Who is the boy on the front cover of Placebo's debut album?

20 June 2021, 15:00

Placebo's debut album, released on 17 June 1996
Placebo's debut album, released on 17 June 1996. Picture: Press

The classic album by Brian Molko and co is now 25 years old - but the cover star says the picture "ruined my life".

Placebo's self-titled debut album is often lumped in with the other great Britpop records of the period. But the trio - frontman Brian Molko, bassist Stefan Olsdal and, on the first LP, drummer Robert Schultzberg - were more like outsiders in the genre.

According to Molko, the band went out of their way to set themselves apart from the rest of the usual Britpop suspects. For one thing, despite forming in London, the band members weren't all strictly British: Molko's mother was Scottish and his father was American, while the singer was born in Belgium. Olsdal and Schultzberg were both Swedish.

Placebo in 1996, around the time of their first album:  bassist Stefan Olsdal, singer Brian Molko and drummer Robert Schultzberg.
Placebo in 1996, around the time of their first album: bassist Stefan Olsdal, singer Brian Molko and drummer Robert Schultzberg. Picture: Andy Willsher/Redferns/Getty Images

Then there was their gender-fluid image. Molko told Kerrang! in 2009: "A lot of our cross-dressing and transvestism was a political statement against the music scene at the time which was very laddish and macho."

So while Placebo skated around the outskirts of Britpop, their debut album is full of so many strong songs that have endured to this day: Bruise Pristine, Teenage Angst, 36 Degrees and the statement of intent Nancy Boy.

The cover of the album also subverted expectations. Instead of an image of the band with the reliably photogenic Brian Molko, the sleeve features a picture of a young boy wearing an oversized red pullover and pulling his face down in a classic example of what parents call "messing about".

Who was the boy on the cover of Placebo's debut album?

The young man's name was David Fox, who was 12 at the time the cover photograph was taken in 1996. The photographer was Fox's cousin Saul Fletcher, who had attended the funeral of David's brother, who had just died from muscular dystrophy.

Fox remembered the day when interviewed by The Sun in 2012: "He was a professional photographer and came with all his camera equipment. He got me outside and asked me to pull different faces and poses." The 2015 vinyl reissue of Placebo featured an outtake of one the other shots taken that day:

David and his family just though the photographs were for Fletcher's personal use, but a month or so later, the boy received a phone call from his cousin and was told: "You're going to be on a CD cover".

"My mum brought home a copy of the album and I was overwhelmed," David recalled. "At first I thought it was pretty cool.”

However, Fox quickly became a target at school for bullies. "That picture ruined my life," he said, bluntly. ""Sometimes my old friends would mimic the face I was pulling on the front cover."

David Fox in the Never Mind The Buzzcocks identity parade in October 2013
David Fox in the Never Mind The Buzzcocks identity parade in October 2013. Picture: YouTube

The name calling soon turned into actual physical violence and David found himself moving from school to school to avoid the abuse. He eventually left without taking his GCSEs.

In 2012, Fox announced that he was going to sue Placebo's management and record label, adding "My mum never signed anything giving her permission, and never received any documents or phone calls asking for her consent."

However, there was no subsequent news concerning any legal action and David Fox turned up on an episode of Never Mind The Buzzcocks in October 2013, as part of the "Identity Parade" game, replicating his Placebo cover pose.

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