American singer Chrissie Hynde has had to deal with a lot of problems on her way to becoming a successful musician. She discusses why she's not focussing on the past and why no one ever invites her to dinner parties.

By Polly Weeks

Chrissie Hynde is something of an enigma.

During her 30 years as the lead singer of The Pretenders, she's weathered a failed celebrity marriage to Jim Kerr, friends dying from drug overdoses and an ever-changing band line-up.

But while the tabloids have hounded her for gossip, Hynde, 57, has always remained restrained.

Ask her about the last 30 years in the music industry and she responds: "I'm more concerned about what I'm doing now. This is now, then will be then, that was that."

Try again with a leading question about her achievements in music and she is equally distant.

"I don't care about achievements. Achievement means nothing to me. It is just about what you're doing. I'm not into accolades and I have only made nine studio records - that's nothing."

But don't get the wrong idea. Hynde isn't a cold character. Neither is she rude, or deliberately stand-offish, she's simply not caught up in her own hype.

Unfortunately this doesn't make her an easy interview subject. Philosophical to the point of brusque about her musical career, she is no more discursive when answering questions about her personal life.

"When I'm on stage I'm centre stage. The rest of the time, I'm not really comfortable with it. The minute I walk off the stage, I'm more like a member of the road crew than anything else."

This is a bit of a shame, as her rock 'n' roll love life has included a relationship with Ray Davies from The Kinks and six-year marriage to Simple Minds musician Jim Kerr.

"If I don't talk about things and I don't want to go there, usually people just won't ask about it. I've never talked about the guys I've slept with, I don't identify myself with that. What I offer is a few records," she says.

"That's not good enough? Fine, don't buy them, I don't care. I'm not trying to sell anything - I'm just trying to stay alive."

Perhaps her ultimate achievement in a world obsessed with celebrity lives is to have kept her children out of the limelight.

Natalie Rae, 26, and Yasmin, 24, have only have been photographed once in 25 years.

"I intentionally did that because it was the Joe Strummer documentary," she explains.

"I said to my kids, 'Come and have your picture taken with me and they went, 'Mum that goes against everything you ever told us' and I said, 'Yeah but let's do it for Joe, because we just loved him'. Otherwise I'd avoid it."

Hynde even managed to avoid the spotlight in 1982, when the lead guitarist of The Pretenders, James Honeyman-Scott, died from a drug overdose, aged just 25. Then, just a year later, Pete Farndon the band's bass player, who had been kicked out due to his drug use, died of a heroin overdose.

Hynde managed to maintain her privacy by keeping silent. "I just didn't talk about it. Some people would have made a career out of it and still be talking about it, but most people don't even know that happened."

Hynde's humble attitude can be traced to her early years. Growing up in Akron, Ohio in the 1960s, a place she describes as "a suburban sprawl", she explains that it was a "very isolating" experience.

"There wasn't even a town, so bands were everything. You didn't walk anywhere and you didn't see any people."

Uninspired by her surroundings she turned to music. "I saw loads of bands but as a kid I never thought I'd be in a band. Partly because I was a girl. Even though I was playing a guitar, I was too shy to tell any of the guys in my class. They would get together at weekends but I couldn't have hung out with guys like that."

Waving goodbye to her teens, Hynde decided to make the move from Ohio to the UK. "I was 22, for me it was exciting. I didn't know anybody in the UK but I knew if I'd have just stayed in Akron I might just get so depressed I'd put a gun to my head. If you feel like that then nothing scares you."

Gaining employment on a handbag stall, she then worked at a firm of architects before landing a job at music newspaper NME.

"I wrote for NME because I was working illegally and I needed a job. I wasn't really a journalist though."

Moving to France and then back to the UK again, Hynde formed several bands, none of which worked out. And the depression she had felt before in Ohio came back to haunt her.

"I was depressed all the time. I used to get on the underground with a bottle of wine and just go from one end of the line to the other. I just wanted to be in a band and everyone I knew at that point was in a band."

Finally she met Farndon, Honeyman-Scott and Martin Chambers. The four formed The Pretenders and quickly found success.

Singles including Brass In Pocket, Back On The Chain Gang and Don't Get Me Wrong hit the charts. And a revolving door policy for band musicians meant that 14 members have sung the hits alongside Hynde throughout the years.

One thing that has remained constant is Hynde's devotion to vegetarianism. A keen supporter of animal rights, the singer opened up a vegetarian restaurant in her hometown of Akron called VegiTerranean.

"The food is amazing!" she exclaims. "Ninety per cent of the people who go there are meat eaters. They just think the food's great and there's not a bean sprout in sight."

While Hynde doesn't like to talk about her musical or personal careers, she adores discussing veggie food.

"I could eat beans on toast every day for the rest of my life, no complaints at all. I'm a buffet kind of person. I'd much rather go in for a buffet, load up my plate, sit down, eat and split, or have a piece of pizza on a doorstep or something. I can't stand fuss."

But while her restaurant serves up gastro-delights, Hynde finds that her friends aren't quite so keen to do the same for her.

"I've never been invited to a dinner party - they don't invite vegetarians," she says.

"When you are eating with friends someone will say, when you're starting to eat, 'So you don't eat fish?' I've been having that same conversation for 40 years!"

Extra time - Chrissie Hynde :: Before The Pretenders, Chrissie was in other bands including Masters of the Backside and The Moors Murderers :: While on tour she'll be giving up booze and drinking plenty of cups of Tetley tea, so she can enjoy sight-seeing during the day.

:: Chrissie has lived in the UK for the past 36 years but also has an apartment in Akron, Ohio.

:: She's a big fan of the Swedish film Let The Right One In and has seen it four times.

:: Chrissie has a low-maintenance attitude to going out on tour. "There's no hair or make up stylist - it's rock 'n' ready with me."