Boy George was the biggest pop star on earth during the early 1980s. On Friday he is headlining at super-gay-club Fire in Vauxhall for their World Pride party. In honour of him the special night is called Boylesque, yet there’s a sizeable chunk of boys on the scene now (those who turn 18 this year were born in 1994) who don’t really know who Boy George is. Culture Club's hits don’t get played that much compared to other 80s anthems and unlike other 1980s gay icon contemporaries Madonna, Prince, Kylie and George Michael the production line of new material stopped long ago for Boy George.
The press have always loathed George for being different and he’s been fighting them savagely for decades. Watching old interviews on YouTube you quickly gather how hard it was for George. Relentlessy ridiculed by chat show hosts over his appearance, London’s paparazzi were desperate for shots of him looking bad or off-duty, and journalists set to work trying to take away his achievements as quickly as they'd been won.
George turned to drugs for an answer, giving the media what they were looking for. A downward spiral commenced leading to the demise of his career as a singer. In 2009 George went to prison for imprisoning an escort in his home – a story that sounds horrifying on the outset but when looked into more closely is perhaps less controversial than it at first sounds.
Today George is a changed man. Changed in a good sense – he is a sucessful DJ and runs his own fashion label B-Rude. Changed in a bad sense - People say he’s difficult to work with, he is at once both a feared and ridiculed figure and public opinion of him is truly tinged now by his run-ins with the law.
George hates people writing about him. Of journalists he once said “They’re dumb, they just talk about rubbish, they're jealous and they say silly words like ‘quintessentially’ that don’t even mean anything.”
So. Sorry George. Here is my A-Z of Boy George, covering all the quintessential touchstones for one of England’s most interesting pop stars:
Androgyny : It defined Boy George at the start of his career. Middle-aged gays all have this shared coming-of-age story that goes like this: They were sat on their parents’ living room floor in 1982 chewing their big sister’s Princess Leia doll when suddenly this “Boy George” came on the telly box, but he didn’t look like a boy, and they were like “Wow. Who’s she?” and their straight friend fancied Boy George before realising it was actually a boy and so therefore everyone has the potential to be a massive poof, and blaefghrrghhhhh. Pioneering pop genius, or confused student drag queen on a budget? The tide is out.
Blitz: A supa-trendy 80s haunt in Covent Garden ran by Steve Strange (from peripheral 80s band Visage). George got a job here working in the cloakroom, allowing him to leave shop jobs behind and become a creature of the night. George was really kooky and sometimes worked barefoot. People make out like this was some golden era of high art. My definition of high art is Botticelli, and possibly Rihanna, but Blitz was definitely very cool. These days Covent Garden doesn't get any trendier than Roadhouse, a club full of office works drinking pints with one button undone on their shirt.
Culture Club: After a few failed attempts George finally got a band together. Bisexual drummer Jon Moss became George's great gay love affair. He would revisit memories of their relationship in his writing for years to come. Things didn’t work out though and he’s married now with three kids. The name Culture Club refers to the scope of ethnicities and backgrounds in the band. Not the coolest band name ever. Not exactly Blondie or The B52s or Psycho Fags In Bin Bags is it?
Do You Really Want to Hurt Me: Sang the starving escort sitting in his own shit tied to a radiator. Well-written ballads were few and far between in the 80s. It’s hard enough filling a box-set in hindsight let alone living through the entire decade in real time. It must have been fucking awful. DYRWTHM was the Someone Like You of its day. Now you only really hear it in the freezer aisle of Lidl.
Eye shadow: George gets through a lot of make-up. It keeps him looking like a pop star and prevents him from looking like a truck driver ordering a chip batty at a roadside diner in Stoke. George has always said he is nothing without make-up, and this self-deprecating side to his personality played a big part in shaping his fan base of alternative 80s kids, the parents of Gaga monsters.
