Strange But True Incidents Involving the Pet Shop Boys

This roughly chronological list is purely subjective on my part: I personally have to judge an incident "sufficiently strange" to include it here. The events listed here may be amusing, troubling, and/or shocking, but above all they have to be very unusual. And they must also be indisputably true, verifiable through one or more reliable independent sources, such as news organizations.

The first-ever "record credit" for a Pet Shop Boy

The very first credit on a recording for either Chris Lowe or Neil Tennant wasn't as a songwriter, singer, instrumentalist, producer, mixer, arranger, engineer, or anything else that commonly merits inclusion among recording credits. Rather, it was for an idea.

In 1982, when Neil was an editor with Smash Hits magazine, he came up with the idea of a special recording that he and his colleagues then set about bringing to fruition. It was for a "Happy Christmas" release featuring spoken holiday wishes to fans from an assortment of recording artists. The artists who agreed to this promotional effort and who provided their greetings were ABBA, ABC, Adam Ant, Bananarama, Bucks Fizz, Captain Sensible, Culture Club, Duran Duran, Fun Boy Three, Haircut One Hundred, Imagination, The Jam, Madness, Mari Wilson, Musical Youth, The Piranhas, The Police, Steve Strange, Toyah Willcox, and Ultravox. The recording was pressed onto a thin 7-inch plastic flexi-disc and distributed as a promotional bonus titled "Happy Christmas from the Stars" in copies of the late December 1982 issue of Smash Hits. An extremely rare "privilege hard-pressing" was also produced and distributed to members of the magazine staff.

Along with the names of the artists who offered their holiday greetings and a few others, the flexi-disc label also provides the first-ever credit on a record for one of the future Pet Shop Boys: "Idea: Neil Tennant."

Chris Lowe's more unusual TV appearances

It's fairly common knowledge among PSB fans that Chris made a brief cameo appearance on the July 26, 1995 episode of the Australian soap opera Neighbours. Driving down Ramsay Street in a white Porsche convertible, Chris stops to ask directions of two of the show's regular characters, Helen and Marlene. They immediately recognize from his accent that he's English. "I’m a little lost," he says before adding, "I’m looking for a recording studio which is 'round here somewhere." Helen asks if he's in a band. "Yeah, the Pet Shop Boys," he replies.

"Oh, well," Marlene tells him, "I’m sure you're destined for big things one of these days." Amused, Chris then drives off to continue his search for the studio.

Far less well known, however, is Chris's appearance nearly ten years earlier, in late 1985, on the U.K. morning news show Breakfast Time. It was, in fact, the Pet Shop Boys' first-ever television interview, right when "West End Girls" was charging up the British charts. Chris actually fell asleep mid-interview with co-anchor Selina Scott. Years later Neil recalled the incident: "It was very early in the morning, it was like a quarter to eight. She had to wake him up to answer a question."

Now, no matter how early in the morning it was, who else can you think of who would fall asleep—who would even be able to fall asleep—during their very first interview on nationwide television? To describe it as "nonchalance" seems an understatement, to say the least.

But, most notoriously, there's the March 25, 1991 incident—fully documented in Chris Heath's book Pet Shop Boys vs. America—of Chris storming off the stage mid-performance of "Where the Streets Have No Name (I Can't Take My Eyes Off You)" on the popular U.S. television program The Tonight Show because the camera was completely ignoring him, thereby leaving Neil on his own for the rest of the song and the interview that followed. Neil was understandably upset about it afterward, even going so far as to express his exasperation to Heath, confiding, "I sometimes wonder whether it's worth it." We can of course be extremely grateful that it never went any further than that.

Neil and Bono patch it up by taking the plunge

In 2002, Neil revealed that what some had described as a "simmering feud" between the Pet Shop Boys and U2—stemming from the Boys' 1991 cover of U2's "Where the Streets Have No Name," brazenly mashed with Frankie Valli's "Can't Take My Eyes Off You"—had been put to rest through an incident that had taken place some time before (though he didn't say precisely when).

As it turns out, Neil and U2 lead singer Bono had met at Elton John's mansion in the south of France. Neil said that Bono was "really friendly," but he had adopted something of a competitive air, repeatedly saying, "It's rock versus pop." Following dinner, Bono lept from the terrace to Elton's swimming pool below. Neil clearly took this act of bravado as a challenge. So, as Neil put put it, "To his evident surprise, I jumped in as well." Duly impressed, Bono then admitted, "OK. Rock one—pop one."

