“I’ve got butter to thank and I’ve eaten plenty since!”: John Lydon on how doing a TV ad for butter helped turn his career around

John Lydon in an ad for Country Life butter
(Image credit: YouTube)

John Lydon had already shown he was game for anything when he appeared as a contestant on I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here! in 2006 but it was still a surprise to see the former Sex Pistols frontman become the face for a butter campaign on a series of Country Life ads in 2008. A few years ago, Lydon told this writer that it came at a crucial time for him, the money enabling him to get out of debt and reform his post-Pistols group PiL. Before that, he was thinking about giving up music completely, he said.

“I had serious trouble for nearly two decades with the labels,” he revealed. “On one hand they had me in debt, and to get out of debt I had to do things like touring but they wouldn’t finance the tour and if I raised the money independently then that would go back towards the debt and I’d be in this catch-22. That was very despondent times for me. I had to raise interest by doing other things. I went into TV work and live broadcasting, Saturday and Sunday mornings in America, on the internet, having conversations with intellectuals. This is what I was forced to do! But I took to it well. You make the best of life and you can only work with the cards that’s handed to you, until you find yourself in a position where you can change the debt. It took a long time, and I’ve got to say, thank you Dairy Crest [the company that make Country Life], you definitely helped me out of that doldrum. It wasn’t a huge amount of money but it was enough of one lump sum to go against the debt and think about reforming PiL.”

Despite the offer of financial salvation, Lydon said that he didn’t say yes immediately, initially reluctant to appear before getting over himself. “When they approached us for the butter campaign, it was so anarchistic to all of my principles I was amusing at the time,” he recalled. “I got over that and realised, ‘These guys are game for this! They want me to take this serious!’ I was stand-offish at first and I really like the way they badgered me into it, and good on ‘em for it! Cos I could’ve been stupid and snotty and turned it down, but they turned my life around. I’ve got butter to thank for it and I’ve eaten plenty since! I did it for the sheer pleasure of being able to run around fields and write my own scripts. Where are the cows, off I go! It was fantastic fun.”

Revisit the former Johnny Rotten cavorting around British fields in the name of Country Life below:

Niall Doherty

Niall Doherty is a writer and editor whose work can be found in Classic Rock, The Guardian, Music Week, FourFourTwo, on Apple Music and more. Formerly the Deputy Editor of Q magazine, he co-runs the music Substack letter The New Cue with fellow former Q colleagues Ted Kessler and Chris Catchpole. He is also Reviews Editor at Record Collector. Over the years, he's interviewed some of the world's biggest stars, including Elton John, Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, Muse, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Depeche Mode, Robert Plant and more. Radiohead was only for eight minutes but he still counts it.