Fashion: George dictated major fashion trends throughout the 80s. He invented baggy white shirts. He invented black hats. He invented hair. Camden market sold replicas of anything he wore. It was as if before Boy George people just moped about in medieval tunics waiting for the sequin to be invented. Britain was in a post Glam rock lapse and although the New Romantics and punk had kicked in, George's look carved out much needed queer territory that magically questioned identity as well as enforcing it. Not all of his trends took off though. The gimmick of painting the face entirely yellow never really made it beyond Lego. He’s had a thing for wonky top hats for quite a while now. George is quite chubby these days. Volunteers in Hampstead charity shops have started mistaking him for Jo Brand. Still, the fashion continues. His technique for hiding the double chin is to paint it entirely black. This year he's taken to wrapping himself in sequined shrouds. Do take a look at George’s very cool boutique called B-Rude.
Above: A Lego parody of Boy George relating to his time serving community service in NYC.
Gay Icon: George is most definitely very, very, very gay. He makes George Michael look as gay as David Jason. It’s great that George is an out-and-proud gay man but some members of the LGBTQI community rightly reserve their thanks. On a bad day he’s a lethal criminal, on a good day he paints his forehead pink and makes you feel like you can’t be gay unless you channel the soul and psyche of a pissed flamingo. DID YOU KNOW: Not all gays are like this. If you want you can just be a lazy carpenter gay and eat Pringles a lot. If you want you can watch Ice Road Truckers with a Red Stripe in one hand, your balls in the other, and an ash tray perched in your lap. Anything is possible.
Still, in the 80s George’s appearances on television helped a gay generation to drum up confidence and seek social independence.
Still, in the 80s George’s appearances on television helped a gay generation to drum up confidence and seek social independence.
Heroine: George left home when he was 16 and moved into a squat. At some point, only he knows when and how, he became addicted to the killer drug heroine. Steve Strange at the Blitz was also a user. Not fun. Have a sandwich instead. Get naked and dance to some Daft Punk. Go for a swim. Just stay off the heroin. If you’re reading this blog and plan to be a pop star one day – when the night comes that a shady friend of a friend offers you heroine definitely say no. It is beyond me, when looking at the reel of heroine related deaths, that celebrities still turn to the drug, no matter how alone they feel. Take up sky diving, or pottery smashing, or hire 34 escorts and make them play human chess, anything, just DON'T SHOOT HEROINE!
Icky Journalists: They just couldn’t handle George. Those who tried their best to be accommodating came across as old-fashioned and pigeonholing. Nowadays no pop star would be scrutinised and dissected in the way George was. Luckily theough George has always been very eloquent and intelligent when answering questions, not to mention witty. George's natural talent for performing transcended into the interview chair, every one of his TV appearances was uniquely entertaining. Unlike many intelligent pop stars he rarely paused to gather his thoughts either, in the early days he just flowed and flowed with interesting ideas and viewpoints. Take a look at this 1984 interview and see how expertly he casually rebuts labels while resisting the temptation to be rude or pass judgement. George had a rare media persona that was at once confident and shy. Sadly the media got their claws stuck into his vulnerable side. Over time the sweet core of George faded from view as he was forced to build a suit of armour around himself in middle age:
Jokes: As a result of his ill-lubricated life path George is the brunt of lots of jokes. A personal favourite is this Rock Profile sketch by Matt Lucas and David Walliams in which Boy George and Marilyn peer pressure Jamie Theakston into stealing Malibu from an off-licence:
Karma Chameleon: The other Culture Club song that people know of. It’s a pain to dance to. The Labour Party used it in their anti-Cameron ad campaign in 2006. Deep. Karmakarmakarmakarmachameeeeeleonnnnn. I bet aged New Romantic primary school teachers are making kids in Brent Cross sing it right now.
Long Hair: Time is cruel. It was good while it lasted. These days George sports a bald look. He told Joan Rivers once “I don’t see myself growing old gracefully” to which she said “Do you ever go out not in drag?” and he said “No. Do you?” – George has always maintained that what he does isn’t drag. “I just don’t see the point in looking like a sheet of paper”
Marilyn: An intriguing and faded 80s transvestite who dabbled with a pop career. George and Marilyn used to live in a Warren St crack den squat (with artist Grayson Perry interestingly). Marilyn, real name Peter Robinson, used to date rock star Gavin Rossdale who is now married to Gwen Stefani.