Neil summarized the incident: "It ended as a draw—quite rightly so."

Neil Tennant's celebrity stalkers

In an October 2003 interview with Miranda Sawyer of The Observer, the Pet Shop Boys spoke at length about Neil's stalkers. They told of girls from as far away as Germany and Poland who had come to his house, avowedly wanting to marry him. One was even accompanied by her mother, who appeared to be encouraging her daughter's irrational behavior. Another young woman would visit every day to tie a helium balloon to an exterior railing of his home. When she invited herself "for tea tomorrow" by means of a letter attached to one such balloon, Neil had the man who looks after his house throw a bucket of water on her when she showed up at the door. "It was a horrible thing to do," admitted Neil, "but I knew that once she was shocked out of it, she would stop, and she did."

"They go through your rubbish, too," Neil went on to say, setting up the most bizarre anecdote all. "One girl came up to me and said to me, 'My friend's got all your old razor blades stuck on her bedroom wall.'"

More recently, in early 2009, Neil has allegedly been stalked by a woman who sends him nude pictures of herself and labors under the delusion that they're actively having an affair. He's reportedly "terrified" of her—and given the sometimes tragic history of celebrity stalkers, who wouldn't be?

"Pet Shop Boys Meet Western Union Girls"

Our musical heroes weren't actually "involved" in this incident from 2004 but, as you'll soon see, they certainly had an unwitting role to play.

Scam-o-rama® is a website that documents attempted incidents of online advance-fee fraud, in which an spam-email sender (often allegedly from Nigeria or some other "third-world" country) claims to be a bureaucrat, banker, or some other official who just happens to want to share large sums of money with you. All you need to do is to "invest" some of your own cash in the process, in expectation of collecting even more. But of course it's a scam that ends up defrauding its victims, sometimes of thousands of dollars. In short, it's only their own greed—well, and their gullibility, too—that allows them to be victimized. The twist with Scam-o-rama, however, is that its participants set about scamming the scammers, pretending to go along with the schemes, often for weeks on end, wasting the scammers' time and generating amusing email exchanges, all of which are documented for our reading pleasure.

So where do the Pet Shop Boys come into all this? As it so happens, in May 2004 one such exchange began in which the anti-scammer—that is, the person who decided to pull the proverbial wool over the attempted scammer's eyes—adopted the name "Christopher Tennant" and, in responding with feigned interest in the fraudster's email, claimed to be the proprietor of a small chain of pet shops in the New York City area. Into each of the emails he slyly dropped the titles of PSB songs or excerpts from their lyrics. For example, in one message in which the anti-scammer mentioned his troubled relationship with his (no doubt fictional) estranged wife, he wrote, "Everyday there's floods of tears and doors slamming, stamping feet across the landing," which attentive PSB fans will recognize as having been adapted from "The End of the World." And there are lots more where that came from.

At any rate, the exchange went on for a full month before the original scammer finally decided to give up on ever getting any money from the anti-scammer, who just kept leading him on with PSB-laced text. When it was all over and done with, the full exchange was posted on the Scam-o-rama site under the title "Pet Shop Boys Meet Western Union Girls." It's quite lengthy and you may not wish to take the time necessary to read it all, but the first few and the last few exchanges will give you the gist of it. I think it's hilarious myself.

The "Neilotron"

Back in 2005, when the Boys were working with producer Trevor Horn on the Fundamental album, they began using a digital keyboard with samples of Neil's voice singing vowel syllables ("ahs" and perhaps "oos") as notes on the diatonic scale. This enabled the player—Chris, most likely—to perform, in effect, a choir of "Neils" as virtual background vocalists, whether live or in the studio. Horn dubbed this device a "Neilotron," an obvious but nonetheless clever takeoff on the Mellotron electronic keyboard instrument that gained great notoriety in the late 'sixties and early 'seventies, especially in psychedelic and prog-rock circles.

Though it was notably used by many artists—including the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Bee Gees, Elton John, King Crimson, Genesis, and Yes, among many others—the Mellotron's most persistent exponents were the Moody Blues, for whom it provided their signature "sound" during the period from 1967 to 1972. The Mellotron employs analog tapes to reproduce the sounds of orchestral instruments (most often the string section, but flutes and horns are also commonly used) and, yes, sometimes vocal choirs. The Neilotron simply updated the concept for the digital age, with the unusual twist of reproducing choirs composed of an individual, specific, and highly identifiable voice.

