COMEDY / All that glitters: Gary Glitter's career has had its setbacks, but, as James Rampton discovered, his hairstyle continues to inspire diehard fans

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The Independent Culture
The frontman of Take That was recently on Live and Kicking, BBC1's Saturday morning children's show. Emma Forbes, the host, asked him about his status in the group. 'Are you the leader?' 'No,' came back the outraged reply, 'Gary Glitter's The Leader.'

Some 20 years after his string of Number Ones, Glitter still has a grip as tight as his corset on the popular imagination. The latest manifestation of this is Leader] - The Gang's Tribute to Gary Glitter, an affectionate tribute written and performed by Steve Furst and Mike Leigh (M Simon Leigh, that is). Just what is it about the man with the biggest hair this side of Dynasty that provokes 10,000 people to join his fan club? Why does he still command the sort of adoration normally reserved for the other Gazza? 'He's a larger-than-life creation,' Leigh reckons, 'a showman with a sense of humour and a tongue-in- cheek attitude.'

Relaxing in an Arts Theatre rehearsal-room strewn with Glitterabilia (Leigh brandishes a GG jigsaw), the pair reflect on lives bedecked with Glitter. They first discovered a mutual love of the hairy-chested chanteur at school in Winchester. 'Our shared love came to us in an ancient history lesson,' Furst recalls. They went on to start a Glam Rock Appreciation Society.

Following impromptu performances at college discos, they soon graduated to a fully-fledged tribute band, the splendidly named All That Glitters, with the raven-haired Leigh as the Leader. The group enjoyed many fine moments during a 150-concert career - such as supporting the Abba tribute band, Bjorn Again, in 1992 but surely none finer than playing on the ferry to Holland. They are, Leigh reveals, still 'available for weddings and bar mitzvahs.'

But the worshippers at the altar of Gary wanted to pay more fulsome tribute and thus the play was conceived. According to Furst, the piece is 'missionary work . . . like all missionaries we like thrusting things on people.' Leader], a loving biography complete with six different Glitter outfits and five live songs ('Do You Wanna Touch Me? (Oh Yeah),' 'Hello, Hello, I'm Back Again,' 'I'm the Leader of the Gang (I Am),' 'I Love You Love Me Love,' and 'Oh Yes] You're Beautiful'), charts a career with more ups and downs than Alton Towers. 'He's had some gloriously disastrous moments,' Furst laughs. Most notable among these were his 1974 kung fu movie audition and the 1981 'Rocky Circus Tour', in which Gary teamed up with Gerry Cottle to become 'Leader of the Ring'. 'It was an idea very, very ahead of its time,' says Furst. But the world wasn't ready for it. The show closed after four nights.

Glitter was declared bankrupt in 1980, and spent a few 'wilderness years' in New Zealand. He made a comeback on the 'chicken in a basket' circuit in the early 1980s, until student entertainment officers, who had enjoyed Gary in their youth, started booking him for college dos. A star was reborn. Heinz soup and British Rail joined the queue for his services in adverts. 'This is the essence of the play,' Leigh muses, 'that Gary's a real fighter.'

Last summer Furst and Leigh led Leader] to Edinburgh, where they indulged in some of the tackiest PR since Freddie Starr's hamster-eating exploits. They handed out condoms marked 'Come on] Come on]' and drove around the city in a silver Mini adorned with a giant platform shoe on the roof.

Glitterati from Belgium and Denmark have booked tickets for Leader], and a theatre company in Germany has expressed interest in the rights to the show. Furst is not surprised: 'It's a timeless piece of drama. I can see Jonathan Miller setting it in 1930s Chicago.'

Next up Furst and Leigh are planning either The Lena Zavaroni Story or The Gary Numan Story - 'a short five- minute vignette' - but for the moment they admit to being enslaved by 'an obsession that has got completely out of control,' as Leigh puts it. They have seen Glitter live 50 times, and Furst claims to have turned his lavatory into a GG shrine. They are hopeful of 'meeting their Maker' when Gary comes to the show later in this run. 'We never tire of him,' says Furst. 'We look at the lyrics, and, like born again Christians re-reading the Bible, we always find new things in them.'

'Leader] - The Gang's Tribute to Gary Glitter' is at the Arts Theatre, London, WC2 (071 836 2132), booking to 30 July

(Photograph omitted)