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Who was Poly Styrene?

It was on a rare English heatwave during the summer of 1957 when a punk-rock icon was born. Rock ‘n’ Roll and the Catford Teddy Boys terrorized the genteel streets of Bromley, a leafy post-war South London suburb. The headlines were dominated by the Cold War, Korea, and the Canal. British housewives had discovered Hoover, and the Empire docked in the harbors of Bristol, bringing with it a warm alien breeze of multiculturalism. Poly Styrene was a product of this new and decidedly modern Britain. Born Marian Elliott, the child of a Somali father and a British mother, Poly would become the first woman of color to head a punk band. 


She was a young woman with considerable ambition and worked very hard to get to where she wanted. But just where did Poly Styrene want to be?


“I wanted adventure, fame, financial independence, all the things a starry-eyed young girl could wish for”.


But unlike most teenage dreamers, Poly was determined to make her dreams a reality.


She started by setting up her own boutique in Beaufort Market, on the Kings Road, in Chelsea. It was indeed the name of the fashion label that she used for her homespun autographed couture, that would give her the art-i-ficial pseudonym and punky-trade-marks that she would later adopt as front-woman of X-Ray Spex.

Poly Styrene was born.


“I started with nothing but a few melodic lyrics and a lot of determination. I got a band together and within a very short space of time we were internationally famous and in the charts!”


Such overnight success was not just down to luck. Poly and her band injected a much-needed burst of colour and fun into a punk scene that was increasingly nihilistic and destructive. Although not lacking the necessary anger and energy to make it on the scene. X-ray Spex never took themselves too seriously, and soon distinguished themselves by their difference from the rest.


Poly herself wasn’t the archetypal pop princess. This unconventionally pretty youth with short hair, tooth-braces and a war-helmet perched cockily on her head was the tank-girl-rebel long inspiring a horde of riot-girl queens to this day.

Poly Styrene was a trailblazer across many disciplines; a stand-out frontwoman, prolific writer, visual artist, and designer. 

Her life and work were recently celebrated in the definitive biography Day Glo: The Poly Styrene Story, written by her daughter, Celeste Bell, and writer Zoe Howe. 

A film documentary, Poly Styrene: I am a clichè co-directed by Celeste Bell and Paul Sng is currently in production.