Chris and Neil have continued to make use of the Neilotron in the years since (apparently even updating it to take advantage of more recent digital technology), such as during the early 2012 sessions for their album Elysium.

Greil Marcus's Bob Dylan/PSB "connection"

When noted U.S. music critic and cultural historian Greil Marcus published in 2005 his thirteenth book, Like a Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan at the Crossroads, the public reaction, both professional and amateur, ranged widely from lavish praise to dazed bemusement to scathing diatribe. Some of the more negative critics took him to task for his prolix, highly academic style in his lengthy analysis of the classic Dylan song mentioned in the title. But many saved their harshest derision for his assorted cross-cultural, cross-genre digressions. Often singled out for particular scorn were several pages that Marcus devotes to none other than the Pet Shop Boys' cover of “Go West,” of which he astutely writes:

[T]he massed voice of the choir stood for all the voices of the dead, and Tennant, thirty-nine in 1993, was the voice of an adventure that had come to an end before he was ready to take part. As you listen, you hear history tearing the song to pieces—but the song will not surrender its body. At five minutes it seems to go on forever, and you want it to. You can't play it once.

As brilliant an assessment of the song as that is, even I—a dedicated PSB fan and somewhat musicologically inclined former academic myself—find it somewhat challenging to comprehend the precise relationship that Marcus is suggesting in the surrounding paragraphs between "Go West" and Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone." So you can only imagine how various non-fans reacted, employing such terms as (and I quote) "self-parody," "idiosyncratic," "head-scratching," "ridiculous," "ludicrous," "unconvincing," "forced," "senseless," "bloated," "baffling," "bizarre," and even "contemptible" to describe that discussion in particular. One gets the distinct impression that many of these critics were actually offended that Marcus had, in effect, mentioned Dylan and the Pet Shop Boys in the same breath. (Some were blatantly homophobic, such as an anonymous commentator who suggested that PSB and Marcus might "share a gerbil.") But whether you think, like me, that Marcus's “Pet Shop Boys digression” is remarkably insightful or, like so many others, an instance of unfathomable windbaggery, I think we can all pretty much agree that it is, if not outright strange, then at least highly unexpected.

Then again, perhaps not so unexpected. This was hardly Marcus's first foray into praise of the Boys. In fact, back in early 1988 he proclaimed Actually his personal choice as 1987's "Record of the Year." As he put it at the time, "…nothing else came close." And later (but well before his book on Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone") he would write, "Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe's Very and their remake of the Village People's 'Go West' were the best album and single of 1993."

The Pet Shop Boys' airplane has a close encounter with a meteor

In the early morning hours of March 28, 2007, while crossing the Pacific Ocean on an overnight flight from Santiago, Chile to Auckland, New Zealand, a LAN Chile Airbus A340 jet carrying the Pet Shop Boys and scores of other passengers came within about 40 seconds of being struck by flaming debris from outer space. It came close enough that the pilot could hear the sound made as the fiery fragments hurtled past, descending at supersonic speed. At first it was thought that they were the remains of a disintegrating Russian satellite, but subsequent investigations revealed that the far more likely culprit was a meteor breaking up in the atmosphere. If the jet had been struck, it would surely have meant the deaths of everyone on board.

Traveling on the Southern Hemisphere leg of their Fundamental Tour, the Boys and their entourage remained asleep throughout the entire incident. They didn't even know about the near-miss until after they landed, when people started asking them about it. As Neil told the press, "Then we realized with horror what had happened. Our friends and families started calling us in a panic to find out if we were OK."

Chris cheers on an altercation between pop stars

One evening in 2007 (the precise date wasn't reported, although in September 2007 it was said to have taken place "earlier this year"), Chris was at a London pub with Swedish pop musician Alexander Bard, best known for his work with the bands Army of Lovers and BWO (Bodies Without Organs). As it turns out, they happened upon yet another pop star—no less than Robbie Williams, with whom the Pet Shop Boys had worked on several occasions.

