'I teeter on the boundaries between the gay and the hetero culture. I prefer clubs with a mixture of women and men. I don't like clubs where the air is blazoned with sexuality.'
At this point I must declare an interest, or rather, a lack of interest, in Boy George. I know nothing about pop music. When the Beatles were delighting the rest of the world in the early Sixties, I was a clinically depressed young mother, washing nappies by hand, wiping noses and bottoms, spooning gunk into baby bird mouths with one hand and holding a library book with the other. The Beatles passed me by, as has everything in pop since. I seemed, therefore, a curious choice of interviewer for Boy George. But people urged, 'Go on, see if he's still alive.'
I had long suspected that we like our pop stars best when they are destructive, damaged, or dead - especially if they die young from self-destruction. We feel they get too much money, too much sex, far too soon; and death is their just punishment. But Boy George has not died, although many of his friends have.
The little I knew about him before our meeting stemmed from the end of the Seventies, the time of the New Romantics and a club called Blitz; and the only reason I knew that was because my son and his friends, during their wildly hormonal early teens, would perch on my bed every Saturday evening to have their spotty faces hidden behind pancake make-up, thus emboldening them to venture into the sophisticated world of clubs and girls.
The other mothers wouldn't allow them to wear make-up, so my efforts with gold highlighter and black eye-liner had to be washed off in the gents' before they went home. Their role model was the fabulously glittering, flawlessly painted Boy George, along with his exotic circle of friends such as Marilyn (who was male), Stephen Linard (later a dress designer) and Steve Strange. On the whole, I was inclined to be sympathetic to Boy George.
I asked to talk to him at his big house in Hampstead, but he declined. He values his privacy, believe it or not. We met instead at the offices of his record company, Virgin Records, where we sat in a small, cluttered interview room. 'He hasn't still got a house,' sneered the sceptics. 'He had to sell it to pay for his habit.' As it turns out, he has still got the house.
He arrives wearing apricot-coloured pancake make-up, skilfully rouged and contoured; his eyes emphasised with black eye- liner and mascara, above which are drawn arched black brows. His lips are a gleaming flesh pink. I cheer up: here was somebody who could give me tips on how to keep my complexion matte all day long. He wears a baggy black suit, black sweatshirt, black canvas plimsolls with blunted toes, a wide-brimmed velour hat; and a painted lemon yellow tear- drop in the middle of his forehead that extends down his nose. 'What's that?' I ask.
'A tilak,' he says. 'It's a Hindu symbol. It means giving up your body as a temple of God. I wear it because I like it and it looks nice and I think of myself as being God-conscious - maybe not in the literal sense. It's like the spot worn by Hindu women to show they're married.'
This appears to be meant in the literal sense, so I ask, 'Are you married?'
'My boyfriend's called Michael and we've been together seven years,' he says. 'That's married, isn't it?' Pretty nearly, these days.
'We met through hanging out in the same crowd. I hadn't noticed him before, and I don't think he'd noticed me . . .' (Quite difficult not to?) 'Well, not in the carnal sense.'
He uses words deliberately, often with a pleasing combination of wit and precision. 'I was at the tail-end of a relationship so I was looking for love. I didn't think we'd be together for that long, but we've grown up together and been through some brutal things. Michael was with me through my drug addiction and when I came off it. Being who I am - famous, an attention-seeker, pretty selfish - I'm hard for another person to deal with.'
What's Michael like? 'Oooh, that's difficult . . .' He reflects. 'I think everybody we're attracted to, they're little parts of ourselves.'
This remark is typical of the egotistic side of Boy George: he cannot, apparently, give a brief description of the man he lives with and presumably loves. It would be easy to ridicule this and similar remarks, except that he also makes mature, thoughtful statements based on his own hard-won experience.
Boy George is no brighter than he needs to be; but he is no fool, either. He left school at 15, having hated it and learnt very little. Since then he has searched in a random and apparently guileless fashion for 'God' or 'truth' or 'wisdom' or 'eternity' and has found something that more or less satisfies him. He is not very good at describing it.
'I think of myself as being God-conscious but I don't necessarily have a defined image of what God is. I feel I'm a free spirit and the fact that Jesus existed is neither here nor there. The crucifixion is about collective human cruelty.' (Through the stream of God-consciousness come such occasional shafts of clarity.) 'God to me is total, unconditional love. I have Sufi, Christian, Buddhist friends and I respect what they believe in, and in their temples I bow down. I believe there's a force out there that matches us step for step. I'm not explaining it brilliantly but it's a feeling for me.'
Is there anything of his Irish Catholicism left? 'Dunno really. I've always had crucifixes wherever I've gone, in all my squats; I've got them in my house now. I've got Jesus, Krishna and Buddha on my shelf.'
