Boy George


“You must treat your bedroom as your dressing room, and the world as your stage” – Quentin Crisp

“The trouble with me is, most of the stories are true” – Boy George

Fast forward with me through the 59 lives of Boy George.

“I remember once we all got evicted from this squat and I went to court with my friend and they wouldn’t let us in the court, I had my face painted green and she had her head bald, I don’t suppose you know Myra…”

“I met Vanity in a toilet in Boston and she told me Prince really liked ‘Karma Chameleon’… On the other hand, he’s not perfect. ‘I Could Never Take The Place of Your Man’ sounded like Orange Juice…”

“I’ve never seen anybody flirt and bitch and taunt people like Marilyn could. I remember we did ‘Breaking Glass’ outside the Camden Palace. Marilyn was wearing this Anthony Price dress – the only thing he ever bought. He looked amazing. He absolutely terrified these skinheads, prancing around them, eyeing them up, blowing kisses. They would back away. I used to love that, really used to turn me on…”

“Did you used to know Wendy Wattage, the tranny ? She used to walk around the Camden Palace on stilts. Once down in Brixton we got surrounded by all these quite nasty black guys and one of them snatched Wendy’s handbag and shouted right into his face ‘Poof !’ And Wendy looked right into his face and went ‘Nigger !’ His mates just cracked up (laughs). God it was funny…”

The Boy is back. Laughing.

The Boy who was miming to Shirley Bassey records when he was six, aimlessly looking for Marc Bolan’s house when he was fourteen, who went on to achieve postcard fame, become a national monument (a veritable stately homo), selling over 32 million records before the most public drug habit of this decade brought him down, is definitely back.

And if the (unadorned) face is drawn, the lips cracked and the eyes tired, the life in his cheek(s) and the soft, smoky giggle are unmistakably as before. At 27, wiser but as bright and bitchy and plain irrepressible as ever, George is gorgeous, warm, funny company, and probably an impossible friend.

‘Sold’ was ultimately a bit of a false start, but George’s new single, ‘Don’t Take My Mind On A Trip’, and next month’s album, ‘High Hat’ are his most sophisticated, confident records, probably since ‘Time (A Clock of the Heart)’.

It’s a week after the BPI fiasco – where George was introduced as “the fabulous, the legendary, the sensational… Four Tops !”
“They just shoved me on. Afterwards was just like a microchip company’s annual conference. No one dressed up, apart from me. Even Fuzzbox looked like The Nolans. Britain doesn’t have any stars. A lot of people round punk, even the really outrageous ones, are really normal now. The industry’s perfected how to create ‘pop stars’, but they’re not really glamorous.”

Herein lies the point. George was fated to be a star from the day he was born. Glamour comes naturally. There is so much glamour in George’s rise, in his fame and fall, and now the re-rise. Along the way, he’s had enough dramas, traumas and triumphs, loved and lost more friends than a hundred of us. He’s pop’s Judy Garland.

‘Trip’ is a neat, addictive dance record, written, produced and arranged by the Gene Griffin and Teddy Riley team that’s worked on Bobby Brown, Pebbles and “about twenty number ones in America”, a deft exponent of similar ideas to the Human League’s work with Jam & Lewis. Typically, George is unpredictably cautious.

“I think it’s quite good, a pretty cool record, but it’s not the best thing I’ve ever done. Maybe the most modern, yeah. I was really forced into working with Teddy Riley. I mean, I wanted to, but I wouldn’t be a puppet. I totally changed the lyrics to ‘Trip’. The first time I met them, I had my make-up on. They looked at me, like, ‘What is this ?’ They’re really good at what they do but I don’t ever treat anyone with disrespect. They then ignored me. In the end, I said ‘fuck off, I think you’re being really rude’, and they’re going, ‘We love you man. You’re beautiful man, anything you say’…

He pauses for breath.
“I was treated like a piece of shit by them and by people in this company (Virgin). I mean, it might sound really pathetic, wanting to be respected by the people you work with… People think you’re Coco the fucking clown, some pop star. But look, I wrote most of Culture Club’s songs, although I shared the credits. I’m a good songwriter, not that good at music, but good at melodies, quite good at words, even though ‘Q’ said I was the worst lyricist in the world, which upset me ‘cos I thought I was pretty good (laughs). I’m a good singer too, not brilliant, but I deserve some respect.”

