Kirsty MacColl: 10 things you may not know about the late singer-songwriter

18 December 2023, 14:15 | Updated: 18 December 2023, 17:32

Kirsty MacColl: Things you may not know
Kirsty MacColl: Things you may not know. Picture: Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo

By Jenny Mensah

We look back on the talented British singer-songwriter's life and career beyond Fairytale of New York.

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Kirsty MacColl tragically died on 18th December 2000, aged just 41.

The British singer-songwriter is most famous for her collaboration with The Pogues on festive favourite Fairytale of New York, but there's much more to her than the Christmas song we hear every year.

MacColl was a respected artist in her own right and contributed much more to the world of music than people release.

Find out more about the late Kirsty MacColl with 10 things you might not know about her.

Kirsty MacColl in January 1985
Kirsty MacColl in January 1985. Picture: Trinity Mirror / Mirrorpix / Alamy Stock Photo

How did Kirsty MacColl die?

Kirsty MacColl's life was sadly cut short due to a speedboat accident on 18 December 2000.

While on holiday in Mexico with her sons and her musician partner James Knight, she and her sons went diving at Chankanaab reef, at the National Marine Park of Cozumel, where watercraft were meant to be restricted.

MacColl saw a power boat coming towards them in the area and pushed her then 15-year-old son Jamie out of the way. Unfortunately she was struck by the boat and died instantly after suffering significant injuries to her chest.

Find out more about the artist's life below:

  1. MacColl came from a creative family

    Kirsty MacColl was the daughter of folk singer Ewan MacColl and Jean Newlove.

    By the time MacColl was born, her father was already in a relationship with folk singer Peggy Seeger and had a son with her, so Kirsty was raised by her mother in Croydon with her brother Hamish.

    Her father passed away in 1989, but MacColl's mother outlived her and passed away just as recently as 2017.

    Kirsty's father Ewan MacColl performing live in London
    Kirsty's father Ewan MacColl performing live in London. Picture: Heritage Image Partnership Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo
  2. She started out in a punk band

    MacColl provided backing vocals with punk rock band Drug Addix under the moniker Mandy Doubt. They released the aptly-named EP The Drug Addix Make A Record via Chiswick Records

    It was here when she was noticed by Stiff Records who signed her as a solo artist.

    Kirsty MacColl in July 1981
    Kirsty MacColl in July 1981. Picture: Trinity Mirror / Mirrorpix / Alamy Stock Photo
  3. MacColl released five studio albums

    MacColl released five albums in all- with her debut, Desperate Character, released in 1981. It was followed by Kite in 1989, Electric Landlady in 1991, which was her highest charting album and reached number 17 in the UK charts and Titanic Days, which followed in 1993.

    MacColl's Tropical Brainstorm album was the fifth and final to come from the artist, released in March 2000, just seven months before her untimely death.

    Kirsty MacColl - Walking Down Madison (Official HD Music Video)

  4. Her biggest hits include...

    Some of MacColl's biggest hits include 1981's There's a Guy Works Down the Chip Shop Swears He's Elvis, which reached 14 in the UK singles charts, her cover of The Kinks' Days, which reached number 12, and her 1984 cover of Billy Bragg's New England, which reached number 7.

    Her 1979 single They Don't Know became a Top 10 hit in 1983 by Tracey Ullman and has received the cover treatment ever since.

    Fairytale Of New York is of course MacColl's highest-charting hit, peaking at number two when it was released in 1987- only missing out on the top spot to Pet Shop Boys' cover of Always On My Mind.

    Kirsty MacColl - A New England

  5. She was married to music producer Steve Lilywhite for 10 years

    MacColl was married Lilywhite from 1984 to 1994. They had two sons together; Jamie and Louis.

    MacColl first met the renowned producer when she was tasked with recording backing vocals for Simple Minds.

    Kirsty MacColl and Steve Lilywhite
    Kirsty MacColl and Steve Lilywhite. Picture: PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo
  6. She's probably worked with some of your favourite bands

    Kirsty MacColl has provided backing vocals from the likes of The Pogues, Billy Bragg, The Smiths, The Rolling Stones, Happy Mondays, Morrissey, Talking Heads, Simple Minds, Alison Moyet, Robert Plant, David Byrne, and more.

  7. She features on The Smiths' Ask

    Back in 1986, MacColl contributed to backing vocals for The Smiths' Ask.

    The Smiths - Ask (Official Music Video)

    On the 20th anniversary of her death, Johnny Marr remembered the singer, tweeting: "Remembering my friend, landlady and songwriting partner. The great Kirsty MacColl."

  8. She also sings on Happy Mondays' Hallelujah EP

    You can expect to hear MacColl's dulcet tones on the Madchester legend's EP, which includes the title track, Clap Your Hands, Holy Ghost and and Rave On. This meant Kirsty appeared with the Mondays on their debut Top Of The Pops appearance in November 1989.

    Happy Mondays (with Kirsty MacColl) – Hallelujah (Top Of The Pops 1989)

  9. MacColl featured in French and Saunders and more

    You probably already know this fact if you watched the comedy sketch show, but you may have not even realised it was her.

    MacColl featured on the show, playing herself and performed songs including 15 Minutes, Don't Come The Cowboy With Me Sunny Jim, Still Life, Girls On Bikes and a reworking of Somethin' Stupid with the comedy duo as Raw Sex.

    She also played the character of Kitty Fischer in the TV film The Ghosts of Oxford Street in 1991, in which she performed Fairytale of New York.

    Her songs have gone on to feature in everything from Sex and the City to Tracey Beaker.

    You Just Haven't Earned It Yet Baby was the lead soundtrack on 1988 film She's having a Baby and versions of They Don't Know have appeared across TV and film including in the likes of Girls and Picture Perfect.

  10. There is a memorial bench for Kirsty MacColl in London's Soho Square

    There was a huge outpouring of love and tributes to MacColl following her passing and one such tribute is a memorial bench on the southern entrance to Soho Square.

    It includes the poignant lyrics from her Soho Square song: "One day I'll be waiting there / No empty bench in Soho Square".

    Every year on the Sunday nearest to MacColl's birthday (10 October) fans from all over the world hold gather at the bench to pay tribute to her and sing her songs.

    32 Kirsty's Bench In Soho Square