As the story goes, the outspoken Bard somewhat undiplomatically mentioned to Robbie that he thought his most recent album Rudebox (which happened to contain one such PSB/Williams collaboration, "She's Madonna") was "crap." The events that allegedly followed suggest that Robbie did not (apparently) take kindly to Bard's remark. According to Bard, Williams physically "attacked" him, and a fight ensued. Chris didn't get directly involved, although he reportedly stood off to the side cheering and shouting, "Fucking Cocky Swede!"—words that Bard took as supportive (despite Chris's friendship and working relationship with Robbie), but which could be interpreted otherwise.

Robbie's bodyguards are then said to have quickly intervened, pulling the two popsters apart. In the end, Williams reportedly paid Bard's (and Chris's) bar tab as recompense. Afterward, neither Robbie nor Chris would comment on the incident. It appears that only Bard has been willing to talk about it publicly, which he subsequently did to a Swedish newspaper. It seems safe to say, however, that—considering both the pub setting and the events as reported—alcohol likely fueled the incident.

PETA asks the Pet Shop Boys to change their name

In April 2009 the Pet Shop Boys were contacted by the animal-rights group PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), who asked them to change their name to the Rescue Shelter Boys. Their argument was that, by changing the name of their duo, Chris and Neil would raise public awareness of the extremely poor conditions in which some breeders keep animals before selling them to pet stores. Of course, this was almost certainly a publicity stunt in which PETA had no real expectation being taken seriously.

The Boys politely replied on their official website to this (as Neil later described it) "very amusing suggestion" by stating that they were "unable to agree" but felt that it "raises an issue worth thinking about." PETA graciously replied in kind, issuing a statement that they were pleased the Pet Shop Boys had drawn attention to the issue by posting their letter on their website.

But PETA weren't the only ones who received publicity in the process. The incident quickly became an item with worldwide news organizations, such as CNN, who reported the story in a rather amused manner. In certain venues, such as the United States, it generated more widespread mainstream publicity for the Pet Shop Boys than they had enjoyed in more than a decade.

This, incidentally, isn't the only time PETA has made such a ludicrous, headline-grabbing, name-changing proposition. In March 2011 the group contacted San Francisco city officials, suggesting that they change the name of the city's Tenderloin district to the Tempeh district, in reference to a soy-based meat substitute. The letter averred that San Francisco "deserves a neighborhood named after a delicious cruelty-free food instead of the flesh of an abused animal." One can only hope that PETA is fully aware of the absurdity of such suggestions—realizing that it's indeed the sheer absurdity that generates publicity—and makes them in a spirit of good humor.

A DJ is physically attacked for playing the Pet Shop Boys

In August 2009, in the village of Aroer in the Negev desert region of Israel, a DJ hired to play music at a Bedouin wedding was physically attacked for playing music by the Pet Shop Boys. After playing more traditional Arabic music for most of the celebration, the DJ decided to "stir things up" (as described in a local newspaper) by putting on some western dance music. He chose the Pet Shop Boys. Little did he know just how much that would "stir things up."

As later reported in the news, some of the women began to "dance exuberantly to the foreign music." This angered some of the young men in attendance, who felt that they were being dishonored by the dancing of the women. They demanded that the DJ stop playing the PSB music. When he refused, they attacked him, giving him such a savage beating that he needed medical attention. Police subsequently arrested two of the young men allegedly involved in the attack.

The Pet Shop Boys perform a "living room concert"

It may not be "strange"—but it's certainly unique. How would you like to have living legends of popular music put on a show for you in your very own home? Well, it happened on February 2, 2010 to Lorraine Sands of Twickenham, U.K. And the living legends were none other than the Pet Shop Boys.

To help celebrate 30 years of the BRIT Awards, Mastercard sponsored a competition for a member of the British public to win a "priceless" live performance by an award winner in their living room. So Ms. Sands, the winner of the competition, was surprised (to say the least) when the Pet Shop Boys appeared at her door. The Boys then set about recreating a portion of their recent Pandemonium Tour show, complete with backup singers and dancers. They performed four songs: "Suburbia," "All Over the World," "It's a Sin," and "West End Girls." Neil later described the experience as "surreal, but it was very good fun"—adding that at the beginning he felt "a bit like a lap-dancer."

For her part, Ms. Sands said, "I've been a massive Pet Shop Boys fan for over 20 years, and to have them play a gig right in my front room, for just me and my closest friends, was too good to be true. It was the best day ever."

The event was filmed and the footage broadcast in segments during the February 16, 2010 Brits Awards telecast as well as online afterward. The complete footage was also at one time readily available on YouTube, but that appears no longer to be the case.

