HOW WE MET ERIN PIZZEY AND BOY GEORGE

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The Independent Culture
Erin Pizzey, 56, spent much of her childhood in the Far East. In 1971 she founded Britain's first refuge for battered women and their children. Twice married and divorced, she lives in Tuscany and the Cayman Islands and has written 10 novels. She has two chi- dren from her first marriage.

The singer Boy George, 33, was born George O'Dowd in Kent. Before becoming a musician he was a cloakroom attendant; his first hit, with Culture Club, was `Do You Really Want To Hurt Me' in 1982. Now free from heroin addiction, he lives in north London. He has just published his autobiography.

ERIN PIZZEY: The first time I met George I was struck by his incredible blue eyes; and I was surprised how big he was. When he walked through the door with my son, Amos, I gave him a hug and there was instant electricity between us. I'd heard so much about him from Amos, who was 14 or 15 and already on the music scene. George would have been about 20. I recognised him even then as someone who, like me, walks on the wild side of life.

I was running the refuge for battered wives in Chiswick then. I knew a lot of musicians - Roger Daltrey from The Who and Stewart Copeland from The Police were helping me with my charity work; and my daughter Cleo was living in the basement with her boyfriend Mikey, who was putting together a group with George which eventually became Culture Club. Amos was involved too, singing and rapping with them.

The boys would come round and play ping-pong in the back garden and I'd feed them. My house was always packed with young people. George loves his grub - I've known him as a meat-eater, a vegetarian and, at one stage, macrobiotic. While the others were downstairs with Mikey and Cleo, George would slip away to come to talk to me. We are both Irish, both collapsed Catholics, and we both had troubled childhoods. George was interested in my work at the refuge and he would talk over his problematic relationships with me. Right from the beginning, our discussions were at a deep, intimate level.

George doesn't need make-up to be noticed. The first time I met him he wasn't wearing make-up, but he struck me as unusual. He was unknown then, but he obviously had potential. On stage, George is mesmeric.

I have seen George climb to the top and fall and climb again. I knew he was going to go down, but I also knew he would climb back. If ever there was a man with nine lives it is George. I have never worried about him, even when he was heavily into drugs. We are both prone to excess.

I don't think George sees me as a mother figure. I think I am more of a soul mate. George's therapy for me is to make me laugh. I understand the pressures he has been under, because in my own way I am also in the public eye. When George and I met, the council was trying to close down the refuge and I was under threat of going to jail. I was attacked by the press which, having built me up, then wanted to tear me down. I learnt early not to have hangers-on. George's problem is that he thinks the best of everybody. Anybody in the public eye gets sycophants and that's what George's downfall was about.

George puts on a good front but he is actually very shy. Of course there is the side which is rowdy, heavily made-up, flouncing about, but the side I know best is very gentle. Like me, he is into the spiritual side of life.

George has had a lot of stress in his life which we have discussed, but he doesn't bear grudges. He is always in love and I have never been in love, though I have been married twice. In some ways, I suppose I live vicariously through him. I would like to write a play about him one day. To me he is a creative genius.

He has known me through marriages and two divorces and when I had a nervous breakdown. He was one person who didn't condemn Cleo for being pregnant at 14, didn't say it was irresponsible of me not to force her to have an abortion.

I can tell George anything and I know he will never pass it on. He only has to pick up the phone and say "Erin, I need you", and I'd be there. You can count those relationships on the fingers of one hand. I feel as though I have known George since the beginning of time and will know him into eternity. I intend to dance with him when I'm 80. Beside my bed I keep the crystal he gave me one birthday. George is like another son. I love him very much.

BOY GEORGE: My first impression of Erin was that she was a tough lady. I had seen a TV documentary about her work with battered wives and I thought what she was doing at the refuge was great. Then, when I was setting up Culture Club with Mikey, who was the partner of Erin's daughter, Cleo, I went over to Erin's house in Chiswick where Cleo and Mikey lived in the basement. I think they had just had dinner. Erin was dressed in white and she gave me a glass of wine. I was in awe of her, rather frightened of her.

Erin has quite an intimidating face. She has large, revealing eyes and I was aware right from the start that she was a very unusual woman. She is a lot softer than she pretends to be, though.

Erin can be fierce, and I love that, but she is more; she is a fighter. That's something we have in common. We are both fighters in the physical and emotional sense, and we take on the world. Being a gay man, I am very conscious of prejudice and the whole ethos of Culture Club was that we were anti-prejudice. The line-up included a black man, a gay, a Jew and an Anglo-Saxon. Erin does not judge people by how they look or their sexuality. She was a very unusual mother. Her son, Amos, was 14 when I met him, a white kid with dreadlocks who talked like a black man - and she had "adopted" seven black kids who had come to her through the refuge and stayed.

Erin is not a mother figure to me, but I feel part of her family. I get on well with my own mother, but when I was young she was chief cook and bottle-washer and I resented that. From the first, Erin seemed to be one of those tough women who don't take any shit from men. Now I'm older, I see that my mother had an incredible amount of strength to raise six kids and retain her sense of humour.

Erin gives terrific parties. She has heaps of charisma and can control a room. I wouldn't say Erin is a comfortable person to be with, but I have never gone for the easy life. She is definitely stimulating, there's no doubt about that. She doesn't hold back.

When Erin started the battered wives' home, the consensus was that she should keep out of other people's marriages. If you take on society, you have to be strong. What she did in terms of courting the media was very necessary at the time, but when you lead that kind of life you live with the potential of risk. Both Erin and I have been built up and knocked down.

There's a Joni Mitchell lyric, "You're a kind person, you're a cold person too" - I think that applies to Erin. I find her warm, but I also sense a resistance I don't totally understand. There is a private part of her. She's an Aquarius. I'm a Gemini. Both are spiritual signs. I gave Erin a crystal for her birthday. Crystals are very beautiful things - it was given with a lot of love.

I can't think of anything about Erin that irritates me. If there was, I like to think I'd tell her and, likewise, she would tell me if I annoyed her. We don't live together, so obviously there are lots of personality traits we don't have to suffer. If we were holed up in Tuscany for a few months we would probably ruffle each other's feathers.

What I have learnt from Erin is to follow what you believe in, regardless of the outcome, to have integrity. Sometimes it is much easier to opt out, to say, "I don't want to be part of this," but when you care about something passionately what's life about if you don't fight? I'm sure she is aware how much of herself has gone into what she does. If you want to get things done you have to be a ball-breaker. Look at Mother Teresa. I've been to India and I know what it is like in the Third World. Mother Teresa is no pussycat.

I think Erin could do with caring about herself a bit more now. She needs to get rid of some of the drama in her life - so much of her life has been spent looking after others . !

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