Spice Girls, Kylie, and a Near-Death Experience: Biff Stannard talks songwriting and battling demons

You can listen to the MBW Podcast above, or on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, iHeart etc. via this link.


How’s your 2020 going? It’s not exactly been a joyride for anyone out there – but we’d wager than Richard “Biff” Stannard has seen more ups and downs than most.

Stannard is the British co-writer and producer some of the most evergreen, effervescent hits of the past 20 years, including a run of smashes for the Spice Girls that included Spice Up Your Life and Wannabe, as well as 2 Become 1 and Viva Forever.

He also co-wrote and produced Ellie Goulding’s Lights, released in 2014, which spent over a year on the Billboard Hit 100, and worked on U2’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind album – including standout single Elevation.

This week, Stannard is celebrating his biggest professional result in over five years, having co-written and co-produced two singles on Kylie Minogue’s DISCO, which has just become the UK’s fastest-selling album of 2020, even outstripping the first-week performances of new records from superstars like Lady Gaga.


You can listen to the MBW Podcast with Biff Stannard via SoundCloud above, or on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, iHeart etc. via this link.


And yet, on paper, Stannard is having one of the toughest years of his life.

As he explains on this candid MBW Podcast, outside of music, a few years back Stannard began to dedicate himself to weight-training, and, in particular, power-lifting.

He says the discipline helped him deal with his lifelong anxiety and depression, and that he got good at it – so much so, earlier this year he broke the UK bench-press record for his age and weight.

Soon after breaking that record, Stannard, 54, had a heart attack.

“It came as a massive shock.”

Speaking on the MBW Podcast, Stannard says this “near-death experience… came as a massive shock”.

He adds that, prior to his health scare, weightlifting brought an addictive contrast to his life – the “quiet, insecure songwriter that works on nervous energy and works with creative people” smashing accomplishments in “this quite brutal sport”.

“I thought the balance was quite nice,” he says. “Obviously it went too much in one direction.”


You can listen to the MBW Podcast with Biff Stannard via SoundCloud above, or on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, iHeart etc. via this link.


This, in the year that Stannard’s mother had died, aged 91 – an incredibly influential figure in his young life, and in his ultimate path into music.

Stannard’s life began in East London in 1966, in a house typified, he says, by an “environment of hyper-masculine men”. He had a troubled relationship with his father, a boxer, who didn’t take kindly to his son’s childhood love of music.

Stannard remembers hiding his Michael Jackson posters behind cupboard doors lest his dad spot them.

He says his mom was particularly “protective” of him during his youth, and the only member of his immediate family that didn’t discourage his love of music and creativity.

“I had a difficult childhood, a very difficult father… [music] was just escapism to get away from what was going on.”

“I’ve had mental health issues my whole life,” he says. “I had a difficult childhood, a very difficult father. I was that classic kid with headphones on, pretending to be Jean-Michel Jarre with Cornflakes boxes… it was just escapism to get away from what was going on.”

What was going on, according to Stannard, was a father who was “quite abusive, mentally, in in a lot of ways”.


You can listen to the MBW Podcast with Biff Stannard via SoundCloud above, or on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, iHeart etc. via this link.


Stannard ultimately broke into the music business in the early ’90s via his then-boyfriend, Tom Watkins, who was managing UK boyband East 17. (Watkins, a maverick figure of the UK pop music scene who additionally managed the Pet Shop Boys, also sadly passed away earlier this year.)

After that experience, Stannard was physically accosted (in a nice way) by Mel B of the Spice Girls in the corridor of a London recording studio.

He quickly fell for the Spice Girls. They quickly fell for him.

Stannard kept hearing Sporty, Scary, Ginger, Baby and Posh using this non-sensical, ebullient phrase in their excitable conversations with one another: “Zig-a-zig-ah.”

Within 48 hours of working together, they’d based a song around it – Wannabe – that’s gone on to sell millions of singles in the US and around the world (and has over 500m plays on Spotify today).

“Maybe [it’s] because I’m a gay man, I don’t know, but especially with women, I have an incredible affinity – a way of tuning into them,” says Stannard. “I always kind of wanted to be the sixth member [of the Spice Girls].”


Indeed, Stannard says that his songwriting style has long been to “write myself happy” – another big part of how he’s dealt with mental health issues across his life.

“I’ve always written myself happy, I’ve always written to cheer myself up,” says Stannard, who signed a new publishing deal with Concord in February. “I think [Kylie’s] DISCO, that fun we had in the studio, is a reflection of how I reacted to the heart attack; just to be the opposite and have an enjoy life to the full.”

On that topic, Stannard says: [When] you have like a near-death experience, you definitely approach songwriting and your life in general from a different place.”

He adds: “The way that I write is that, the better I feel the song is, the more physical I get.

“I’m the opposite to your muse  sits with a black coffee over a grand piano.”


You can listen to the MBW Podcast with Biff Stannard via SoundCloud above, or on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, iHeart etc. via this link.