THE PLACE THAT CHANGED ME

`Indian' of The Village People fell in love with Australia on his first visit 20 years ago - and he just keeps going back for more

The place that changed me has to be Australia. I have never been more impressed by a lifestyle. Australians know how to enjoy the life they have been given like no other people I know. I think their climate has something to do with it, but I also think that being as isolated as they are means they are somewhat distanced from the neuroses and scandals that trouble the world. It's not that they don't have their problems. We all do. They just don't seem to get as overwhelmed as the rest of us.

I went to Australia for the first time back in 1980 and I have returned at least 25 times since. We went there recently to shoot a film for Australian television. It was like The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert without the flash. Forget the dresses and the giant shoe and the drag- queens. We had to wait for permits to get on to the different "reservations" and we travelled in storms and even a hurricane. Not glamorous. But I can't wait to go back. Our 23rd- anniversary tour takes us back there this February.

My first impressions 20 years ago were through the eyes of a young pop star, and as such could not have been better. We were jet-setting around the world which was a real novelty and we were especially popular in Australia, so the reception was great. We felt like the most beautiful boys in the world. We toured like crazy, all over the country, but I still remember being struck by the relaxed lifestyle. It changed my attitude as to how one should live life. And I realised how much we worry, in the USA in particular. In New York, when I get home in the evening, I'm like "I gotta do this, I gotta listen to that". The pace is ridiculous and we live crazy lives. Australians just don't seem to stress themselves out about the little things in life.

And they are the outdoor life-style people, year-round. Compare them to New Yorkers who are stuck in their apartments all winter and you can see where the healthy attitude comes from. Who wouldn't be happy eating out in the sun all year?

In some ways, Sydney is very similar to New York - the "city" attitude and services are all there - but Sydney is far prettier. New York is turning into a zoo. The Times Square area is beginning to look like something out of Blade Runner. They are hanging these giant multimedia screens on every other block and 42nd Street is nothing like as "real" as it used to be. It's a tourist playground.

I'd move to Australia like a shot. I'm a Capricorn and Australia is on the Tropic of Capricorn. Everything seems to fall into place when I'm there. It's like going home. I have friends that stretch back 25 years and this is something I consider to be as important as a family relationship. And it's so easy to make friends there. Where a New Yorker's favourite expression is "Are you talkin' to me?", Australians will say "You wanna come for a bop and relax?"

Don't get me wrong, New Yorkers are nice people and if you're a tourist and you're lost they will help you out. But after that, it's like "Get outta my face". And they're certainly not going to invite a stranger to go dancing with them.

INTERVIEW BY

SARAH BARRELL

The single, `YMCA - The Millennium Mix' (Wrasse Records) is out tomorrow. The album, `The Best of the Village People', is out on 22 November.

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