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]

“Fuck a Duck! Fuck a Duck!” - It’s Celebrity Big Brother FIVE style

They’re not even celebrities, Pamela Anderson is nowhere to be seen and Brian Dowling looks like a lonely pub quiz master, but at least there’s one saving grace for FIVE - 'Big Brother’s Bit on The Side' with the lovely Emma Willis.

We’re crowded around a TV set in Belsize Park tuned into Channel 5, it’s the 21st century’s equivalent of listening to Radio Caroline under a duvet. What’s happened on this bizarre televisual programming service since the Spice Girls cut its ribbon in the 90s? Has anybody watched Channel 5 since that day? Apart from the odd serial killer bio in the middle of the night, one of those cheaply made Wikipedia bash-outs where they slowly zoom in on a rapist’s monobrow whilst thumping the bass keys of a piano as you humbly nibble at some cheese on toast.. Apart from that and low quality footage of nocturnal car chases, no.

So Brian Dowling pops up on the screen, plodding out the Bond-esque revolving-blade iris of a Big Brother stage set. Brian's voice is too booming, too Homebase instore radio, there’s no variety in volume, no tone, and it’s very very autocue. But let’s give Brian a chance, it’s his first go at professionalism after all and he’s presenting in the footsteps of a demi-god, the TV decathlete Davina McCall.

Roll in the first CBB contestant, Kerry Katona, Jade Goodie’s successor but lacking in positive energy, an abrasive and really quite boring character in the soap opera of British celebrity but a woman who refuses to budge. Like limescale on an unloved gravestone Kerry Katona by default belongs in the tabloids now and we just have to open our mouths and take a bite of the turd. She’s got rid of the drab feel-sorry-for-me-please hair and opted for something quite animalistic, quite Robyn, quite queer, but she looks more like Julie Walters in a Shane Meadows musical. And she can’t walk in heels. Really can’t. I could do better than that in my mum’s at the age of six.

Then comes Tara Reid who’s obviously short of work, and horrifyingly - she can’t speak. Drugs? Nerves? Surgery? Ultra Violet? Twitter explodes with confusion and finally settles on one point - it’s fucking scary. We’re so used to Tara as this two dimensional Maxim pin-up, pushing her air-brushed breasts out of an ivory corset, that it’s strange to see her walking around, to be reminded that she’s actually a living organism. And if she can’t talk at least she can walk. Massive heels, no problem. Tara Reid’s no face of Iceland, she knows how to make an entrance. Brian makes another boo boo by mentioning her recent marriage and you can almost hear the deflation of adolescent boners around Britain. Rather than remind us of Tara’s cinematic achievements, like Cruel Intentions or The Big Lebowski, the focus is stupidly on her minor friendship with Paris Hilton, and we find ourselves unwillingly comparing these shoddy contestants against real towering celebrities.

Next up is Darren Somebody. A tubby egotistical PR personality who talks about himself in the third person and seems to think he invented the concept of media. It’s that awkward notion where someone who has worked behind the scenes in an industry reveals that all along what they’ve really wanted is to be the face of it. But he’s not famous is he, nobody knows who he is, and the crowd’s unanimous booing reflects this, steamy civilians' breathe in the cold night air shaping a giant “W H O ?”. Embarrassing.

Then Sally Bercow arrives and it’s a welcome change. Refreshingly she knows how to dress nicely and present herself. Even better - she can talk audibly and she has a classy hairstyle. Liberal Britain, intelligent viewers and the post-Davina die-hards all place their bets on this one, but as history tells us - the demure contestants never win.

Then there’s a male model who looks like a pissed-off window-cleaner. Another housemate who isn’t a celebrity. They don’t even show us any of his shoots, just their own little Channel 5 shoot in which he does that silly double denim trend from last year. “Pose for the cameras” yells Brian, “this’ll be easy for you, Ooh he’s really getting into it now!”, but he wasn’t, he looked quite gormless really, it was just another moment where Brian clinged to the autocue completely irregardless of what was happening around him, a moment where Davina would have just linked arms and rolled with it. Actually you could sense Davina taking a quiet sip of her wine in the Home Counties at that moment, unsure whether to feel smug or slightly saddened, slowly crushing a Dorito against the roof of her mouth.

