Lead singer Fish wrote this about his former girlfriend Kay whose middle name was Lee, and their painful breakup. Fish altered the name slightly.
The song was the first single released from the Misplaced Childhood album, and when it was released, British tabloid journalists went on a quest to ascertain the identity of Kayleigh. The resulting publicity helped send the song to #2 on the UK charts and push the album to #1. The three previous Marillion albums even returned to the UK chart around this time.
Quite a few girls born in that time were given this name in Britain. Years after this was released, Fish was flabbergasted by the wish of an autograph-hunter asking him to sign his new solo album with a dedication to his daughter Kayleigh.
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The song originally came about when guitarist Steve Rothery developed a catchy riff on his guitar. Fish put some lyrics to the riff and Marillion had their biggest ever hit on their hands. Said Rothery: "My wife to be, Jo, asked me to explain how I came up with my musical ideas, picking up a nearby guitar I started improvising what later became the 'Kayleigh' riff whilst explaining that I tried to combine melody and rhythm. I sometimes wonder if we would still have written 'Kayleigh' if she had asked me if there was anything good on the telly instead!"
This was Marillion's only chart entry in America. The band was wildly successful throughout most of the world (especially in Europe), but never cracked the US nut. Their first American tour was in 1983, and despite a handful of fervent Stateside fans trying desperately to spread their gospel, it was a disaster ("our morale wasn't so much punctured as totally lacerated," said Fish).
They tried again in 1986 after Misplaced Childhood took off, this time opening for Rush. Once again, they got little attention, making them one of the biggest British acts to be almost completely ignored in the US.
The girl in the video is Tamara Nowy, a German model Fish married in 1987. The couple split up around 2001.
This was Marillion's most successful song, but that success led to turmoil. Lead singer Fish ended up leaving the band a few years later, blaming "self-inflicted paranoias" and negligent management. They regrouped with new lead singer Steve Hogarth, who first appeared on their 1989 album Seasons End.