With his height and strength and his big fleshy body, Boy George could still pass for the Irish hod-carrier he might well have grown up to be, in a less fantastical decade than the Seventies. He smiles sweetly and agrees - surprisingly. His father is a builder, and George has become close to his family again, after a period of estrangement when he was in thrall to drugs. 'I always felt very distant from my family - from the whole world, when I was young. That's something pretty unique to homosexuals. There are no role models.'
What about Oscar Wilde (another large, artistic, homosexual Irishman)? 'Are you joking? Nobody in a working-class Irish family had heard of Oscar Wilde] I didn't know homosexuality existed. I felt alien. I knew I was different inside.
'Now I lead a very privileged life. I'm protected because I'm famous. I saw fame as a way out, like a lot of artists who come from dysfunctional families in which there was no communication.'
Jargon apart, he is very open about his homosexuality these days; very aware that if he is to be a role model to working-class boys he must constantly publicise his own sexuality, in the teeth of Aids paranoia and the hatred and prejudice it has fuelled in many heterosexuals. 'Being gay governs a lot of what happens in my life. The only thing I want now is honesty.'
Why does he paint his face?
'Why do you? I've never really liked the way I look without make-up. I like the confidence that comes with it.' But then he adds, 'I've reconciled a lot of insecurities I had when I was young. Now I wear really scruffy clothes. Once I wouldn't leave the house without dressing up and make-up. When I was 17 me and Marilyn used to dress up and go off to clubs.'
Marilyn] A face floats into focus . . . a pretty, androgynous, fine-boned face. What has happened to Marilyn? Boy George sobers. 'Marilyn's living in Soho but I don't really want to talk about him because I still have quite a lot of love for him and it's difficult to talk to you about him because he's in a very destructive stage in his life . . .'
Which could mean that he has not fought his way out of the downward, drug-ridden spiral into which Boy George was whirled back in 1984, and from which he escaped five-and-a- half years ago, with the most extreme difficulty and self-discipline. 'I was lucky in that I had lots of people around who really loved me. I've always held friendships as really important, and I give a lot back. It was also to do with me: I think I'm very strong, and I made a conscious choice to give up.'
No one should underestimate the near-impossibility of giving up a heavy heroin habit - and Boy George was rumoured to be spending pounds 800 a day on his (and his friends') habit. Many of those friends are now dead. 'It's not necessarily individuals who have a drug problem - society has a drug problem. You get into that mentality when you feel absolutely separate from everybody. I guess it's what depression is: the feeling that there's no one out there for me. But there are no helpless victims. Human beings are inherently selfish.'
Like most people, when he loses confidence in what he is saying, his sentences are punctuated with 'you knows'. There are so many of these that to save my writing hand, I put down UNO. 'People are angry, UNO, they're closed; they wanna be separate, UNO, if you look at society, UNO, the kind of family, for instance, is really, UNO, me and my parents, we didn't behave like a normal family, UNO, it's so sad.'
It may be imperfectly articulated, but he means it. There is still a deep conviction that his family let him down.
How much money has he made during his career, I ask? 'I'm the only person I know who's spent a million pounds and doesn't know where it went,' he says chirpily. 'I made about pounds 3m with Culture Club, maybe more. I bought a couple of houses, but mostly it went on trips to New York on Concorde. I had an affair with someone in New York. That was an expensive affair.'
And now? 'I owe loads of money to the taxman, but I'm paying him off. I run a record label here at Virgin Records called More Protein and have six artists whom I look after. I have my own group called Jesus Loves You. I tour. In the last two years things have been brilliant. I enjoy touring; I like playing. I played in Moscow to 30,000 people, and I've been to a lot of Eastern European countries. I pretty much do what I want to do now. I've got a record out this week, made by the Pet Shop Boys for a new film called The Crying Game.'
This, a single, is talked of as Top 10 material. 'I have to work. I don't have enough money to do anything I want, but I don't have to do things for money, if you see what I mean. I can choose. I was recently asked to sing at a wedding in Paris for pounds 20,000 and I turned it down because the guy was a butcher. I'm vegetarian; it would have been very bad for me to go and play a gig for a butcher's wedding.'
How does he feel about the homosexual culture now? 'The political climate is so right- wing: look at what's happening in Germany. Once it was the old guard who were Nazis; now it's the young guard. You have to react to it by being honest about yourself - not by outing others. I think that's despicable. It's like the Nazis making Jews wear yellow stars and homosexuals wear pink triangles - though I can also understand the anger of the gay community, when they see homosexual MPs legislating against homosexuals.'
There he is again - defying the stereotypes, abandoning what he called his 'New- Agey, hippie-y' persona to talk good sense.
He is strong, he tries to be honest, and he has survived catastrophes that have left the pop stage littered with corpses. People resent that. They resent him for still being alive, working, earning and singing. 'You can't be popular for too long in this country. I over- exposed myself in the beginning. Popularity's greatly overrated. But being cynical is such a negative energy. I just want to experience things - UNO?'
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