Portions of this report—specifically the direct quote by Lorraine Sands—are © 2010 Associated Newspapers Ltd.

An evangelical pastor is inspired by the Pet Shop Boys

Twice a year evangelical Christian pastor Javier Loredo of Matamoros, Mexico, sponsors an event called A Todo Volumen (Spanish for "At Full Volume," though perhaps better translated idiomatically as "At Full Blast"). The biannual event uses contemporary music to bring troubled young people together for a positive spiritual experience—as well as practical job training—in a safe, supportive, and thoroughly enjoyable environment.

Each time A Todo Volumen takes place, it adopts a different theme. The Spring 2010 event, held on April 23–24, assumed the look and feel of the Pet Shop Boys' 2009 Pandemonium Tour, complete with a box-based stage design, fluorescent jumpsuits, and equally colorful "box headgear."

It's not nearly as incongruous as it seems when you consider that Loredo is a former DJ and lifelong devotee of pop music—and, more specifically, a longtime fan of the Pet Shop Boys. "I've really liked the aesthetics of PSB from a very young age and have followed them since … my teen years," Loredo said in explanation of the April theme. "I remembered that they use very avant-garde ideas."

Getting Named-Dropped and Quoted in a Debate in Parliament

On November 15, 2010, a debate in the U.K. House of Commons on free schools included the following exchange between Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove and Cardiff West MP Kevin Brennan of the Labor Party:

Brennan: Where will these unqualified teachers be required to teach? I have here the document containing the Government's list of places where they want free schools to be able to open without any planning permission. It includes hairdressers, travel agencies, sandwich bars, dry cleaners, undertakers and—you could not make this up, Mr Speaker—pet shops. Actually, the Secretary of State and the schools Minister, the Hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, look a bit like the Pet Shop Boys, but does their vision of 21st-century schools really consist of our children being educated in the abandoned premises of "Reptiles R Us"?

Gove:
I am grateful to the honorable Gentleman for that well-rehearsed question. I know that he is a brilliant musician, but in the words of the Pet Shop Boys, he's got the brains and I've got the looks, and together—I suspect—we could make lots of money. We want to ensure that the spirit of innovation can flourish, and that Britain, and indeed our education system, is open for business in raising standards.

In a later portion of the same debate, Toby Perkins (Labor MP from Chesterfield) picked up on the "PSB theme" in his own comments:

Perkins: Given the success of school sports partnerships in raising attainment, and if the Secretary of State is interested in the east end boys as well as the west end girls, can he explain why he refused even to meet a recognised world expert in school sport such as Baroness Campbell before deciding to axe funding to the Youth Sport Trust and to decimate school sport?

Could there be a better indication of just how deeply engrained our musical heroes are in contemporary British culture? Somehow I can't imagine a similar exchange occurring in the U.S. Congress. Then again, I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing.

Watson confuses PSB with Oliver Twist

The U.S. edition of the popular TV game show Jeopardy! ran a series of well-publicized episodes in February 2011 in which an IBM supercomputer dubbed Watson took on the game's two indisputable human champs: all-time top money-winner Brad Rutter and all-time longest championship-holder Ken Jennings. Despite struggling in a few categories, Watson handily defeated its two flesh-and-blood opponents—although, in the opinion of many observers (the present writer being among them), the machine's chief advantage was that it understandably proved "the faster draw" with the signaling device.

What does this have to do with PSB? Well, it was subsequently reported in several media outlets that during one of the untelevised practice/training rounds for the game, Watson blew a "Final Jeopardy" clue in the category 19th-Century Literature: "In Chapter 10, 'the whole mystery of the handkerchiefs, and the watches, and the jewels… rushed upon' this title boy's 'mind.'" The correct answer—that is, the correct question—would have been "What is Oliver Twist?" (from which most of the text of the clue itself was quoted verbatim). But Watson instead responded, "What is the Pet Shop Boys?" That Watson could confuse the Boys with a Charles Dickens novel underscores the fact that, although the supercomputer might be correct, say, 99% of the time, when it does get it wrong, it gets it really wrong!

And though this commentator, for his part, was rooting for the humans, he's at least highly gratified that the supergeeks who programmed the supercomputer made sure that it was well aware of our super musical heroes.

