The mysterious disco diva who invited everyone to “Follow Me” in 1978 & continues to keep them guessing today

The mysterious disco diva who invited everyone to “Follow Me” in 1978 & continues to keep them guessing today

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Amanda Lear
Amanda Lear (Photo: YouTube)

Although she did not enjoy great commercial success in the United States, Amanda Lear remains a bona fide gay disco icon. She was huge (huge!) in Germany, France, and especially Italy, where her 1978 track, “Follow Me”, remains her signature song.

It proved a cult hit on gay dancefloors around the globe. The pulsing, synthesizer-and-strings-led track (composed by Anthony Monn with lyrics by Lear) conjures up elements of “I Feel Love” and Kraftwerk. The song, with Lear’s distinctive husky, androgynous vocals, came from her second album, Sweet Revenge.

Lear had previously spoken about how she’d fallen in love with disco music—then at the peak of its popularity—but found many of the lyrics in the hit songs of the time banal.

She wanted to bring something a little more thought-provoking and esoteric to the genre. The Faustian “Follow Me” is about a girl tempted by the devil but who ultimately resists his charms.

The surreal siren

Besides her sensual, high-concept brand of disco, Lear’s appeal to some gay fans possibly also lay in her enigmatic backstory. At a time when so many gay people led double lives, her success suggested one could reinvent one’s self and lead a glamorous, jet-set existence if one worked hard enough.

Pinning down Lear’s true backstory remains as elusive as catching a butterfly. Most biographers believe she was born in Saigon, Vietnam at some point in 1939, although Lear herself has claimed it was 1950.

A Guardian article from 2020 succinctly summed up many of the discrepancies in her life story.

“Lear’s background remains a mystery. She has variously let it be known that her mother was English or French or Vietnamese or Chinese and that her father was English, Russian, French or Indonesian. She may have been born in Hanoi in 1939, or Hong Kong in either 1941 or 1946. Once she said she was from Transylvania. And to this day, it is a matter of conjecture as to whether she was born a boy or a girl.”

Swinging London and Dali

Lear spent her early years in France and Switzerland. She learned German, Spanish and Italian in her teens.

In 1965, she began modeling and working as a cabaret artiste in swinging London. She used the stage name Peki d’Oslo. She also married a Scottish architecture student, Morgan Paul Lear, and adopted his surname (her maiden name has been listed as Tap and Tapp).

Her fashion career proved more lucrative than the cabaret, however, and she went on to model for some of the biggest fashion houses in Europe.

At some point in the mid-1960s, someone introduced her to the Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dali. They became close platonic friends and confidants for the next 16 years. Lear would spend summers with Dali, posed for several paintings, and collaborated with him on some pieces.

She is also reported to have dated Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones and Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music. Her fame as a model received a significant boost when she posed on the cover of Roxy Music’s For Your Pleasure album in 1973.

Roxy Music's 'For Your Pleasure' album
Roxy Music’s ‘For Your Pleasure’ album

Finding her voice

Lear then briefly dated David Bowie. Frustrated with her career as a model, and what she saw as the superficiality of the fashion world, she turned her attention to music. Bowie paid for her singing lessons.

After her cover of the Elvis Presley song, “Trouble” failed to, well, trouble the charts, Lear veered toward the disco sound that was beginning to explode over Europe. A minor hit in West Germany led to the offer of a six-album deal with Ariola Records and German producer Monn.

Her first album, I Am A Photograph, arrived in 1977. It was followed by Sweet Revenge in 1978. Both cemented her as a bona fide pop star in several European countries — primarily West Germany, Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands.

Lear performing on a Dutch TV show at the height of her singing career, 1978
Lear on a Dutch TV show at the height of her singing career, 1978 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Gender identity

Lear fully played up to the questions around her background, even releasing a song called “I’m A Mystery.” She has claimed Dali encouraged her, when trying to launch her singing career, to invent the rumor about her gender identity to generate interest.

“It’s always been the Grecian ideal: the hermaphrodite, the divine being,” she reports him telling her.

The rumor did indeed take off in the tabloid press. Lear denied that she was trans or intersex, but always with the sort of wink that left people wondering whether she was telling the truth.

April Ashley, an actress and model who became famous in the UK after being outed as trans by a newspaper in 1961, later claimed she’d worked with Lear in Parisian trans revues Madame Arthur and Le Carrousel de Paris as far back as the late 1950s and early 1960s.

To dispel rumors about her anatomy, or perhaps tempted by the money on offer, Lear posed for Playboy in 1978. Then again, if—as rumored—Dali paid for her to have gender reassignment surgery in the mid-1960s—posing without clothes proves very little.

A 2022 movie, Daliland, featured Ezra Miller and Ben Kingsley as young and old Dali. Interestingly, trans model and actress Andreja Pejic played Lear.

TV fame in Italy

Lear had a clutch of disco hits in Europe. As the disco boom waned, she experimented with other musical styles but found major fame as a TV personality in Italy. She hosted several successful shows.

In 1979, she married the bisexual French aristocrat Alain-Philippe Malagnac d’Argens de Villèle. Dali and his wife predicted it would not last and the artist jokingly said he planned to send a funeral wreath as a wedding present.

However, the marriage lasted 21 years, up until Alain-Philippe’s death in 2000. He died, alongside a friend, in a fire at his and Lear’s French farmhouse. Lear was in Italy when it happened and the incident prompted her to fall into a major depression.

Emerging from this personal tragedy, she has continued to sing, perform, act, paint, model, and release new albums and re-workings of her earlier hits. Her last album was Tuberose in 2021.

She’s now in her mid-80s… although no one besides Lear can be precisely sure about that last piece of information!

“One of the most beautiful human beings of all time”

British writer turned psychotherapist Rupert Smith has been a fan of Lear’s for decades. In an email to Queerty he highlighted five reasons for why he loves her.

“1. She made some of the best disco records of the 70s and 80s, utilizing her unique voice, sense of humor and melancholy to superb effect.

“2. She has exploited the mystery and legend surrounding her true identity to her long-term advantage, driving the press and the fans crazy with frustration and curiosity.

“3. She connects many different areas of culture: rock and roll (Bowie, the Stones, Roxy Music), art (Dali, Warhol), fashion (Gaultier, Rabane, Quant), and so on.

“4. She has reinvented herself (model, singer, TV presenter, writer, painter, actor) constantly over the decades, and seems to be successful in every field.

“5. She is one of the most beautiful human beings of all time, and is very outspoken about how much sex that gets her.”


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