PARALLEL LINES: Blondie lookalike in Fenland

POP music icons Blondie, fronted by Debbie Harry, the face that launched a thousand fantasies, are preparing to play their last ever gig next month.

But the songs, the looks and the voice will live on in Fenland thanks to the Long Sutton-based tribute band Blondied.

In the Debbie Harry role is Michelle Hendriks, who has frequently been mistaken for the American star and who has met her counterpart on several occasions.

Michelle, who had singing lessons as a child, turned her back on classical music in favour of pop. "It broke my mother's heart," she said.

After a brief flirtation with beauty therapy she decided to concentrate on music and became part of a covers band, Big World, which took her all round the globe.

People who saw her perform remarked that she looked and sounded like Debbie Harry and in 2002 came the big break.

She was accepted for the television show Stars and their Doubles, a spin-off of Stars in their Eyes, in which people competed to be the "double" of famous personalities, and won the contest.

"After the show the phone rang and rang from agents and promoters but I had to say 'I haven't got a band'," she said.

Not to be deterred, Michelle set about finding a back-up group. The start was easy – husband Phil is a lead guitarist who played in a signed band, Stiffs, in the 1970s.

They were soon joined by three other Long Sutton-based musicians – Rick Cook on drums, Rob Fidler on bass and Rhys Thomas on keyboards. Offers of gigs poured in.

When Blondie toured the UK Michelle set about meeting her famous double and by faking an American accent she managed to bluff her way into the green room at a concert venue.

Debbie was not there but she made contact with the band.

Later, at another concert, she managed to gain entrance to an after-gig party, thanks to a journalist friend who was doing an interview.

"Debbie Harry stood at the bar with a glass of champagne," said Michelle. "I made a beeline for her and thanked her for the brilliant music over the years.

"She said 'you look great, you look just like me'. I was so excited at meeting her I did not know what to say so I could only think of 'I like your shoes'.

"She was so lovely and charming. When she left her champagne glass was still on the table and I have to admit that I pinched it as a souvenir."

When Michelle turned up for another Blondie gig she was followed by a BBC film crew and could hear the commentator saying "Debbie Harry is already here".

In November last year in Norwich Michelle had the opportunity to present the band with copies of Blondied's tribute CD.

Debbie Harry gave her a hug and presented her with a hand-written set list from the gig. Michelle has since received a birthday card signed by Debbie and the rest of Blondie.

Of the many times Michelle has been mistaken for Debbie, one was on the London tube. "Someone asked me 'are you Debbie Harry?' and I said 'do you think Debbie Harry would use the tube?"

But probably the most awkward occasion happened when Michelle and Phil were at a London club. A leading paparazzi photographer sent a message asking if he could buy her a drink. "We had no money so I said yes," said Michelle. Then we were amazed to see an 800 bottle of champagne turn up at our table.

"I had no choice but to continue the deception and keep the American accent going because if I had admitted that I wasn't Debbie Harry we couldn't have afforded the champagne.

"Then when we went outside, the photographer had arranged for his limousine to take us to our hotel. But we could not let on we had got the cheapest hotel we could find so we said we were at the Hilton. When we were dropped off we had to find our way back to our own hotel."

While Blondied are nowhere near the same financial bracket as Blondie, they live a comfortable life as full-time musicians.

The big question now is with Blondie ending their glittering career – Debbie Harry is now 61 – will there be even more demand for Blondied as people still want to hear the hits and see "Debbie"?

"It may mean more work as Blondie finish," said Michelle.

Meanwhile the Long Sutton singer is about to release a song called Even the Smart Ones Are Dumb, under her own name, on a new label, Dork Records, she recently set up with Phil.

*Blondie's number one album Parallel Lines was in the UK charts for 105 weeks.