Boy George cleans up his act on the streets of New York

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The Independent US

The British pop icon, Boy George, who lit up the music scene more than 20 years ago with "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?" had his answer from a New York judge yesterday. Sweeping up grit and litter in 25C heat with the world's media watching wouldn't be anyone's idea of fun.

On the other hand, day one of Boy George as dustman was anything but mundane. It was only minutes after reporting for duty at 7am at a New York sanitation depot in lower Manhattan that events spun deliriously out of control and the singer and his minders had to take cover.

It probably was not what Judge Anthony Ferrara had in mind for Boy George, who pleaded guilty in March after falsely reporting a burglary at his Lower Manhattan home last year. The punishment - five days of community service - had more to do, however, with the cocaine the police found when they showed up.

The supervisors at the sanitation department are perfectly used to accommodating court defendants with a bit of strenuous labour. So they equipped the singer, real name George O'Dowd, with a black nylon broom, an orange reflective vest, a wheelie bin and some gloves. It was just that when they took him out on to the streets to start sweeping they were hardly alone.

No doubt, the judge hoped to inflict public embarrassment on O'Dowd with photographers and reporters as his willing agents. But perhaps he didn't know they would show up in such overwhelming numbers. Getting a good run at rubbish in a gutter is tricky if every surrounding square foot is occupied by stampeding paparazzi.

No one should really have been surprised, but while the supervisors, led by Gregory McMahon, were managing to keep relatively composed, O'Dowd, his shaved head decorated in expansive tattoos, was showing his irritation, aggressively sweeping the rubbish towards the media to move them away.

"You think you're better than me," he yelled. "Go home. Let me do my community service. This is supposed to make me humble. Let me do this. I just want to do my job." But the spectacle of the former Culture Club frontman grubbing up bottle-tops was apparently too compelling and no one budged.

The scene, playing out as local residents were emerging from their apartment buildings to go to work, clearly could not go on and Mr McMahon concluded that he had better get his celebrity guest out of harm's way. And so they - and most of the reporters - trailed back to the depot where O'Dowd vanished inside.

He soon re-emerged, with broom and bin at his side. The only option left was to have him begin sweeping the large car park outside the depot. And that is what he continued to do through all of yesterday, a few lingering reporters gaping through the chain-link fence

O'Dowd took a dim view of the cleaning detail imposed by the judge. "I think it's rather unkind actually," he said. "This is silly. He could have done something a bit more useful like helping out in an Aids hospice.''