The Boys are banned in Belarus

In March 2011 the government of the eastern European nation of Belarus published a list of artists who have been banned from being mentioned in the state media. Both Belarusian and foreign celebrities were included in the list. Although no official explanation was given, it's generally acknowledged that the blacklist was compiled in retaliation for statements made and/or activities performed by these artists to call international attention to the nation's oppressive regime—specifically its rigged elections.

Among the artists included in the ban are actors Kevin Kline, Jude Law, Ian McKellen, Kevin Spacey, and Samuel West, playwright Tom Stoppard, and both Neil Tennant (individually) and the Pet Shop Boys (collectively), among many others. Many of the artists listed are affiliated with a movement known as the Global Artistic Campaign in Solidarity with Belarus. Neil was among the many signatories to a petition calling for democratic elections in Belarus published by the organization in December 2010.

As one of my site visitors has cogently noted, it's safe to say that there will be no Pet Shop Boys concerts in Minsk (the capital of Belarus) anytime soon.

"PaninaroBot" debuts on Twitter

In November 2011, someone launched a dedicated page on Twitter called PaninaroBot, which does absolutely nothing except, once every hour or so, quote in text format a line of lyrics (as limited as they are) from the Pet Shop Boys classic "Paninaro." As of April 2016, nearly four-and-a-half years later—by which time it had attracted more than 19,000 tweets but only 32 followers—it was still doing it.

Why, pray tell?

Because it's so preposterous that it's brilliant, that's why.

Pranksters crash an art exhibition in PSB masks

On May 7, 2012, a pair of pranksters wearing masks of Chris Lowe and Neil Tennant (derived from their photo on the cover of Actually) crashed an exhibition at an art gallery in the city of Bath in southwestern England to stage an apparently impromptu "situationist DJ set," as one observer described it. This act of performance art was almost certainly inspired the fact that the gallery itself is known as "The Old Pet Shop" because in a previous incarnation that is, quite literally, what it was.

After showing up at the private exhibition, the duo quickly set up their equipment and began playing a series of Pet Shop Boys tracks, including "It's a Sin" (an extended mix), "Shopping," and "Go West" (including "Ming's Gone West Second Movement"). Captured on video by an exhibition attendee, much of the performance quickly found its way onto YouTube for the world to enjoy.

The art patrons in attendance seemed amused but somewhat baffled, although many clearly got into the spirit and appeared to enjoy it. One even put in a request for "Always on My Mind." There's some speculation, however, as to just how "impromptu" and how much of a "crash" it really was considering that the "performers" were able not only to set up in the midst of the gallery but also to continue their act for well over 15 minutes without interruption. A publicity stunt, perhaps?

Portions of this story—particularly with regard to the "situationist DJ set" quotation—are © 2012 Artrocker Magazine. It would seem that the original Artrocker report got the date of the event wrong, stating "June 7" when the YouTube video is clearly dated "May 7."

Neil is approached as a possible judge on American Idol

Neil revealed in a June 2013 interview with Peter Robinson of Popjustice that he had been approached by the producers of the hugely popular U.S. television show American Idol as a possible replacement for its departing founder, longtime "lead judge," and fellow Englishman Simon Cowell. (This would likely have made it sometime between early 2010 and early 2011.) As Neil told the story, they wanted him to fly to Los Angeles for an interview, but he refused to do so. Instead they settled for a conference call.

Early in the conversation, the chief interviewer said to Neil, "We love you! You're so opinionated!" When Neil told him, "I’ve never seen American Idol but I don’t like the sound of it," and that he would "probably just be really rude to everyone," the interviewer repeated, "This is why we love you! You're so opinionated!"

"I think they wanted a bitchy gay Englishman," Neil concluded. He decided against pursuing the American Idol gig—despite the fact that it would certainly have made him more famous in America (and just as certainly much wealthier) than ever before—because he feared that the Pet Shop Boys would have been "totally compromised." He added, "I would have just become Neil Tennant the TV personality."

Incidentally, by declining Neil joined a short but impressive list of celebrities who have similarly turned down offers to serve as American Idol judges, including Kanye West, Katy Perry, P!nk, Dolly Parton, Sean "Diddy" Combs, first-season winner Kelly Clarkson, and Elton John. In fact, Sir Elton was reportedly offered no less than $33 million for the job, which he nevertheless flatly refused. He later told the Daily Mail that he found such televised singing competitions "paralyzingly brain-crippling." Ouch!

