When William Shakespeare first debuted Romeo and Juliet in 1597 it is certain that he wouldn’t have thought about just how much of a cultural behemoth it would become. The plot, characters and prose are some of the most iconic in all of the English canon. It is also likely that it would have been unfathomable to him that his description of the titular lovebirds as “star-cross’d lovers” in the prologue would become one of the most profound accounts of love in history.
Akin to the way that Neil Young’s lyrics for ‘Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)’, “it’s better to burn out than to fade away”, were brought to life when Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain took his life in 1994, Shakespeare’s astrological description of Romeo and Juliet would also be tragically embodied that same year. It would go on to be the perfect description for one of popular culture’s true power couples, Michael Hutchence and Paula Yates.
Hutchence was a rockstar, the frontman of Australian heroes INXS, and Yates was a broadcasting legend, a hero figure for British Generation X’ers who were wowed by her irreverent presenting and interviewing style, first made famous on The Tube. The pair were from two completely different backgrounds, but when the whole world witnessed the palpable extent of their attraction on television in 1994, they knew this was destiny. However, what no one knew was just how gloomy their story would end.
It was on The Tube where Hutchence and Yates first met. Hutchence was on the programme to be interviewed by Yates as the band were promoting their fifth album, Listen Like Thieves. The interview mainly revolved around Hutchence’s trousers and the fact that he had just been voted the sexiest man in the world by one of the decade’s biggest glossy magazines, but it was nothing out of the ordinary, and watching it now, it’s mind-blowing to heed how things would end for the pair.
Introducing the segment, Yates said that Hutchence asked her back to his hotel room but that she declined, telling him she had a baby. They would eventually get their chance, but it would take nearly a decade. Speaking of their first encounter, Yates once said that Hutchence was “so heartbreakingly beautiful it made me feel quite feeble.”
Fast forward to 1994, and the pair would meet in public again, on Paula’s new show, Big Breakfast. As soon as it was broadcast, the interview became infamous, and it makes a claim for being the most sexually-charged interview that’s ever occurred. Broadcast to two million viewers, everyone was shocked when Yates accidentally flashed her knickers as she wrapped her legs over the smoky rocker. It is said that at this point the pair had been engaging in an affair for some months. The duo had managed to keep irregular contact over the intervening years between the two interviews.
“Boy,” she said, with a twinkle in her eye, “this is a guest who has tackle-troubling trousers. And… for once! A guest where I want to have my leg over.” The usually ice-cool Hutchence couldn’t contain himself and burst into laughter, along with the studio crew. Despite the laughter, this was it. The fates of the pair were now sealed. The two million viewers had just witnessed something rarer than a blood moon, The Fates playing their games live on air. It wasn’t just Hutchence and Yates whose lives were to be drastically altered either, everyone close to them would also be significantly affected, and none more so than Yates’ young daughter with Bob Geldof, Peaches.
After the Big Breakfast interview, Hutchence and Yates were explicitly in love. In May 1996, Yates finalised her divorce from The Boomtown Rats frontman, and on the 22nd of July that year, Hutchence and Yates’ first and only child was born, Tiger Lily Hutchence. At the time of the Big Breakfast interview, Hutchence was also in a relationship with the Danish supermodel, Helena Christensen, which also caused considerable shock when the news broke that Hutchence and Yates were official, people could not believe he’d left Christensen for Yates.
Richard Lowenstein, the mind behind the 2019 documentary Mystify: Michael Hutchence, commented on just how Hutchence fell for Yates. “He had just been through the world of Helena and all those designers,” he explained. “He lands on Paula and suddenly he’s there with Nick Cave, who he has idolised since he was young, and she’s best friends with Bono. It sort of blew him away.”
“He fell for Paula, he fell for her daughters, he fell for her family,” Richard appended. “That in itself is a huge tumultuous tabloid media event because of the sanctification of Bob”.
Unfortunately, the relationship would end as quickly as it started. The story of how Michael Hutchence died is a murky one that we don’t wish to get bogged down in, out of respect for him and his family, but the New South Wales coroner found it to be a suicide by hanging. There’s a lot to be said about how it came about, but in short, it was the result of the misadventure that Hutchence was known for and the fraught mental state he was in at the time, owing to his fractured relationship with both Yates and Geldof, compounded by the trappings of fame.
In her police statement, Yates wrote that the INXS man was “frightened and couldn’t stand a minute more without his baby.” During their conversation over the phone on the morning of the suicide, Hutchence allegedly said, “I don’t know how I’ll live without Tiger.” At the time, it claimed that the pair were also under custody pressure from Geldof, and Yates wrote that he had threatened them repeatedly with, “Don’t forget, I am above the law”.
When the news broke that Hutchence had passed away on November 22nd 1997, the world was reeling, it had lost one of its brightest lights. Unsurprisingly, this turned Yates and her daughter’s world upside down, and nothing would ever be the same again. Absolutely distraught by his death, she spiralled. In 1998, Geldof was awarded custody of their three children after she attempted suicide.
On September 17th 2000, Yates was found dead in her Notting Hill home owing to a heroin overdose. The coroner ruled that it was not a suicide but a result of “foolish and incautious behaviour”, as she was not an experienced heroin user and the amount she had taken was too much for a novice.
Despite this, Yates had finally joined her love in the other realm, and we can only hope that she’s finally now at peace. A devastating tragedy, we can only keep the flame of Hutchence and Yates alive through retelling their story, as there are many important lessons to be learned. Star-crossed lovers in every sense, it’s one of the most shocking reflections of the dark side of love.
Watch the Big Breakfast interview below.