With gargantuan fame and a heap of publicity both good and bad, Boy George is a British music legend now famed as much for his DJing as performing. After an eventful couple of years which has seen him spend time in jail, he’s back with a new single Amazing Grace and is about to embark on a UK tour. I caught up with him to talk music, fame, growing up and his time in prison…
Hello George, how are you?
“Really good! I’m doing a show for a friend tonight so I’m just learning a Leonard Cohen song for that.”
You’re also just gearing up for a UK tour, right?
“Yeah – the tour will be March/April and the new single is out in March, called Amazing Grace. I’m just getting back into working again because I’ve had a lot of restrictions on my travel – that ends in April though, and I can get on with my life.”
When did you last do a UK tour?
“A couple of years ago and it was fantastic. It’s always good to go out and see where you’re popular and where people aren’t interested. (Laughs) But I’m very lucky in that I get a lot of love from people that I don’t know.”
You’re known for your DJing more now than as a singer – do you prefer that?
“Performing live is more of an emotional experience, but DJing is a performance too, especially if you get a crowd in the palm of your hand. People always say I jumped on the DJing bandwagon, but I started doing it back in 1979 in a New Romantic club called Planets. Back in those days it was very primitive – vinyl, no mixing – it was pretty different. I came across a photo of me DJing back then the other day and I thought ‘Oh my god!’ Wait till you see what I’m wearing – everything!” (see pic above)
Are you still a clubber?
“Not as much as I used to be. Also, when I’m in a club I want to play – I find myself standing there tutting at the music thinking ‘I wouldn’t have played that’… There is one club where I go to dance now though – it’s a dry club called Godspeed, no drugs or alcohol. When you remove alcohol and chemicals from a room, people just become so much nicer and far less aggressive – it’s amazing!”
Your new single Amazing Grace talks about the psychology of a dreamer – would you say you’re a dreamer?
“Absolutely. But the song is based on what I’ve been through over the past couple of years. At a certain point I had to surrender to what was going on and try to find strength and grace within myself. It’s amazing how five minutes of your life can completely alter the course of your journey.”
Talking of your stint in jail – how did you handle that?
“I got sober in March 2008 so I had a year of sobriety before I went to prison which meant I went into it with a clear head and was able to deal with the situation and accept it, which helped a lot. But obviously it was a really surreal situation to be in – it was like being back at school, being told what to do.”
Did you get any hassles because of your fame?
“People were nice, people were stupid – it was very like school! But with me, my sexuality is something that goes ahead of me, so somebody telling me I’m gay is not too much of a revelation… There was a bit of that, but then after a few weeks people got bored of it. I think the prison service expected me to be like Ruth Ballinger from Prisoner with a fur coat and everything – they were surprised I wasn’t a nightmare.”
You’ve had your fair share of good and bad publicity, but the public still named you in their top 50 of Greatest Britons Ever.
They did! You came in at 46, beating the likes of King Arther and Florence Nightingale…
“Well I never! How lovely. Even when I was in prison, I got so much mail and it really brought it home to me that there are a lot of people who care about me, which was heart-warming and overwhelming. But I’m thrilled to hear that – my mum will be very pleased.”
The probation service stopped you going into Celebrity Big Brother this year – were you pleased about that in the end?
“Yes! I was always in two minds about it anyway so when the judgment was made I just accepted it. With everything that’s happened to me recently, I feel like I’m able to deal with things a lot better. I’ve grown up which is probably about time isn’t it?”
What do you think of the current 80s revival?
“Is there another one? (Laughs) The 80s was the last exciting time for pop culture so it’s inevitable that they’ll be revisited. You could be really cynical about it and say ‘Oh, I’ve heard this all before’, but as long as the music’s got a good heart and soul I’m OK with it. I used to find it really hard to be nice about anyone else’s music but now I realise that it’s not a competition and just because someone else has success doesn’t mean that you can’t too. It’s not me against the world anymore.”
Finally, I saw Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran play live last year – any plans for a Culture Club reunion?
“It’s not something I’d rule out. John lives nearby, we see each other quite a lot and we’ve talked about it. If we do it, it’ll be about going into a rehearsal room and seeing if we’ve got something new musically, not just going on the road and making loads of money. But it’s great to think about it and as I’ve got older I’ve learnt to respect our heritage as a band.”