And the show finishes, immediately sweeping into its spin-off ‘Big Brothers Bit on the Side’.
This show, the replacement for Big Brother’s Big Mouth, is impressively svelte. Emma Willis is clearly a professional, instantly at ease she knows how to hold an audience and is ready to catch anything that is thrown at her, be it a sticky question, a clever one-liner or a bag of flour, even when heavily pregnant. Alex Reid proves himself to be a good quality panelist, displaying elegant self-control and taking the program seriously. And then they brought Lauren Harries on, an incredible personality who we really don’t see enough of on television these days, so bravo to FIVE for that journo-pleasing touch.

Whether Celebrity Big Brother will hold our attention for its duration remains to be seen. Of course some of the cheaper women’s magazines can’t afford not to write about it, but the show may suffer due to lack of engaging celebrities. Jedward are the biggest stars, which itself says a lot, but they’re still better in small doses. Kerry Katona is more interesting on the page than on the screen and what’s left - a bunch of people who are either uninterestingly obscure or unable to speak? There’s Lucian from Corrie and there’s that girl from TOWIE, and no doubt they’ll be married before Remembrance Day, but really the show needs more young contestants.

SO. Channel 5 has a big show on its bill now. What they need to do though is stuff the schedule with other good stuff before and after each BB episode. And that doesn’t mean OK!TV with Jeff Brazier, that doesn’t mean irreverent celebrity shows staffed entirely by former Big Brother contestants. FIVE needs to think of something original, something truly enjoyable, something addictive and sexy - and they needs to get it on air quick. FIVE needs a signature show, a Big Breakfast, a Deal or No Deal, an Apprentice, anything - otherwise Big Brother will very quickly become nothing more than an overly-prepared party that everyone left too early. For now Britain has lifted its embargo on FIVE, we’ve dragged our mouses and selected Maybe. Now let’s see if Channel 5 has what it takes for us to click Attending.

Alex Reid Interview in the Gay Times Sex Issue (September 2011)

So, I trust you've all read the new issue of Gay Times with my first cover interview? I spent the afternoon with theatrical cagefighter Alex Reid, known to many as Katie Price's ex husband. Alex was a real charmer, a very affectionate person and I was quite taken by him. Still, that's not to say I went lightly on the questions - we talked in depth about his transvestite persona Roxanne, about his past encounters with the gay community and homosexual propositions, about men of power who try to take advantage and of course about his new calling - acting.

On the set of the photo shoot Alex was very cheeky, tweeking peoples' nipples with metal backdrop clamps, challenging people to do press ups etc. He had his own entourage of muscly guys, one was a driver. But in terms of the gay rumours I took away the impression that Alex is just someone who enjoys life.

He said he's "trisexual", he'll try anything and I really respect him for being open about this. He wouldn't talk about Chantelle though (a completely in-house invented Big Brother reality star who he is rumoured to be dating) because he's waiting for his divorce from Katie to come through properly.

I did pick up a bit of a vibe off Alex, but I think this was probably more me fancying him and being charmed by his unwavering warm eye contact and ridiculously tight tank top more than anything else!

You can follow Alex Reid on Twitter @Only1AlexReid, (he wasn't allowed to talk about this interview beforehand, as it's his first cover feature with a Gay Magazine and the last time he was scheduled to appear on a gay mag it all went up the shitter for legal reasons).

I was hoping Alex and I would be going down Stunners in Limehouse in our hold-up tights together but it seems his drag days are over. My signed polaroid will have to suffice.

People often say after interviews "Oh they were really nice actually". It's possibly the most bland thing an interviewer can say. But in the case of Alex, he was just really really nice.

Also in the Sex Issue by me, two big features:

The Death of Cottaging: A piece exploring the cottaging scene in Britain today, taking a look at the history of cottaging, political struggles that the cottaging community have faced, and also a top tips guide for any first-timers (although remember - it is actually illegal to have sex in a public toilet)

The Grindr Diet: Or as I call it, "7 Grindr Shags in 7 Days". That's right, I used the sensational smartphone App to hook up with a different person each night for a whole week. It got messy. There's a teaser piece for this feature on my Gay Times blog called Grindrs Keepers, so take a look at that.

So, there you have it! Let me know what you think when you've had a read.

You can buy a copy of this Gay Times issue, even when it's no longer on the shelves, through the Prowler store here. And you can purchase a digital version through Pocket Mags here.

