’80s pop icon on getting clean, having a kid and why he’s an ‘alien’
A lot has been written about Boy George in the last 10 years, but not much of it’s pointed to what made the icon a pop phenomenon. Drugs, jail and an escort run-in are what kept the not-so-boyish star in the headlines, completely overshadowing his influence on music. That’s changing, however, with his first album in a decade, Ordinary Alien, and an upcoming Culture Club reunion in 2012.
But the 49-year-old doesn’t ignore his past, and in our interview he chatted about having an “underlying desire to be sane,” how the LGBT community is to blame for its image and why he won’t be the next gay celebrity to adopt a baby.
How are you, Boy George?
Lovely, thank you.
Does the title Ordinary Alien have anything to do with being gay?
Maybe. It’s based on the fact that there’s so much written about me that’s either untrue, partly untrue or not quite true. (Laughs) In a way, what I’m saying is I know that I’m odd – and yet there’s a part of me that’s kind of quite ordinary. It’s important to have both. When it comes to practical things in life, being a bit ordinary is very useful.
Otherwise, you’re an alien?
I’m definitely the alien. But I’m the kind of alien you can bring home to meet your mother.
Gay men everywhere are taking note right now.
Are aliens popular in the gay community? (Laughs)
How does it feel knowing you paved the way for other queer performers?
Everything is part of a kind of “daisy chain.” When I was growing up, there were a lot of characters on TV who were obviously gay and camp and playing with the boundaries, and I think all of those people shaped who I am. So, I think everything comes from somewhere.
Even though David Bowie wasn’t necessarily gay, I think that he had a huge influence on me as a kid. When you’re a kid you don’t really have many reference points. There are more now, but not back then in the ’70s when I came out to my family. I was 15, so the process of coming out to the people that I love started a long time before it became something I had to do publicly, and people still have very wrong ideas of what it is to be a gay man or a gay woman.
People just think of you as a sexual being; they don’t realize that you have pets and bills and jobs and families. They just don’t understand that. And I think we as gay people don’t really do much to help ourselves in that department. If you look at any gay magazine, it’s all nipple rings and butts. So I think people don’t understand; they just look at everything you do as a kind of sexual thing and they don’t see beyond that, and that’s a shame.
Why do you think we’re looked at as sexual deviants?
For a lot of us, the first time we have any sense of who we are is when we have sex with another man or another woman. That’s when we’re defined, and so it’s no wonder that there’s a kind of strong physical element tied to gay culture.
It’s sad in a way, because even if you’re a straight kid and you don’t have demonstrative parents and you don’t have a good family life, at least you have lots of social references. So you have an idea of how things work. But when you’re gay, who tells you? There’s this attitude that if you talk about it you encourage it, so even if a parent knows their kid is gay they just don’t really talk about it; they just hope it goes away, and of course it rarely does.
You’re a living example that it doesn’t just go away.
Absolutely! But you know, I’m very lucky. I’ve always had the support of my family. My dad is dead now, but my dad was amazing when I came out. I was really surprised by his reaction. I thought I was going to be killed, and my dad was great. So families can be so surprising, and people can be equally ignorant but they can be also amazing.
You were pushing all sorts of boundaries with style and gender in the ’80s. Do you think newer artists are pushing far enough for social change with their art?
Anybody who brightens the horizon has my support. It’s difficult for someone like Lady Gaga because she’s a woman and she’s straight, I think. I don’t know her well enough, but I think it’s wonderful that she’s supportive of gay people and that’s to be applauded. Sometimes I read about different people, like Justin Bieber, and think, “Oh my god.” (Laughs) So I think people like Gaga are a blessing and they must be applauded for their support – because it’s not always the case.
Both Gaga and Adam have referenced you as one of their idols. If you were them, would you look up to yourself?
That’s a very difficult question. (Laughs) I think now I would, because at this point in my life I feel very positive and optimistic and I think I want to inspire people. That’s where I am right now, and that’s what I wanted to do when I started. There’s been distractions along the way, but I feel right now that I have a responsibility in a way to kind of be inspiring and, yes, maybe I would look up to myself now. Not always, but I think now is probably a good time. (Laughs)
When wouldn’t you have looked up to yourself?
(Laughs) They’ve all been pretty well-documented. I don’t think I need to point them out. But on my current record, a lot of people have said that the record’s really optimistic and quite joyful and has a certain kind of serenity, and I think that’s always been part of me. I’ve always had a strong sense of optimism. Yes, I’ve been terribly self-destructive at points in my life, but there’s always been this underlying desire to be sane. At the moment I’d say that’s winning out, and that’s a good thing.
