Eighties icon to shoplifter: A very Strange fall from grace

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The Independent Online

Whe Steve Strange wakes up today he will be reflecting on how his life has spiralled out of control over the past two decades, from his role as enfant terrible of the Eighties club scene to his appearance in court for shoplifting.

Whe Steve Strange wakes up today he will be reflecting on how his life has spiralled out of control over the past two decades, from his role as enfant terrible of the Eighties club scene to his appearance in court for shoplifting.

The former lead singer of the pop group Visage, who once mingled with stars at his temple of excess, London's Camden Palace, was given a three-month suspended sentence this week at Bridgend magistrates' court after he admitted stealing a £10.99 Teletubby doll, a £25 cosmetics gift set and a £15 woman's jacket from the local Family Store, Boots and Marks & Spencer's.

The court heard that the singer, who has had five top-40 singles, hit rock bottom after "falling from grace" as a pop star. Claiming he suffered from a "myriad of problems", his solicitor, Mel Butler, said: "He has found it hard to cope with falling from grace after being a man of considerable wealth in the Eighties. There is a substantial risk of self-harm if he is jailed."

After the hearing Mr Strange, who is unemployed and has swapped an addiction to heroin for a reliance on anti-depressants, claimed he had resorted to shoplifting last Christmas after being unable to afford to buy his nephews and nieces lavish presents.

"I didn't tell the court that," he said. "I didn't want the sympathy vote."

Yesterday Mr Strange, who now lives in a terraced 1920s house with his mother in Porthcawl, Wales, was believed to be trying to come to terms with recent events by spending a few days away in Devon, where he will face few reminders of his fleeting pop career.

Born 40 years ago, the singer, whose real name was Steven Harrington, had an unconventional childhood in North Wales after his parents divorced when he was 10. At the age of 13, he dyed his hair orange, with the help of his aunt, a hairdresser, and he never looked back.

After designing a poster for the Punk band Generation X, its lead singer, Billy Idol, encouraged him to move to London, where he mingled with other clubbers, opening a series of nightspots including Billy's, Blitz, Hell, Club for Heroes, and the renowned Camden Palace.

He formed the band Visage as an act for Billy's, but the band became famous after being given studio time by Midge Ure, the star of Ultravox. In the Eighties, they went on to have hits including the New Romantic anthem "Fade to Grey", which reached number eight in December 1980, "Mind of a Toy", "Visage", "Damned Don't Cry" and "Night Train".

Strange was fêted by producers and fashion designers, enamoured by his flamboyant image of make-up, ruffled shirts and pixie boots, and turned the Camden Palace into one of Europe's trendiest clubs. He lived in a mansion in Holland Park and was rumoured to have £75,000 cash in his top drawer. He appeared in the video for David Bowie's "Ashes to Ashes" and played before 50,000 people at an awards ceremony in Germany before his life as a party animal took its toll. He had dabbled with amphetamines when he was a teenager but progressed to cocaine, ecstasy and heroin, estimating that he blew £100,000 in four years. In 1986 he was fined £500 for using a stolen cheque book and cash card to feed his habit.

After forming a new band, Strange Cruise, he claimed to have beaten his heroin addiction and campaigned against drugs. But while contemporaries such as Duran Duran's Simon Le Bon and Spandau Ballet's Martin Kemp defied the fickle nature of fame, Strange dabbled on its sidelines. When his friend Michael Hutchence, the lead singer of the Australian band INXS, died in his hotel room in Sydney - the day before Strange's flat was gutted in a fire - he fell to pieces. He had a nervous breakdown, was hospitalised and returned to his native Wales, where he worked at Scott's Bar in Cardiff. The club closed last Christmas after a man accidentally killed himself on the dance floor.

"I came down here to Wales and thought I could just lie low and get my head together," he said afterwards. "I got depressed but I didn't realise how bad it was. I was taking a huge amount of Prozac and I was on Valium and Temazepam. My doctor would only prescribe me anti-depressants for three days at a time because she thought I was going to take them all at once."

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