Imperial Fanbase

I just read this passive agressive article on the work of Bret Easton Ellis by an American writer called Teddy Wayne, after a fellow Londoner retweeted the link. I really struggled to grasp what Wayne's issue with Ellis is.

So... Teddy...

Evidently you have read all of Bret Easton Ellis' books, and one suspects very much enjoyed them, so are you deliberately missing the point of Bret Easton Ellis? I can see how some writers feel intimidated by Bret Easton Ellis, his work is so seemingly simple and yet totally inimitable. BEE has found a literary throne room for himself, and so many male writers have envied it since, yet nobody seems to be able to beat him at his own game (although Nick McDonnell came close). Journalists always strive to shove BEE into a list, you do it yourself, "Donna Tartt, Johnathan Lethem", uncomfortable with accepting the fact that actually he's a very successful stand-alone author whose contemporary influences aren't really from within literature at all.

You attack Ellis for labouring over his author shot for the cover flap of Imperial Bedrooms, criticising it for being a melange of "fiction and reality". Yes. OBVIOUSLY. Do you remember Stephen King's shot with the tarantula crawling over his knuckles? Or Danielle Steele standing in a ball gown the size of the Taj Mahal ? Have you seen Lord Byron dressed as an exotic orientalist? People quite often attack authors who are placed on a pedestal like popstars, forgetting that popular writers have been around just as long as egotistical music artists or famous actors. BEE is interested in aesthetics and visual identity. He even metions Cindy Sherman in Imperial Bedrooms.

You suggest Imperial Bedrooms is little more than a re-treading of old ground. I found that Imperial Bedrooms built upon some of BEE's pet themes whilst also explored new territories. He captured the psyche of the older man brilliantly, the ageing process and the fearful realisation that a highly succesful career still isn't enough to rival those who were born with everything.

I don't think BEE's books are about a "system" either, that he is "exposing". To say that he is exposing a certain social circuit, an underground drug-fuelled movement that is the secret driving force behind Hollywood, is to oversimplify his books. Nobody has control in Imperial Bedrooms, all of the characters, even Rip, are riddled with their own insecurities. If Less Than Zero was about finding a way out then Imperial Bedrooms is about the moment that the ivy finally wraps itself right around the tree and hope is dead.

Homosexuality is another major theme of BEE's work. I don't know how gay you are Teddy, but I assumed from your piece that you're straight? BEE is amused, disgusted, baffled, horrified and delighted by how much Hollywood indulges and resides within the closet, but unlike some gay writers who mindlessly wave the rainbow flag, he likes to challenge gay culture and poke a finger in its belly. There is an incredibly complex binary between remorse and envy in BEE's work in relation to same-sex relations. I think heterosexual men miss some of the more subtle mirroring and documentation of underground gay culture present in BEE's work, and more generally speaking, the potential perils and pitfalls of the homosexual psyche that he nails so accurately and with what has become his own brand of American understatement.

You write how BEE's characters are unrealistic and too distanced from "the average middle-class overweight American who rarely leaves his home state". This is surely quite a ridiculous argument to try and shape, that writers must represent and be just like their readers?

BEE writes about beautiful, young, rich, hollow Americans not because it's all he knows, but because it's what he's interested in. In places his writing is the adult application and superimposing of wild sexual imagery, violence and wealth fantasies onto a backdrop of idealised imaginings from his own adolescence, young male beauty and the American dream. It's like observing a beautiful glass blowing process, and then smashing the results with a hammer. And, clearly, it's a formula that really works, a formula that people want more of, and a formula with room to expand.

When you write "he rapes and beats them" in reference to the end of Imperial Bedrooms, I feel you hide in your own fictitious interpretation of the book and shy away from the truth behind Imperial Bedrooms here. He doesn't just rape them, he forcefully fists them. He describes the beauty of the boy, he emphasises his youth, he adds overly heterosexual details, mentions a contract with Abercrombie & Fitch, and then talks a bit about the boy's lofty ambitions and dreams of becoming an actor. And then he shoves the protagonist's fist right into that boy's ass until he screams, with a suggestion of permanent injury. Then the other escort, the girl, sits in the garden and welcomes Satan into her soul.

Old territory being covered? Or readers' heads being buried?

Anyhow. Teddy. I'm sure you adore Bret Easton Ellis, and I'm convinced your piece was more about lightly promoting your own work and raising your own profile, and there's nothing wrong with that.