Frustration and anger at Virgin has been boiling since that company’s childish treatment of George’s (actually pretty good) ‘No Clause 28’.
“Yeah. Mind you, I’d expected gay people to buy it regardless. It changed my opinion of gay people, a lot of them didn’t care less. Minorities are the worst people in the world, I’m telling you, the biggest hypocrites on earth.”

Virgin America froze the new LP ‘Tense Nervous Headache’, because there wasn’t enough “black-orientated music” on it, and it was released in Europe with collaborations with Prince collaborator/producer Bobby Zee. The record is now ‘High Hat’.

“I’ve had so many arguments. I’d have preferred ‘You Are My Heroin’ as the single. I used to see Virgin as my mates, like we were all on the same side, which sounds pretty dumb now. But times have changed. Virgin America told me not to wear lipstick in the ‘Trip’ video ! That was their artistic contribution. When I first signed to Virgin that would never have happened. Perhaps I shouldn’t admit this, but I never had any advice about the visual side. My manager’s never said, “I think you should get into leather chaps’ or something (laughs). I’m still not particularly trying to have a hit. It would help my new label (More Protein). I’d like to fuck a few people over.”

America is his obsession and vice versa.
“The American press always asks me if I envy George Michael, but I’ve been through all that, lusting to go shopping in Woolworths etc. When you lose your freedom, you end up thinking you’re too famous to do things like that. When these people become really nouveau riche, it’s just that the fame and money have given them the opportunity to act the way they’ve always wanted to.”

The LP is a convincing, polished blend of styles – a gospel ballad, his hardest dub-rap to date, and ‘I’m Not Sleeping Anymore’ – like ‘Victims’, a dramatic Bassey hit in the making. ‘You Are My Heroin’ could almost be ABC, modernized with a voice cut-up: “It’s good to be young…”

“The title ? Some people have said it’s treading on thin ice, but it’s basically a very serious song about what I went through, that kind of arrogance I felt taking heroin.”

Only the weedy pap of ‘Whether They Like It Or Not’ returns to the infectious ‘Summer Special’ corniness of ‘Karma Chameleon’ or ‘War Song’.
“Oh, that’s OK. Teddy Riley thinks it’s brilliant. I quite like it, that style, quite jolly. If you had a Double 99 in your hand on the beach, you’d love it. My pop records like that are quite tongue-in-cheek. I don’t give a fuck how people see me.”

Is it written purely for the chart ?
“If you knew me, you wouldn’t ask that. On the other hand… Do you think ‘Monkey’ is a good enough song to be Number One in America (laughs). There are too many pop critics in the world. It’s got to the stage where people come up to you in a nightclub and tell you how to produce your record. So basically (laughing) I’m not going to listen to a word you’re saying ‘cos I’ve heard all that shit before ! The reviews for ‘Do You Really Want To Hurt Me’ said it was the most pathetic reggae record ever made. I don’t have the ability to calculate or contrive pop music. If I did I’d have a lot more money. Basically I am what you see. People used to say ‘That was a brilliant idea’ and it was never an idea to me, it was just something I did and had always done.”

It’s still often quite safe, MOR, not very Marc Bolan, your music ?
“Some of it is MOR, yeah. ‘Trip’ is definitely, I think so. A good pop record is one that makes you happy, there are no conditions. By the end of this year, I’m telling you, there’ll be so many records like ‘Trip’, you’ll be crying out for ‘Karma Chameleon’ (laughing) ! A couple of times I said I was embarrassed about ‘Karma Chameleon’ but I don’t know fucking why.”

