INTERVIEW/BOY GEORGE
It was in 1982 that Culture Club, fronted by the inimitable Boy George, scored their first chart success with "Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?". Incredibly, more than 15 years on, the Boy has pulled off an impressive change of face to attract thousands of new fans. From 1980s pop icon to successful 1990s club DJ - and all without the use of his famous make- up bag.

It's hard to believe then, that in an interview in this paper in 1992, the writer claimed to be on a mission to "... see if Boy George's still alive".

Back in the early Eighties, nobody was prepared for him. His androgynous appearance shocked us, his irreverent quotes on sex ("I'd rather have a cup of tea") had us all talking before his personal life became a real- life soap opera, with the inevitable peaks and troughs.

Yet the most controversial pop star of the 1980s has ridden the highs and lows to resurface as an integral part of youth culture on the verge of the millennium.

"A few years ago, I was at Club Pushca in the chill room. A boring tape was playing so I suggested that they get someone to play some records," George explains. "They said, 'Why don't you do it?' so I said 'Give me pounds 300 and I will', and they did."

Clubbers do not readily take celebrity DJs to heart. Music is all important and must be presented in a certain style. In cool clubland, DJs need to mix records to earn respect.

"When I started, I was a complete technophobe," he confesses. "I'd had decks in my flat since 1984 but had never tried any mixing. I had a few disasters in the beginning but I never took it too seriously then.

"It has a lot to do with confidence. I've still got a lot to learn but I've been performing since 1981, so DJing isn't something I get nervous about."

He may not know it all, but his Annual II album, mixed with Pete Tong for Ministry of Sound, sold more than 450,000 copies, making it one of the best-selling dance albums ever.

So is clubland a world away from Culture Club? "I've been in clubs since I was 15," George says, "so I've been involved in almost every scene since then. Only the music and style of clothes has changed.

DJing provides him with the familiarity of performing to a crowd. ""I'm not the sort of person who stands on the periphery. I get involved, often to the point of looking silly. When you're playing a good set and people are going wild on the dancefloor, shouting for more, it's just like being on stage."

Boy George performing without singing seems bizarre in view of the thrill which that voice brought to millions in bedrooms and discos up and down the country. There are no plans to resurrect Culture Club, but a new album is in the pipeline.

"I still do lots of singing all over the world with a band and I've been writing songs over the past year for a new album. People didn't get the last album - there were too many things going on with classical stuff, heavy metal and acoustic stuff. I want to push my voice a bit more and the new sound is more rhythmic with a lot of reggae."

A new, mature approach to his singing and writing career may well reinvigorate his music but, on past form, it's hardly likely to keep his face out of the tabloids. For years, we've read about his sex life, drug addiction and conversion to Krishna... or was it Buddhism?

There was also his recent High Court defence, on the charge of malicious falsehood, and even a failed paternity suit from an American woman.

So is he a habitual self-publicist, or just a singer with a naive sense of honesty? Boy George can safely claim to be both. He recently claimed he was beaten up by bouncers outside a London club where he was DJing. "They kicked and punched me and broke my fingernails," he said, before swearing he'd never return. Weeks later he was back, ceremoniously carried inside, Cleopatra-style, by bouncers on a litter.

When I meet him at his Camden-based record company, there's no trace of make-up on his famous features. His short black hair is unkempt and he wears loose-fitting black clothes. The biggest shock is how remarkably ordinary he appears. After five minutes, I abandon my list of questions, cunningly designed to gently probe his personal life. With George it's not necessary; he responds, in equal measure, to the banal or sensitive with endearing candour.

"I've had to grow up in public, which isn't easy," he says. "I regret some things but you can't separate the man from what he does.

"Everything you do is essential though - the charm, the mistakes, the fuck-ups, it's all-encompassing. We look at people and think 'how can that person be famous?' but some people have a way of connecting with humanity."

So what of his own connection? "I'd like to think that people see me as an honest person, so it's probably vulnerability. I sometimes regret being so honest, but I think that secrets are very unhealthy.

He may seem largely at ease with himself these days, but he still has regrets. "For a period in my life I lived a lie. Around the beginning of Culture Club I wasn't totally honest about what I believed, or my sexuality. I got to the point when I just thought people have to take me for what I am. My life has been much better ever since."

But coming clean has its own drawbacks. "Wherever I go, people make assumptions about me, based on my sexuality, and I have to live with that 24 hours a day. You get into a lift with a bunch of businessmen and you can sense the fear and animosity.

"Until sexuality is a non-issue with them, it will be an issue with me. People have been calling me 'girl' and 'poof' since I was five - I didn't ask for that but eventually you have to ignore it or deal with it."

He rejects the notion that people can be placed into sexual categories and maintains his belief that everybody is potentially bisexual. So could we see Boy George with a wife and kids in years to come?

"I would never rule anything out completely, but I don't think I'd get married," he laughs. "I don't believe that you can own people in that way. My mother had six kids, no power and no financial freedom, so marriage doesn't impress me.

"If you love somebody, you have to be prepared to let them go, but it's a really hard standard to maintain. I was with my ex-boyfriend for 10 years before splitting up two years ago. We're really good friends now and I still feel like he's my boyfriend, just without the sex."

His creative energies are presently focused on his More Protein record label, whether it's DJing, producing, writing or singing. Tonight he'll play in front of a thousand clubbers at Spacey at the Hanover Grand, as he does every weekend

"To be successful you have to keep reinventing yourself. If you're not on TV or in the charts, people think you're dead, but I don't really mind being away from the intense media glare as long as I'm making a bit of money and am doing something I enjoy."

Hanover Grand, 6 Hanover Street, London W1 (0171-499 7977) tonight

Comments