Boogaloo Stu Interview
Last month I wrote a piece for Gay Times about one of my favourite scenesters Boogaloo Stu. I was lucky enough to interview the Boog prior to the piece, perched on some metal barrels in the basement kitchens of KU Bar, whilst topless men unpacked the dishwashers, he was in full make-up and show gear leaning against a stock pile of bendy straws. So, for mega Boogaloo Stu fans, here is the typed-up transcript of that quite surreal and wonderful conversation in which the Boog tells all:
JC: You’ve been on the scene a long time. How did it all begin for you?
Stu: I’ve been doing cabaret in clubs for twenty years. I studied textiles in Brighton. I enjoyed college but I always knew that I wasn’t going to do what I studied, I was already DJ’ing and putting on nights. My early look was an absolute dog’s dinner, not to say it isn’t still a dog’s dinner. I’ve always made my own outfits and enjoyed dressing up, I’d get on the knitting machine as a youngster and turn trousers upside down and hack up old dresses and stuff like that.
JC: So fashion was your first pursuit?
Stu: Yes, out of college I set up a knitwear business called Stuart Alexander Knitwear, I was selling in ‘Sign of the Times’ which was a really cool shop in 1992 on Kensington High Street [part of the fashion superstore Hyper Hyper opposite Kensington Market]. The owner Fiona Cartledge was this really cool inspirational figure who gave students their first chance in the industry. Over two years the label had grown and I needed outworkers to knit for me. I made a capsule collection and took it to New York in a bin bag, I don't know how I had the audacity to do that, but I literally rang up the owner of Barneys and asked to see the knitwear buyer, and then turned up and just poured all my knitwear out on to the floor and the buyer was like ‘OMG I really like these’, she put in a huge order, Mariah Carey and Kylie bought pieces, my stuff was in American Vogue and Italian Glamour.
JC: Wow, so why did you stop?
Stu: Well I was fresh out of college with no money, Barneys didn’t pay me for nine months, I didn’t have a backer and I realised that I couldn’t cope. It could have been the biggest thing, Julien MacDonald even helped me to put the collection together, but I suddenly had this gut feeling that I didn’t want to go ahead with it all, fashion was making me sick, I didn’t like most of the people or the general vibe and the idea of working a year ahead wasn’t right for me. I didn’t want to become entangled in fashion’s never-ending cycle. With clubs I got paid in cash on the night and so that had a lot more appeal to what was now becoming a young Boogaloo Stu!
JC: So who inspired the Boog?
Stu: Well the golden era of pop for me was 1982, lots of great albums came out at that time. ABC ‘The Lexicon of Love’, Associates’ ‘Sulk’, Scritti Politti ‘Cupid & Psyche 85’, they all generally came out ‘82 to ‘85. But they’re bands as opposed to stand-out iconic people. I thought the whole Boy George, Pete Burns, Marilyn and Divine scene was incredible but I didn’t like their music at all. Top of the Pops was basically overrun by drag queens, but it was “he’s Marilyn” not “she”. Debbie Harry inspired me, people who built an iconic look for themselves and kept it alive for a long time.
JC: People have compared your look to various kids TV creations. You do an adult variant on kids’ games in your show too. Are you inspired by children’s television or has children’s television plagiarised you? There are certainly a lot of gays in that industry who will have seen your set.
Stu: People have compared me to Cartoons and LazyTown but I’ve never seen them. I’ve had the quiff for fifteen years now, it’s my trademark and if I changed it now people would think I’m weird. I’m pleased that I’m compared to male characters though. People say I have an Elvis thing going on but look at me – there’s actually very little Elvis going on!
JC: Do you think you take the piss out of gay people with your act? I’ve noticed quite a defiant mocking look in your eyes when you’re chatting to boys on stage.
Stu: I try not to let my games be humiliating for people but the fact that they’ve volunteered means usually they’re up for it, but sometimes it can get a bit uncomfortable so I won’t push it. Still, the point about volunteering is important, I don’t make a boy do anything on stage, they do it of their own accord.
JC: So do you see yourself as removed from the gay scene? Are you part of a niche scene or a particular circle of artists?
Stu: Not really. I dip a toe into the Duckie scene, Amy Lamé and the Barbican scene, but those guys are all arts funded because what they do has a high art edge, whereas I’m just about fun. I think David Hoyle is amazing, but I don’t do what he does. I’m not driven to make an artistic statement with myself, or to hone myself into something that could make a lot of money.
JC: Are you scared of mass exposure?
Stu: I’m not scared of mass exposure but my problem is I have so many ideas that I’m always too busy thinking about the next idea to actually push one through properly. On television often you need to stick to one thing to make it work.
JC: But your look has stayed the same for fifteen years?
Stu: Yes but you know I think my look has become very unfashionable! I never go with trends, in fact, my belief is as a lover of fashion that the only way to be in fashion is to be totally out of fashion and have nothing to do with it. People who buy into fashion are quite shallow and pointless people really, there’s not a huge amount of individuality on the receiving end, people talk about individuality but very few people have it. Vivienne Westwood has it. Maybe I’m coming back into fashion again, I’ve no idea. But I’ll still look the same in twenty years.