The last time I saw George he looked like a brain-damaged Dame Edna, in wings, Stetson, silver space boots and what appeared to be a handbag on his head. Like a living ‘Spitting Image’ of himself, proof that Phil Oakey was right to say George had made dressing up cosy, acceptable. More Danny La Rue than Marc Bolan, as if his warmth was just too irrepressible.

“Yes, I had become the Queen Mother. Before the drugs thing, I was just ‘Boy George: Teddy Bear’. All through my youth, especially through punk, I was very irreverent and antagonistic, especially in my family. But I then became very safe. I hadn’t set out to become a pop star. And I’d never set out to antagonize everyone, like Rotten had… I’m not cosy, I can be very nasty. But unlike, say, Marilyn, I need friends, so I’ve really curbed that side. I don’t want to be nice though. I mean, I don’t dislike Phil Collins but…you know… On the other hand…you can never do things to try and be weird. I’m very good at using my mouth (laughing), I can be very hurtful. Coming to clubs in London on the train, if people ever laughed at me, I’d look at them and find their faults and start talking about their big nose or their spots. Certain things were quite pioneering I think. My sexuality… No-one ever criticizes Morrissey for sitting on the fence. Politically he doesn’t, but sex is much more important than politics ! On the other hand, he does make me laugh out loud and he’s one of my favourite lyricists. But I get criticized all the time, that’s all. I don’t really believe anyone’s celibate !”

Will you end up in panto, with Lionel Blair or on ‘That’s my Dog’ ?
“God no. There are certain things I would take if I needed the money really desperately. I will never, ever do ‘Blankety Blank’. I’d do a Heinz Beanz ad. I’d host ‘Wogan’ when I was 50. I’d do the Dame Edna show. I turned down the milk ad, for instance, ‘cos milk’s bad for you. I’m macrobiotic, don’t use aerosols, all of that. Actually, it was a Smiths video that stopped me eating meat. I don’t drink tap water. People come round and fill the kettle up, I go mad. They think I’m completely loony. But people are so irresponsible about the environment and pollution and the ozone layer.”

Did you make enough money to never have to work again then ?
“No, I’m not at that stage. I don’t want to be. Ever. I love working. I love singing. I’m quite relaxed with or without money. My only extravagance is just buying drinks and taking friends out to dinner. I never have accountant meetings.”

Do you still feel dressing up can be subversive ?
“Oh yes, people totally trip out when they see me. They cannot believe my audacity. I remember seeing Bowie and Bolan and those things do change your life. England is such a normal country. Even at the BPI Awards, people laugh at me and say ‘What the fuck does he look like ?’ but I know I look brilliant. The times people have suggested that I wear a suit – “like Bowie”, hahaha. The first time I saw the ‘Trip’ video, I was screaming ‘I look so normal !’ I got really upset.”

Did you ever stop ?
“No, not even during the worst periods. I dress up less to go to clubs, like Spectrum. I love House music, I love the singing. The only thing I don’t really like is the lack of fashion, dressing up, you don’t know who’s really got style. The groups look hopeless. They all just want to be millionaires.”

Do you feel like a wonderful creature, creation, dressed ?
“I feel more flirtatious, less inhibited. A tart I suppose. I feel that kind of arrogance. I love it. People cannot touch me when I’m dressed up. It’s another drug thing. Now I can go out without even knowing what I look like, like today. When I was 17, I used to spend four hours doing my face, when I wasn’t even going out ! I’ve still got all those incredible Boy George outfits at home. Sometimes I’ll get a bit pissed and put them on (laughs). It’s all from Bowie and Bolan… There’s no-one as fabulous as Marc Bolan. My friend has this studio up in Cheam and Marc Bolan’s house is on the corner. I remember trying to find that house for years. Sometimes when I’m a bit drunk, I’ll just go and stand up there and look at it.”