Justin Bieber's "personal effects" offered as incentives to buy PSB tickets

In August 2013 it was reported that a concert promoter in Poland was offering a pair of socks and other "personal effects" worn or used by Justin Bieber before, during, and/or after his March 25 concert in Lódz as an incentive to fans to buy tickets to the Pet Shop Boys' September 3 show in Gdańsk. The promoter was quoted as saying that they decided to offer these items to fans "because we receive a lot of emails with such requests." So, assuming this report was accurate and the plans proceeded as announced, the first six people who purchased tickets to the PSB concert won this Bieber memorabilia (or is that "memoraBiebia"?), which apparently also included a towel used by the young Canadian pop singer during his stop in Lódz.

To the best of my knowledge, there was no comment whatsoever from the PSB camp regarding this most unusual form of concert promotion.

They headline a radio soap opera's fictional music festival

One of the 2014 storylines on the long-running British radio soap opera The Archers—enjoying at the time its 64th year of broadcast—focused on the efforts of some of its characters to stage a music festival called "Loxfest" (after the show's Lower Loxley estate). But the future of the festival was in jeopardy when its equally fictional headlining acts had to pull out at the last minute. All was saved, however, when the Pet Shop Boys stepped in to fill the bill.

Chris and Neil had recorded their appearance on the show several weeks beforehand at London's Maida Vale Studios. It aired on the Monday, August 25, 2014 episode of The Archers, with the Boys appearing on the festival bill together with several other performers: a curious combo of both actual and fictional artists, such as Velvet Cowshed (fictional), Slow Club (actual), Hideous Wellies (fictional), and Luke Sital-Singh (actual)—not, however, heard during the same episode.

Neil and Chris had substantial speaking parts. In fact, at one point, upon hearing the name—Mowgli—recently given the newborn son of one of the show's characters, Chris becomes extremely animated, speaking in a manner that's thoroughly out of character for him. (Quite an acting job, in my humble opinion. I wouldn't have thought it was him.) There are also brief segments of them performing "A Face Like That," "Vocal," and "It's a Sin" in the background as other characters are speaking in the foreground.

The Boys were actually the latest in a series of real-life celebrities who through the years have made cameo appearances on The Archers. The list includes Judi Dench, Terry Wogan, Britt Ekland, Dame Edna Everage, Alan Titchmarsh, and even Princess Margaret and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. Sometimes these celebrities have portrayed one-off characters on the show, while in other cases they've simply appeared as themselves. Neil and Chris obviously fall into the latter category.

Incidentally, the Pet Shop Boys had a follow-up mention on The Archers a few years later—on November 2, 2016 to be precise—when the character Roy went on a date with new character Lucy. They were discussing things they liked when Lucy said she was a long-time PSB fan. Roy then surprised her by noting that he had met them at a festival he had organized and that they were really nice guys.

Portions of this story are © 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies.

A London theatre group stages a "PSB karaoke" sequel to "Jack and the Beanstalk"

In December 2016, the South London Theatre staged a production titled Jack, an original sequel to the classic fairy tale "Jack and the Beanstalk." It's the story of the original Jack's son—Jack, Jr.—and daughter Jill. Along the way, the cast sang cover versions of various Pet Shop Boys songs, including the non-originals "Go West" and "Numb" amidst the Tennant-Lowe compositions. In addition, small portions of instrumental music from The Most Incredible Thing were used as well. The performers sang atop instrumental recordings of the PSB songs in question, essentially performing "karaoke renditions" integrated into the plot.

The show was written by Peter Stevens and Matthew Davies, the former of whom is a professed PSB fan (or as he put it in the program, he "quite likes" the Pet Shop Boys). The songs were integral to the show, sometimes employed for comic effect and at other times with sinister implications. For instance, "It's a Sin" was sung by a villainous character, the Fairy, who changed a few words to accentuate her villainy (such as "When I look back upon my life, it's never with a sense of shame").

The production was advertised as "An epic Christmas show spreading a great big dollop of festive yuletide magic for boys and girls young and old." To be sure, much of that "festive yuletide magic" was surely supplied by the PSB music. But it should be noted that the producers did not make use of "Jack and Jill Party." Perhaps it was so obscure that they simply didn't know about it. Then again, maybe its lyrics made it, shall we say, inappropriate. It was promoted as a show for the entire family, after all—despite some double-entendre innuendos designed to entertain the older folks while going right over the heads of the little ones.