Creators and Shapers: The Women in Dave's Life

March 14, 2021

By: Purple

Episode 2: Sylvia Gahan

As the mother of Dave Gahan, she is the one who brought the one we know and love into the world, and the only one who could truly be called both a creator and shaper in this series. So, who is she? What was bringing Dave up like for her? In this article, we take a closer look at Dave's mum, Sylvia Gahan, and list five facts about her.

1. Sylvia's story

A London bus conductress (not Sylvia) in the 1950s.

We don't know much about Sylvia Gahan's personal history except what's out there on the web, but I would say that she is most likely from the generation known as The Silent Generation. This generation is characterized by a hard-working attitude and a low penchant for risk-taking.1 These are just generalizations, though, and I'm not at all inferring any kind of particular traits about Dave's mum. We just don't know for sure. But it is pretty safe to say that she would've lived through World War II, at least, probably as a child. The only pieces of information that I could find on the occupations that she had are from Wikipedia where it states that she worked as a bus conductress, also known as a "clippy," on London buses.2 You can bet that I am totally picturing her standing in one of those cool-looking, bright red double-decker London buses! She would've been the first person one saw when boarding the bus and perhaps the last person when de-boarding, as well. The same article on Wikipedia states that her first husband, Len Callcott, was a bus driver, so I do wonder if their respective occupations directly led them to meeting each other and eventually getting married. As we know, Len is Dave's biological father, so their meeting was definitely significant. Dave has also mentioned that she was a member of The Salvation Army, a Christian organization.3

2. She had four children and ended up raising them pretty much all on her own

From left to right: Peter, Sue, Dave, and Phil Gahan.

Imagine raising a child by yourself, whether you already are a parent or not, single or not. Now imagine raising four children all by yourself. They are all at different ages and they all have different personalities and different needs. Then, you get somewhat of an idea of what Sylvia Gahan went through. How did this happen? Well, Sylvia's first husband, Len, left the family when Dave was very young. She remarried a man named Jack Gahan, who served as a father figure to Dave and from whom Dave eventually took his surname, but then he died when Dave was nine.4 Dave and his older sister and two younger brothers all had to be raised by Sylvia, alone, from then on.

3. She had an especially tough time with Dave

Raising four children is difficult enough as it is, but now imagine that one of those children is especially wild and rebellious. Then you've got young Dave in a nutshell. "Between the age of 16 and 18 I didn't know what was happening to him really," Sylvia said in an interview about him. "He was a bit of a horror."5 "My mother says that I was very stubborn and hard-headed," Dave said in an interview many years later.6 That's not to say that Dave was the only troublemaker and his three siblings were all perfect angels, but we've all heard the stories of Dave's rebellious youth, at least. So needless to say, even with three other children to raise, Dave's mum would've had her hands full dealing with him, alone!

4. But despite being a "horror" in his youth, Dave fiercely loved and spoiled his mum

It is obvious that Dave genuinely loved and appreciated his mother, especially later on when he seemed to gain some perspective on what she went through in raising him. "Later I realised what a hard time mum had bringing us up," Dave said. "I didn't help by getting into a lot of trouble...I was suspended [from school] and I ended up in juvenile court three times for things like nicking motors, setting them alight and spraying walls."7 At the various jobs that Dave worked, he gave the money he was paid with to his mother. Maybe he was asked to or even forced to, but I like to think that he did it out of his own volition. Dave would've been perceptive and tactful enough to know how much she and the whole family needed it. And of course, later, when he became big and famous with Depeche Mode, he continued to spoil and lavish his mum with gifts. It's clear that Dave loved and admired his mum so much that, in a poll conducted in 1982 by Smash Hits magazine, he and many other famous musicians at the time were asked to name whom they thought was the "most fanciable human being" among other things. Most of them responded with the names of other "hot" celebrities of the time. Dave's singularly thoughtful response? "My mum."8 Awww.

5. For Dave, she would've been the only authority figure he could fully trust

"My stepdad died when I was nine. My real father showed up once when I was 11 and that was the last time I ever saw him. There was always distrust for people you were meant to feel safe with after that — teachers in school, getting into trouble with the police."4 Being that Dave grew up without a stable father figure for most of his young life, his mum must've played a bigger role than ever in shaping his life, having to essentially serve both the role of father and mother. Thus, it is probably safe to say that barring his older sister and any other close, older relatives and friends, his mum was probably the only person he could look up to and whom he could fully trust. She would've been one of few people at the time who loved him unconditionally and truly wanted the best for him. In short, Sylvia Gahan is an extraordinary lady and superstar, responsible for giving life to and bringing up such an extraordinary man!


Special thanks to Nadine for providing missing dates.

  1. "Silent Generation", Wikipedia (retrieved on February 20, 2021)
  2. "Dave Gahan", Wikipedia (retrieved on February 20, 2021)
  3. "Blasphemy Rewarded", Melody Maker (September 22, 1984)
  4. "Facing My Monsters", Daily Mirror (June 27 - July 3, 2003)
  5. "Dave Gahan's Mum", Smash Hits (pg. 58) (March 28 - April 10, 1985)
  6. "The MOJO Interview", MOJO (May 2013)
  7. "Private Lives: The Depeche Mode Story Part 1: Dave Gahan: The Wild Boy", No1 (May 4, 1985)
  8. "Star Choice", Smash Hits (December 23, 1982)

So, what do you think about this article? Do you have any details about Sylvia Gahan that I missed, or simply want to get something off of your chest? Who would you like to see featured in a future installment of "Creators and Shapers?" Please comment below!