And what about the Bowie phase ?
“Well I used to go out to Hadden Hall in Beckenham, every Sunday, for a year, a year and a half. We all used to meet in Wimpy. The first time I had come up from Eltham, I just walked around Beckenham. I had no idea where I was going. I saw this strange woman and went up to her and said ‘Hello ! Are you a Bowie fan ?’ It was the only place where I could meet people I thought were like me… I saw him once, in these huge platforms, covered in a blanket. I remember thinking, ‘Why the fuck has he got a blanket over his head ?’ Probably totally out of it on drugs. I went to Wembley seven nights in a row last year ! When I heard him doing ‘All The Madmen’ though, I had to leave, the way he did it… On the other hand, he demands respect, there are ten Bowie LPs that changed your life. And you can’t say that about George Michael !”

Do you get more or less aggravation ?
“Pretty much the same. I used to get beaten up quite a lot as a punk rocker. Never, ever with Marilyn, because he was so pretty he frightened everyone. These are much more homophobic times, yes, because of AIDS, Thatcher, Reagan. It’s not being brave, no. I was brave. When I was 17, coming from Woolwich on the train to go to Flicks in Dartford, in full drag, stilettos, straw hat, dress, wig, getting chased by skinheads…God ! (laughs). I used to be very aggressive about it – walking down the street going ‘What are you fucking looking at ? !’. At the Chanel show in Paris this old woman laughed at me, I turned round and called her ‘a fucking fat old cunt’ in front of everyone ! I won’t suffer fools. A guy in a van called me a scaghead, I just went ‘piss off wanker’. If I could have found a brick I’d have thrown it through his windscreen. I went to this very heavy place in Hackney, I don’t know how I got there, I was a bit drunk. I had my make-up on. This beer boy came up to me, sneering ‘What’s your fucking problem ?’ I goes, ‘Piss off, you ugly c***, you’re not even my type !’ All his mates started laughing at him.”

What’s the most important thing you’ve learnt ?
“Probably that image dominates you totally in this business. If Morrissey had dreadlocks and Pixie boots no-one would take him seriously. It’s all to do with the way you look. What would people think of Nick Cave if he wore a tiara ? It’s incredible that NME can say Nick Cave takes heroin and his audience thinks he’s cool. People actually might respect him for it. People thought I was an idiot. Hopefully people will respect me for getting off heroin.”

Are you embarrassed by getting hooked ?
“Oh no, no. It would’ve happened to anyone. I mean, who else hasn’t it happened to, who’s been in my position ? I’m sorry for all the grief it caused people.”

Do you feel in the clear now ?
“None of us are in the clear from drugs. They’re everywhere. A year ago I didn’t think I could deal with it. It’s two and a half years now, off heroin, off sleeping pills, which were harder to quit. The cigarettes are a problem.”

Would you do anti-H adverts ?
“No thank you. I don’t have a go at people who do drugs, especially if they haven’t got something else in their lives. To be quite honest I think it’s more helpful to show people you can live with it, get through it, project a bit of hope. I mean, I was doing four grams a day, you know ? You cannot tell people to stop, it’s up to them to want it. A lot of people write to me about it, they turn up on my doorstep sometimes. I don’t like that very much. I just say leave your address and write to me… People must decide whether it makes them happy. Heroin doesn’t really make anyone happy.”

George tells me yes, his friends mainly stuck by him; that recently two more have died, the last just days before, the other, the make-up artist who did the cover of ‘Sold’, from heroin.
“I thought it had all gone away. Those things bring it all back to me, that it could have been me, so many times.”

How much money did you blow ?
“I don’t know. I don’t want to talk about that. Is that something you’ve been asked to ask ?”

Not at all. It’s just hard to know how much is true – things like the girl in court with £16,000 to bail you, the contract out on you…
“That’s the worst thing. Most of the things written about me are true. The contract being out on me was very true… My life’s always been full of traumas, yes. Life should never be easy.”