How do you feel now that you’ve kicked your drug addiction?
The difference in me as a person, it’s phenomenal, and that’s reflected in the way people treat me and the way I communicate. People used to withdraw from me when I was an addict.
What are some of your healthier addictions?
I eat pretty well. I’m pretty healthy. I exercise a lot now. I’ve given up the smoking, which is really the last vice. Things are really positive at the moment, and that’s such a relief, really. I go to NA, and it’s had a very, very powerful effect on me. It’s renewed my faith in humanity, and I think having a spiritual program is really useful.
I pray every night and every morning, and even if I’m only speaking to myself, I think it’s a really healthy thing – to just have that moment in your day where you just say something positive about yourself and about the world.
All these gay men – Ricky Martin, Clay Aiken, Neil Patrick Harris and now Elton John – are raising kids. Do you feel the urge to have a boy George?
I don’t personally feel the urge, but I think if it’s something you really desire then that’s fine. I think it’s totally acceptable. My mother’s generation really raised their kids on their own. My father was like a lot of men: He was never around, and he really left the child-rearing to my mother.
It’s a life-changing thing, and I was really amazed, because I’m friends with Elton, and I didn’t know at all that he was doing that. (Laughs) But it’s something he’s always wanted.
So you’re not interested?
I’m not maternal, no. I have two dogs, and one of them is very needy. (Laughs) It’s not something you take lightly. I know that Elton will have a lot of help, but still, it’s a big emotional investment. And I’m not one of those people who think gay people shouldn’t have kids. I also think you don’t make a child gay by raising it. My parents were straight, my brothers are all straight, we all drank the same water, ate the same food. People need to realize that’s not how it works. (Laughs)
Tell me about the Culture Club reunion.
We’re going to do a big showcase in October to announce what we’re doing and hopefully around that time we’ll start recording or writing, and in 2012 we’re going to celebrate our 30th anniversary and do a huge tour and hopefully come to America... if they’ll let me in. At the moment I’m banned, so I’m hoping. I’ve got people working on that right now. It’s really important that we play America; it’s going to be amazing.
It’s been a long time since you have.
Speak to Obama for me. Have a word. I mean, he’s guesting on my album (on “Yes We Can”), so I’m sure he’ll be cool. (Laughs)
What inspired the 30th anniversary reunion?
We did something about 13 years ago, which was quite random but it was a lot of fun at the time. But we get along better now. We’re all a bit more grown up and quite focused. And a lot of it is me. If I’m in a good space it really affects everybody around me. I have a really good relationship with the guys in the band now. I’m really good friends with Jon (Moss) now. There was a long time when everything about him used to drive me crazy, as it does with ex-partners. It’s all about growing up.
Your relationship with Jon caused a lot of tension in the group. Speaking from experience, do you have any advice for inter-office romances?
(Laughs) Oh my god! Well, no, I don’t actually. I don’t think I’m qualified to give relationship advice to anyone. Advice is very easy to give, but it’s not so easy to put into practice. A lot of my friends come to me and cry on my shoulder and I’m very good at telling them what they’re doing wrong, but then when you try to apply it to yourself, it’s a lot harder. I think relationships – whether they’re gay or straight – are very difficult and I hope that with age they become easier. I mean, I’m not in a relationship right now.
You’re not interested in one either, are you?
No, I’m not really looking. I’ve never really been someone who needs a partner. If somebody amazing comes along and blows me away, then great, I’m open to it. But I’m not going to put up with anything.
I’m not one of those people who needs to be involved; I need to be with someone that I –particularly at this stage in my life – kind of really respect and someone that’s not really overly concerned with what I do and someone who can really cope with the baggage that comes with being me, even though a lot of it is kind of imagined.
People who don’t know me read a lot of crap about me and they base their kind of idea of me on what they’ve read, and sometimes that can be a good thing – because people are always saying to me, “You’re nothing like I thought you’d be.” I don’t know what people expect, but I guess that’s one of the ills of being in the public eye and having so many contradictory things written about yourself.
You’ve said you’re finally growing up, and I’m wondering if it’s enough to warrant a name change – Boy George to Man George?
(Laughs) I don’t think I’ll ever escape that moniker, and I’m not the up-my-own-ass-I’m-gonna-change-my-name-in-a-bid-to-be-taken-seriously type. Boy George is a stage name and it suits me, and I think it’s just gonna stick. (Laughs) Let’s not complicate things by changing my name.