Tom Watkins: The man behind Pet Shop Boys and Bros dies at 70

Tom Watkins

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Watkins was also a talented designer

Tom Watkins, the music manager who helped launch the careers of the Pet Shop Boys and other top UK pop acts, has died at the age of 70.

In the ’80s and ’90s he guided the Pet Shop Boys to a string of number ones, and also managed Bros and East 17.

Pet Shop Boys singer Neil Tennant paid tribute, describing Watkins as “a genuine larger-than-life personality”.

Watkins also co-wrote Bros’s biggest hits – When Will I Be Famous?, Drop The Boy and I Owe You Nothing.

The trio became one of the UK’s biggest pop acts and headlined Wembley Stadium in 1989, although their success did not last beyond a third album.

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Pet Shop Boys are still going strong several decades after Watkins helped launch them

Despite their music success, Watkins had difficult relationships with the performers he managed.

Matt Goss of Bros said of Watkins in 2017 that “he was one of the best managers we ever worked with… but there was a compassion that was lacking”.

In Watkins’ memoir Let’s Make Lots of Money – named after the subtitle of 1986 Pet Shop Boys hit Opportunities – he painted an unflattering picture of Bros as a group obsessed with their own egos.

He was similarly scathing of Pet Shop Boys, saying: “They just developed super-egos and tried to make out that I had nothing to do with their success.”

Writing on Twitter, Tennant said he and bandmate Chris Lowe had “many good times” with Watkins and were sad to learn he had died “after being ill for several years”.

He continued: “After Tom ceased to be our manager, I remained his friend for several years but for various reasons long-term friendship with Tom wasn’t possible.

“However Chris and I will always be grateful for his efforts on our behalf in the early days of our career and we have many memories of fun times with him back then.”

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Bros had a short-lived period of success in the 1980s

In the ’90s Watkins made his mark again with boy band East 17, who had 11 Top 10 singles including the 1994 Christmas number one Stay Another Day.

Before he entered the pop world he was a designer, working for Sir Terence Conran.

“I’d given up designing to manage all the bands,” he said in 2014, adding that he had first trained at the London College of Furniture.

Watkins used his design skills to start XL Design, which created record sleeves for such hit groups as Wham!, Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Duran Duran.

Yearning to get back to his design roots in later life, he created his own Bauhaus-style house in Pett Level, East Sussex.

“I had this kind of yearning to aesthetically practise what I’d been taught all those years ago,” he said.

When the house was featured on TV show Grand Designs in 2004, presenter Kevin McCloud described it as a “perfect little sugar lump”.

Watkins’ agent confirmed to BBC News that he died on 24 February, but the agent gave no further details.

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