It will all go into his book.
“It’s all in my head, every little detail. Even when I was doing drugs, funny crazy things happened, like walking up and down 5th Avenue in New York with huge tubs of ice-cream in every pocket.”

Do you still see Marilyn – (one of the great lost pop stars of this decade) ?
“We’ll always be friends, but he’s too destructive.”

All George wants now is the simplest, hardest thing: happiness.
“Thinking about a lot of things makes me happy – thinking about this football stadium we played in Puerto Rico, it started to rain and the kids all started to sing ‘Miss Me Blind’. I saw a video of us doing ‘Do You Really Want To Hurt Me’ at Christmas when I had rags in my hair and a dress on. I was so happy when I saw that, that I’d done that.”

What about in ten years time, George ?
“I’d like to be a rock mogul (laughs). That’s why I have my label. I’d like to do a good comedy, a Mike Leigh or John Waters, really trashy and funny. I’m doing some writing with the Culture Club boys, to see how it works out, that’s all. I’m not as fanatical or obsessive about the records as I was, even though ‘Trip’ is the hottest song in the black music charts this week. I’m very relaxed and happy. I’m a bit of a mother hen. People shouldn’t be lonely. I don’t believe anyone’s happy on their own. I feel much easier about myself now, probably as happy as I’ve ever been… I tell you what I’d really like… – to sleep with someone I really fancy, that’s all I really want. Pathetic, I know (laughs).”


addendum: Gossip Competition

Match the following:

“He’s a real fascination of mine.”
“The only famous person I’ve met who I’ve really liked.”
“It’s only because he’s from Up North. I quite like him but he’s so full of shit.”
“Look at him. I hate ugly people, you know ? He’s just hideous.”
“They’re so cheeky, with their eyeliner and Kevin Keegan perms. It’s frightening.”
“The worst co-called House record I’ve heard in my life.”
“I’ve know him since I was 17. I can’t believe what a cunt he was.”
“He thought I was really aggressive. I thought he was a boring sod. A frustrated queen.”
“They were just sitting there, being really Scottish.”
“He’s like a homosexual double-decker bus.”
“Sane ? Oh yes. By some people’s standards.”
“He is such a funny bastard.”
“Just a ‘New Romantic’, a fake.”
“He sells millions of records, makes millions of dollars, but he’s not famous at all, and I know he wants it.”
“It’s so annoying when the boy in the video’s better looking than the artist. It makes me sick.”
“There’s a side to him that’s brilliant and a side that’s just so hideous.”
“I just wanted to hug him and take him home with me.”
“Did he sleep with Marilyn ? I’m not saying.”

Mick Hucknall; Wet Wet Wet; Sammy Davis; Fat Tony; Quentin Crisp; Morrissey; Tom Watkins; Paul Weller; Marilyn; Paul Morley; Luther Vandross; Little Richard; Rick Astley; Nick Rhodes; Brossettes; Rick Sky; Mary Whitehouse.

Best Quotes

“I was treated like a piece of shit by Gene Griffin and Teddy Riley and by people at Virgin.”
“Minorities are the worst people in the world, I’m telling you.”
“All through my youth, especially through punk, I was very antagonistic and irreverent. But then I became very safe.”
“I’ve still got all those incredible Boy George outfits at home. Sometimes I’ll get a bit pissed and put them on.”
“I remember trying to find Marc Bolan’s house in Cheam for years. Sometimes when I’m a bit drunk, I’ll just go and stand up there and look at it.”
“The trouble with me is, most of the stories are true.”
“If Morrissey had dreadlocks and Pixie boots, no-one would take him seriously. It’s all to d with the way you look. What would people think of Nick Cave if he wore a tiara ?”
“People must decide whether it makes them happy. Heroin doesn’t really make anyone happy.”