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Susan Ann Sulley

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Birth name
Susan Ann Sulley

Years active

Sheffield, England, UK

Susan Sulley





Susan Ann Sulley of the band Human League performs on stage while wearing a black sleeveless top during the V Festival 2009

Also known as
Susanne SulleySusan Ann Gayle

22 March 1963 (age 61) (

Music group
The Human League (Since 1980)

Hysteria, The Very Best of The Human L, Dare, Travelogue, The Golden Hour of th

Joanne Catherall, Philip Oakey, Philip Adrian Wright

Interview the human league philip oakey joanne catherall and susan ann sulley part 1

Susan Ann Sulley (born 22 March 1963), formerly known as Susanne Sulley and Susan Ann Gayle, is a British singer and one of the two female vocalists of the synthpop group The Human League.


Susan Ann Sulley singing while holding a microphone and wearing a brown sleeveless top, earrings, bracelet, and black hair accessory

Born and raised in Sheffield, England, as a schoolgirl in 1980 Sulley (aged 17) and her friend Joanne Catherall were "discovered" in the Crazy Daisy Nightclub in Sheffield by Philip Oakey, the lead singer and a founding member of The Human League. The pair were invited to join the new line-up, initially as dancers and incidental vocalists (and, as Oakey puts it, "to provide some glamour") for a European tour. They soon were asked to provide full vocals by Oakey as an experiment. The girls' distinctive vocals rapidly became a signature of the new Human League, changing the band's style, its appeal to the mainstream public, and to its subsequent commercial success.

Susan Ann Sulley smiling while performing and wearing a silver sleeveless dress, heels, and some pieces of jewelry

Recruited into The Human League at age 17, she is a joint business partner in the band which is recording and performing to this day. The Human League has dominated Sulley's life; she has been a singer all her adult life and has never had any other full-time job.

Susan Ann Sulley singing while raising her hand and wearing a black sleeveless top, black headband, and some pieces of jewelry

Joanne and I weren't ambitious; we didn't want to be in a pop group. We were just two girls at school who wanted to go to university.

Susan Ann Sulley with a poker face while wearing a striped long sleeve blouse with a leaves design

Interview the human league philip oakey joanne catherall and susan ann sulley part 4

Early life and education

Susan Ann Sulley posing with Philip Oakey, Joanne Catherall of the band Human League while wearing a black dress and black heels

Sulley was born in Sheffield, UK on 22 March 1963. She was raised and spent all her early years in the Gleadless suburb of the city. For her final education she attended the city's Frecheville Comprehensive School from the late 1970s until mid 1981. Her best friend from the age of 13 was fellow lifelong Sheffield resident and Frecheville student Joanne Catherall. By early 1981 she was calling herself 'Susanne Sulley', a familiar amalgamation of her two first names, a nickname by which she had been casually known at school. In 1980 while still at school she had a part-time job in a Sheffield hairdressing salon and a casual summer job selling ice cream at a Sheffield cinema, the only jobs she has had in her life apart from music.

1980: The Crazy Daisy story

The story of how Sulley and Joanne Catherall came to join The Human League, although verified by all involved, was questioned at the time in some quarters as a modern Cinderella story or a deliberate publicity stunt.

October 1980 saw the acrimonious departure of Ian Craig Marsh and Martyn Ware from the original line-up of the Human League at very short notice. It was decided that Philip Oakey would retain the title of The Human League. Oakey also would be responsible for honouring the band's commitments to Virgin Records. One of these commitments included an imminent European tour, and the promoters threatened to sue Oakey if it was not completed as scheduled. With a hostile music press writing off The Human League, Oakey hastily set about finding replacement group members for the tour that was due to start in less than a week.

With time rapidly running out before the tour, Oakey needed a female backing vocalist to replace the high vocals originally provided by Martyn Ware. Visiting Sheffield city centre on a Wednesday night, Oakey spotted two teenaged girls dancing at the Crazy Daisy Nightclub. "With what he considered unique dance moves, immaculate make-up, and an ultra-feminine dress style", Oakey felt they would be ideal and both were invited to join the tour. Catherall and Sulley accepted the offer, but then had to convince their parents. Fears were laid to rest when Oakey visited the girls' parents to assure them that, in Oakey's words: "it wasn't a heinous plan to take the girls abroad and sell them".

When recruited, the girls had already bought tickets to see the group perform, later in the tour, in Doncaster. Both girls were studying for their final year at school, but eventually it was agreed that the chance of seeing Europe would be a good opportunity for them. The arrival of "dancing girls" was met with derision by the music press who now were convinced that The Human League were finished. History, however, proved that the girls' arrival in the group was critical to its success. On completion of the tour, both Sulley and Catherall were asked to join the group full-time.

1981: Dare and "Don't You Want Me"

In 1981, whilst Sulley was still at school, the group recorded Dare, their most commercially successful album to date. The release of the album also coincided with the prevalence in the use of music videos and the launch of MTV. Dare's success persuaded the record label (Virgin Records) to finance an expensive and elaborate promotional music video for the single "Don't You Want Me".

In the video Sulley plays a successful actress walking out on her bitter Svengali lover (played by Oakey) who laments her success and departure. Set on a "film shoot" on a wet winter night, Sulley sings directly to the camera whilst walking through the atmospheric set, immaculately made up and wearing a distinctive trench coat. The single, aided by the now-classic video, was a commercial breakthrough for the group, going to number one in the charts in both the UK and the US

Sulley denies the claim, by some, that the song is in any way an analogy about Catherall and her joining the group. It was actually written by Oakey after reading a story in a magazine. Another falsehood often repeated by the media is that she was once actually a real cocktail waitress. When asked about this Sulley points out that she was still at school when Dare was recorded, and often jokes that she "has never had a proper job in her life".

