NICK CRANE is a changed man. Ten years ago he was in the middle of a four-year prison sentence for trying to ambush a train carrying many black people, in his role as a leader of the far-right British Movement. He was a singer in the fascist skinhead band Afflicted and conducted a campaign of hatred against blacks, communists, Jews and homosexuals.
This week, the country's right- wing skinhead movement to which he was once an inspiration, is in for a surprise. In a television programme to be screened on Wednesday, Mr Crane admits that he is a homosexual and that since coming to terms with his sexual identity he has abandoned all right-wing affiliations and is now non-political.
'They are in for a hell of a shock. I always wanted to come out but it was a difficult decision, I was so well-known.'
One person who may be particularly surprised is his former close friend Ian Stewart, lead singer of the fascist band Screwdriver, for whom 'Nazi Nick' handles security at concerts and who used to visit Mr Crane in jail.
In his small Soho bedsit, near where he now works as a nightclub doorman, Mr Crane proudly shows off a thick scrapbook of cuttings documenting the years in which Adolf Hitler was his hero. He was the Kent organiser of the British Movement and he set up violent attacks on left-wing meetings. He served three separate prison terms: 'People were terrified of me.'
He cannot erase another memento of his past, tattoos that cover his arms, swastikas, slogans - 'I hate niggers' and 'White power' - and a British Movement leader guard insignia. People used to cross the street to avoid him, he said, with a mixture of pride and sadness.
But if his defection from the fervently anti-gay ranks of the skinhead movement will be a blow to its pride, it is only the most celebrated sign of a thriving gay sub- culture in the traditionally homophobic skinhead scene. Not only are long-time skinheads 'coming out' but the skinhead image is being adopted by a growing number of men in the gay community.
'The skinhead look is a dominant one in the gay scene at the moment,' according to Harvey Gillis, fashion editor of Boyz magazine. 'It's a fashion statement not a political one.'
Some black gays oppose the trend because of the difficulty in separating violent fascists from the simply fashion-conscious.
Mick Shaw, editor of the magazine Skinhead Nation, and also gay, says that being a skinhead is not synonymous with being a racist or anti-gay. 'It's to do with an attitude of rebellion against what society expects - if you want to shock someone you put on your big boots and army fatigues, shave your head and people look at you.'
Dr Dinesh Bhugra, a psychologist at the Institute of Psychiatry, speaking on Skin Complex, the Channel 4 progamme to be screened on Wednesday, argues that gay men adopting the skinhead image is not surprising.
'In a society that is producing a tremendous amount of homophobia, you have to try and protect yourself by whichever means you can and if, in order to do it, it means you are identifying with the oppressor then people will do that in order to survive.'
But Mr Crane said: 'A lot of skinheads will feel betrayed by me and I will be a target for physical attacks but my stand could help others so it's important to do it.'