Five StarImage copyright Getty Images
Image caption Five Star in 1986 (left-right): Delroy, Doris, Denise, Stedman and Lorraine Pearson

Pop group Five Star unexpectedly returned to the headlines over the last few weeks after a boy who swore at them on children’s TV in 1989 apologised for his outburst, only for the apology to be revealed as a hoax.

Coincidentally, the story cropped up as the band marked the 35th anniversary of their formation, which happened in a three-bed townhouse in Romford, Essex.

It’s a story of rags-to-riches-to-rags (depending on how much you trust the tabloids) that ends with the band back on their feet.

We spoke to Doris Pearson who, along with her siblings Denise, Lorraine, Delroy and Steadman, sold more than 15 million records in the 1980s.

They even became the first black group to win a Brit Award, in recognition of the four-times platinum album Silk and Steel.

But looking back, Doris says she only signed up for one reason: to meet Michael Jackson.

“I thought, I’ll either be an air hostess so I can get to travel to America, or I’ll be in the group. Either way I’ll definitely get to meet him,” she laughs.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The band were portrayed as “young kids out of school who fans could relate to”, the singer says

The band were cast in the mould of the Jackson Five: a ten-legged singing-and-dancing sensation, with matching sequinned jumpsuits and a knack for pop harmonies.

Like their transatlantic counterparts, their career was masterminded by their father – Buster Pearson, a former session musician who had played with Otis Redding, Jimmy Cliff and Wilson Pickett.

Having seen the darker side of the industry, Buster initially resisted their entreaties to form a group “because we were all still in school”, Doris recalls. But the brothers and sisters rehearsed in secret until they felt confident enough to put on a showcase in the living room.

“It wasn’t serious until we really showed that we could handle a song, and not just mime,” says Doris.

Youngest sister Denise became the frontwoman (“she was always singing from when she was tiny, so it was natural”) while Doris took on the choreography and elder brother Steadman designed their ostentatious costumes. Legend has it that their shoulder pads grew so big, Five Star had to walk sideways down corridors.

Image caption The band’s hits included Love Take Over, Find The Time and The Slightest Touch

Their first single, Problematic, was a weirdly upbeat song about struggling to find work in Margaret Thatcher’s Britain that won the band a slot on the BBC magazine show Pebble Mill At One. According to Buster Pearson, RCA Records called to offer Five Star a contract before they had even finished their performance.

But he kept the band independent, signing them to his own label, Tent Records, and licensing the recordings to RCA. It was a shrewd move.

“RCA wanted to pigeonhole us as an R&B group and my dad would not accept that,” Doris says. “Our music wasn’t defined by skin colour and he was very adamant that they understood that.”

Image copyright Doris Pearson / Tent Records
Image caption “When we first started out, a lot of people thought we were American,” says Doris

Although their first few singles failed to make an impact, things turned around when Nick Martinelli of soul group Loose Ends took over production duties. All Fall Down became Five Star’s first top 20 hit in June 1985, just two days after Denise’s 17th birthday. In the video, she still had braces on her teeth.

Five Star’s debut album, Luxury of Life, eventually spawned seven singles. Unusually, the biggest one came last: System Addict, a cautionary tale about technological overload, peaked at number three, earning the group a silver disc.

To Doris, however, success wasn’t measured in chart positions or awards. “My perspective was just that I wanted my school friends to know. That was the huge deal to us,” she says.

School was put on hold as the band set off for a promotional tour of the US. There, Disney offered Five Star their own TV show – but Buster declined, prioritising the follow-up to Luxury of Life.

They hit the studio with a completely fresh batch of producers, with one exception: System Addict songwriter Bill Livesy, who had submitted a catchy ballad called Rain Or Shine.

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