The remaining 1980s

The international stardom that Dare brought was short-lived. The group took three years to release their next full album, 1984's Hysteria. A stop-gap E.P., Fascination!, was issued in America in 1983. From these releases the group had a number of top-ten singles in the UK and the US, including "(Keep Feeling) Fascination" and "Mirror Man" which both charted at number two in the UK. The single "Human" from Crash was the group's last real commercial success of the decade, charting at number one in the US and number eight in the UK. From then the group's mainstream popularity plunged, with subsequent releases not even breaking the top forty. It also was about 1986 that she stopped calling herself Susanne, opting for the more formal Susan.

The mid to late 1980s were not a particularly happy time for Sulley, as she had to deal with the personal problems unexpected international fame brought her. Also, internal disputes and pressure to produce more hits caused conflict, and eventually splits, within The Human League. When asked in late 1995 to describe that period, Sulley said: "I hated the 1980s, it was horrible … absolutely all of it."

The 1990s

In 1990 the band released their last album for Virgin Records, Romantic?, which included the minor hit single "Heart Like a Wheel". The Romantic? album did not re-capture the group's huge commercial success of 1981; with its second single "Soundtrack for a Generation" flopping, Virgin chose not to renew their recording contract. Although disheartened, the group remained together and persevered with new material. The Human League made a surprise comeback in 1994, now signed to East West Records, with the single "Tell Me When", giving them their first major hit since 1986's "Human", and the accompanying album Octopus going Gold.

"One Man in My Heart"

In 1995 the Octopus album gave the UK another hit single with "One Man in My Heart". This provided Sulley her highest public profile in the band's history. The song was a ballad sung by Sulley on lead vocals, with Oakey and Catherall providing supporting vocals. The stylish accompanying video, set in a Parisian cafe, gave (the now 32-year-old) Sulley the best opportunity to demonstrate her considerable screen presence since "Don't You Want Me". Although only moderately successful (it reached number thirteen in the UK charts), it was described years later in The Guardian as "one of the best love songs of the 1990s", and has been remixed and re-released a number of times since.

2000 to the present

Events conspired against the group when, in 2001, record label problems (Papillion Records had financial difficulties and eventually went bust) caused the critically acclaimed Secrets album to be starved of adequate promotion. The album was widely believed to be the group's best since the mid-1980s. Starved of airplay, the single "All I Ever Wanted" didn't realise its full potential. The group embarked on the Secrets tour to accompany the album. The tour was a major success, and demonstrated that the group's strength was as a live act. The tour also demonstrated that they had a huge following – not just as a nostalgia band to those who remember the 1980s material – but also to a new generation with new material.

By now Sulley was being credited by her married name, Susan Ann Gayle, which caused some confusion with the public when it appeared unannounced on the album credits; she remained better known to Human League fans by the name Sulley, and she eventually stopped using Gayle as a professional name in 2007.

The group regularly play to sell-out venues worldwide. In 2006 they played to an audience of 18,000 at the Hollywood Bowl, and appeared on the network US television show Jimmy Kimmel Live!. In late 2006 The Human League completed another tour of the UK and Europe, again with many venues sold out. In a 2007 interview, Sulley stated that the main effort of The Human League in the immediate future was the recording of new material, with the possibility of a new studio album, while continuing to play live at a variety of venues both in the UK and internationally.

Sulley, when asked (in 2004) to pick the highlight of her career, said: "I think it's still happening. I think the fact we're still doing it now. After all these years – I'm 41 now, and really, I shouldn't be in a pop group any more, but I am and it's still my job! I wake up in the morning and I haven't got to go to a nine-to-five. I've got this life and I'm very, very lucky!


Today Sulley still lives in her native Sheffield. She continues to record, perform and tour full-time with The Human League. Off stage she often acts as The Human League's media 'officer' and has been responsible for many interviews, press statements and publicity events. She has also guest presented on music TV channel VH1 and is an independent media personality in her own right. She also does occasional charity work in Sheffield.


  • Victoria Beckham of The Spice Girls has stated that it was Sulley that inspired her to enter pop music.
  • In the 2008 BBC TV drama Ashes to Ashes (set in 1981), Keeley Hawes's character Alex Drake uses the line "I was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar" (from "Don't You Want Me") in the dialogue; included by the script writers as a deliberate reference to Sulley's media presence in 1981.
  • Film and television

  • 1999 "Hunting Venus" (Buffalo Films, D. Martin Clunes) – Played herself
  • 2007 VH1 – Presenter
  • Professional name chronology

    Although her birth name is Susan Ann Sulley, she has been known professionally by a number of variants throughout her career; the table below shows the chronology. Because she rarely corrects journalists using an incorrect name, it is possible to find any of these currently in use in the media.

    Note: Her middle name can be spelled either Ann or Anne by the media and is only used professionally


  • 1982 BRIT Awards – (as 'The Human League') – 'Best British Breakthrough Act'
  • 2004 Q Awards – (as 'The Human League') – 'The Q Innovation in Sound Award'
  • Nominated for Grammy Award in 1982 for Best International Act (as 'The Human League')
  • References

    Susan Ann Sulley Wikipedia

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