark disputes. Of mixed Dusun and Scottish ancestry, she had an unusual, striking Emma Peel-like look, dressed in mildly provocative and revealing outfits and proved to be an influential pop music figure whose "sassy, powerful music and image launched a thousand wannabe's [sic
\]". Writing for The Guardian
in August 1990, Lucy O'Brien noted the difference between the "quietly spoken" Clarkson and her "lovable toughie" pop star alter-ego, describing the latter as "a cartoon combination of Betty Boop, Barbarella and Buck Rogers".Whilst still at school, Boo began her musical career by signing to the British record label Music of Life with the hip-hop group the She Rockers, whose success led her to New York and work with Public Enemy, who encouraged her to pursue a solo career. Commenting on her time spent supporting Public Enemy on tour in the US, as well as working with Professor Griff in the recording studio on the song "Give It A Rest", Boo revealed that things did not go as expected; "They were producing our single and I thought it would sound like their stuff, but it didn't at all. And some of the crowds were hostile to us. They didn't throw anything, no, but they wanted to see Public Enemy and they just weren't interested in us."Her big break came when she appeared as guest vocalist on the 1989 number 7 UK hit single, "Hey DJ - I Can't Dance (To That Music You're Playing)" by The Beatmasters. Her first solo single, "Doin' The Do", followed and was also a UK number 7 success for her in 1990, selling 200,000 copies and reaching number one on Billboard's dance chart in the United States. One year later, the song was used as the title tune for Magic Pockets
video game by the Bitmap Brothers. Boomania
, her platinum-selling debut album, was largely self-written and self-produced in her bedroom. Her second solo single, "Where Are You Baby?", which reached number 3 in August 1990, is her biggest solo hit to date. "24 Hours" was the third and final single to be issued from Boomania
, and although it was a hit, it was less so than previous releases, stalling at number 25 in December 1990. Her initial success was compounded at the 1991 BRIT Awards ceremony where she was voted that year's best British Breakthrough Act. In 1991, her "Why, Oh Why?" 1950s-style love ballad featured on the soundtrack to the American film A Rage in Harlem
.Boo returned with a new record deal in 1992 having signed to WEA. Her follow-up album, GRRR! It's Betty Boo
, suffered very disappointing sales in the UK, peaking at number 62. It did, nevertheless, spawn another UK hit single titled "Let Me Take You There", which reached number 12 in August 1992. A further single, "I'm On My Way", which featured a musical quote from The Beatles' "Lady Madonna" (the brass riff using all the original players) was very well received by the media, but did not sell well and entered the chart at number 44 in October 1992. Her next single, "Hangover", fared even worse, barely scraping the Top 50 upon release in April 1993. Following the release of GRRR!
, Clarkson turned down an offer to sign with Madonna's Maverick Records, and in 1999 a Best Of
compilation album—effectively an expanded version of Boomania
with extra remixes and a different running order—was released and sold moderately well.
After her solo career effectively ended when her mother contracted terminal cancer in the early 1990s, Clarkson turned to songwriting, at the request of Chris Herbert, who was in the process of forming a new, all-girl group. Chris asked Alison to contribute to the project after revealing that she was his inspiration in forming one of his previous projects, the Spice Girls; "He told me that when they were auditioning for the Spice Girls, they were looking for five Betty Boos - larger-than-life cartoon characters. He asked me to get involved in this other band he was putting together, Girl Thing, because he wanted this signature Betty Boo sound, a bit of hip-hop."Alison went on to co-write a number of songs for Girl Thing, including "Pure and Simple". Although the group's A&R man, Simon Cowell, initially rejected Clarkson's song, it was included in the Japanese edition of Girl Thing's self-titled debut album, released in 2001. The song became a huge, record-breaking hit single when it was re-recorded and released as the debut single of Hear’Say—winners of the reality TV show, Popstars
—in March of the same year. On the release, Clarkson commented; "The arrangement they used was almost identical. I never met the band. It was a bit disheartening". The song went on to win the Ivor Novello Award for the biggest selling single of 2001, however despite finding renewed success by writing for other artists, Clarkson did not care for the audition based manufactured pop process which spawned them;
This audition-based pop star thing just didn't exist when I was around, or at least I wasn't aware of it. I came from a hip-hop background, did very credible underground music. As a pop artist, I had my own image. I had got to help the directors with the videos, I worked very closely with an art designer on the sleeves and stuff. It's completely different now... Popstars was the whole thing I completely loathe in pop music. I don't like the idea of people being auditioned to be in a pop band. They may as well be working on a cruise liner. Pop music will not evolve if it carries on like this. I think Popstars exposed how a pop group is made. It should put an end to it completely. Even if 'Pure and Simple' was a successful record, I'm not that passionate about it. I'm more passionate that the programme itself might have changed people's view about pop.
Clarkson has also written songs for Girls Aloud (reunited with the Beatmasters), Louise Nurding, Dannii Minogue, The Tweenies and, most recently, for Sophie Ellis-Bextor's fourth studio album.
In 2006, Betty formed a pop duo called WigWam, with Alex James, bassist from Blur. Together, they worked with music producer Ben Hillier, along with former Boo collaborators The Beatmasters. Despite working to create "an album of experimental yet accessible 21st century pop", just one single emerged from their musical partnership, the self-titled "WigWam" released on 3 April 2006 via Instant Karma Records.
Collaboration with Jack Rokka
In August 2007, she released a new single titled "Take Off". The song, which was playlisted on Radio 1's dance-oriented shows, was a joint project with the London-based dance act Jack Rokka and, as such, is much more dance-oriented than her previous work. She went on to perform the collaboration in a live set at Manchester Pride in 2007, along with some of her other songs. The video sees Betty Boo's trademark look resurrected and even features the 'Boosters' - Betty Boo's backing dancers, who always appear with identical hair and outfits to Betty - and the Betty Boo spiral. Betty appeared on ITV's Loose Women
on 16 October 2007 to promote the single, and has also appeared as an interviewee on BBC Three's The Most Annoying Pop Songs...
show, passing comment on several songs that made the Top 100 list.
In June 2011, Clarkson featured as Betty Boo (and is credited) on the track "Virtually Art" by The Feeling on the double-album edition of their 2011 release, Together We Were Made
(disc 2 track 2).
In July 2009, historian Kate Williams reported on BBC Radio 4's Broadcasting House
that she is working with Clarkson to develop a musical version of Williams' biography England's Mistress: The Infamous Life of Emma Hamilton