JC: So let’s talk about your home life. You still commute from Brighton is that right? Is Brighton your favourite gay scene?
Stu: I drive to London yes and then back to Brighton, which is why I don’t drink when I’m working. I don’t go out in Brighton anymore though, I live in Hove actually. I never went to gay venues as a kid, I’ve worked in them my whole life and I have been known to end up in Legends once every two years but it takes a really spectacular event for me to be out somewhere like, um, Legends (cackles). As I went straight from school in Scotland down to Brighton for college I never engaged with the gay scene up in Scotland either. I was into cabaret so that took me to straight venues. A lot of my friends were gay and so I never felt the need to go off to a gay club, but my friendship group was really liberal too so everyone would snog everyone, sometimes the boys would end up with boys, sometimes they’d end up with girls. I miss those days.
JC: I didn’t know you were Scottish. Your voice is quite eloquent and English?
Stu: I lost my accent in Brighton I think, I lived with a girl in Bristol for two years and her impact on my accent is still there. I’ve lived in Yorkshire and also New York, my voice just imitates my surroundings a little bit. I always liked talking very properly at school though, it used to annoy the other kids!
JC: So are you a celebrity in Perth?
Stu: Good God no, they don’t know I exist! Which is probably for the better.
JC: So what’s your place in Hove like?
Stu: My flat is really minimal, it’s somewhere between Boogaloo Stu and stark. I don’t have a walk-in wardrobe, although I have an area for clothes that you sort of have to walk into! A guy came round yesterday who’s making some pots for my terrace, and I had some new greeting cards lying around with swear words all over them and I could see him looking at them, but I don’t care, my flat is my space.
JC: Is there a Mrs Boogaloo Stu?
Stu: (Quietly, batting eyelids) Yes there is. I first saw him at one of my shows in the late 90s, and I remembered his face. Then years later I met him through a mutual friend by chance annd we’ve been together for almost five years now.
JC: Do your family like the Boog?
Stu: My family are fine with Boogaloo Stu, at least if they don’t like it they haven’t told me! One year at my birthday party I turned up driving a huge mobile platform shoe and they went with it!
JC: Is there a downside to your profession?
Stu: It can damage your social life, working every night, coming home at five in the morning and then starting again. I’ve never felt alone though.
JC: And sometimes you must have hecklers and tough crowds?
Stu: Well, sometimes if an audience is resistant then that just adds to the challenge. Boys turn up at KU Bar with no idea that I’ll be coming onstage in the middle of the night, so I have to win them over and show them that it’s worth watching. You see their faces sometimes like ‘Who is this person? Why has the music stopped?’
JC: Yet half the crowd are there to see you specifically. They all know your catchphrases! In fact, can you remind me what they are?
Stu: My catchphrases? Well there’s “What’s Up Motherfuckers?”, “Good evening Lesbians & Genatalia” or any variation on Lesbians & Genatalia. I have “I swear to God someone’s trying to fuck me in the ass” as a buzzer-in phrase during games. And then there’s “Milk Milk, Lemonade, Round The Corner Chocolate’s Made” which is internationally famous. And also “Are your teeth from Homebase?” – I can’t explain that one, I just think it sounds great.
JC: Something I’ve not mentioned yet is your music. You actually produce and perform pop music as well as hosting and DJ’ing?
Stu: Yes. My music suffers a little bit because of my persona as a comedic host. I’ve stopped doing live concerts of my pop music because it jarred a bit with my following, they want to watch me doing nonsense and silliness, so my more serious pop music is just for listening to now. I was finding it impossible to sing without pulling stupid faces too. I think I’m going to release an album under a different name actually, we’ll see if anybody notices it’s me!
JC: Have you done any film work?
Stu: People always say I should, and I’d like to yes. I did some Eurovision presenting for the BBC once which was exciting, and I’m really comfortable with presenting on television. I surprised the BBC producer because I went through everything in about an hour and he’d booked the studio for the whole day, it just came naturally to me. But then everyone wanted the free lunch so we had to pretend to be working still until at least midday. I’ve pitched ideas to various production companies but TV presenters aren’t that theatrical right now are they, again – I’m grossly unfashionable!
JC: You’re not. You’re fantastic. Perhaps you’re one of those people like Patrick Wolf that should be in the mainstream based on their talents alone, but execs are too square to take the risk, even though it could be the best decision of their career?
Stu: It’s funny you mention Patrick Wolf. I used to see Patrick a lot at WigOut which was a night I DJ’d at years ago. I remember one night his friend Matthew made this big circle of space in the crowd so that Patrick could dance, and he was wearing like this false hunchback with fake blood around his mouth and was doing a lunatic kind of dance. My DJ look at the time was quite sultry though so I’d just act totally unimpressed, but he looked incredible and I’ve admired his work for a long time actually. He knows one of my friends Gwendolyn, she’s in one of his videos, and she does live poetry readings. She’s incredible, like this amazing amazing woman. She’s 6 foot 5 which makes it hard for her to find acting work, but brilliant people like Patrick Wolf see beyond that. She is an example of someone who just has too much talent to ignore.
[End of Tape]