Marilyn now lives with his mother in Borehamwood, and is apparently both an agoraphobic and an alcoholic. A real shame considering how bright and vibrant he appeared in the 80s. Blitz club owner Steve Strange said you had to be careful when Marilyn was about though, turn your back and your hairspray would be gone.
Here's George's squat buddy the very sexy Marilyn in his prime:
And here he is looking like Marilyn Monroe at the Blitz Club. Understandably the cameras were wild for him:
I found this cute blog post about how Marilyn the man is prettier than Gwen Stefani the woman: here. Let's not be horrible though. Sexual expression and liberation is a good thing, and so is Gwen Stefani. Amen.
Non-Conformity: George told Michael Parkinson on his show in the early 80s “I’ve always hated the idea of joining in. I’ve never been driven by that fear of alienation that kids have. At school I used to look around and think God how boring you all are, I didn’t want to talk about cars” George has a gift for being as alternative as possible while still holding a mainstream audience. A formula for success that others have copied since.
O.D.ing: The drugs stopped being fun when keyboardist Michael Rudetsky was found dead in Boy George’s home one day. Michael’s parents launched an enquiry but the horse had bolted – their son was dead. Others in George’s inner circle have died of overdoses over the years. Somehow George always survives.
Prison: George spent four months in HMP Edmunds Hill in Suffolk because he unlawfully tied a male escort to a radiator and kept him as a slave effectively. He spent a further five months with a prison tag on. He’s also served community service in New York for lying about a robbery. You see, if he’d written more good songs this could have all been avoided. Claiming royalties on two hits isn’t enough to have sex slaves and cheat insurance. Heather Small doesn’t have these problems.
Queen: George has a tendency to be quite queeny, and rightly so. Several DJs and former collaborators have stated that it can be difficult working with him. George has always said that he is a fighter and he won’t give up his crown lightly. “When you’ve worked so hard getting there you can’t relax”. Perhaps George’s dissent into drugs was an attempt to find breathing space in a world of chaos and competition?
Religion: George got into Hare Krishna at some stage, a low-ranking religion on the wacko celebrity religion scale. I don’t know the first thing about Hare Krishna, nor can I be bothered to Google it. But there’s a Hare Krishna man who stands outside G-A-Y Late sometimes giving out evangelical flyers to boys in the queue and I read one of them once and it didn’t look all that great.
Solo Career: Apparently
Taboo: A musical about his life and the early 1980s London scene that is actually really, really good. Taboo premiered in 2002 on the West End. Chat-show host Rosie O'Donnell paid for a Broadway version but it closed after only 100 shows and she lost her $10milllion investment in the project. Bring it back!
Underground: Sometimes George releases acid house remixes under different names like The Twin.
Very good songwriter: Marilyn said in an interview once that those years were defined for him by “trying to get as much attention as possible for the most minute scrap of talent”. For George it was a different story as could actually pen pretty good pop songs that were of the time. If only he’d steered clear of drugs, we might be dealing with a much bigger back catalogue of hits. I like this forgotten 90s gem Same Thing In Reverse:
Worried About The Boy: A BBC2 dramatisation of George’s early years starring the impossibly cute actor Douglas Booth. Mathew Horne played the boyfriend, obvs. Mark Gatiss played Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren.
And here he is playing Boy George (amazing likeness!):
X: The brilliant tenth album by Kylie Minogue. Nothing to do with Boy George but what else was I going to put. X-Rated perhaps? “Xstasy” ?
YouTube: Although George is now mainly a club DJ, we can relive the glory of his heyday and the brilliance of pre-drugs mind thanks to YouTube:
Zebra print: Not a great look. If I was George’s friend I’d have said “George honey, I see where you’re going with this, but, it’s a bit DFS Christmas sale?”