Best Of 2017: When Richard Gray Spent The Day With Boy George
The following words were recorded on the day, before and in between shooting. George wore a selection of Dior Homme jackets and T-shirts of his own design. His hats were by Child of the Jago. This isn’t an interview, more a snapshot of us all chatting. It was a lovely day.
But before that, a few words about Boy George, in case you’re a little bit backwards or maybe you’re from the North and may not know who Boy George is. As well as being a marvellous dresser, he is a brilliant singer from a faraway time called the 1980s, which was long before you were born. In the 1980s, people were far more honest and a lot more naive. There was no internet and, thus, things had a more original quality to them because, well, they were original. The future of fashion and music and style was the “now”. Social media didn’t exist and we were all (even though Thatcher was in power for the whole decade) a lot happier, if not markedly poorer. Well, some of us.
One figure who, in part, encapsulated this era was Boy George. His strange new glamour was born out of Bowie, exclusive club nights and the punk and new romantic movements, and it flowered when he and his band Culture Club hit the charts with the number one smash Do You Really Want to Hurt Me.
Ask anybody who remembers George’s appearance on Top of the Pops one night in October 1982 and they tell of an odd- looking doll-man with plaited hair doing a new jump-style, one-leg kicky dance- type thing. I remember it because in the playground the very next day – it will have been a Friday because TOTP was always on a Thursday night – somebody said to me (I was eight): “You’re like that poof on the telly who’s like a girl, that Boy George.” I was so embarrassed. Not now, though. Now, it’s possibly the most incredible thing anybody could say to me ever – but then, aged eight, I didn’t really know about poofs and plaited hair and strange jumpy dancing. I just liked putting my hand up first when the teacher asked questions.
George’s fashion during that first appearance on TOTP (I’m watching it now on YouTube and it’s giving me the shivers) is so beautiful. He’s so beautiful. George wore Sue Clowes, a fashion designer and friend of the group. She also dressed Bananarama in the early post-art-school period. George’s white tunic top had block-print words in Hebrew script on the front – Tarbut Agudda – which should have read Culture Club, but actually translated as Culture Organisation. This tunic was worn over white cotton trousers and no shoes. No shoes! It was femme and foreign and beautiful, just like George, whose eyebrows were plucked to a point and drawn over, accompanied by delicate sweeps of yellow eye shadow and tons of blusher. There’s an amazing Boy George make-up book from 1984 that takes you through all the early looks, song by song, with those old-fashioned oval faces with arrows showing you exactly how much and where to apply for the “genuine George look”. I know this because I’ve got it. Last time I looked, they were going for £50 on eBay. You’re welcome.
And in that TV appearance, George’s hair was tied up with white cotton strips and it kicked out and up like magnificent television aerials. If you watch closely, the audience made up of teenagers weren’t just dancing but gawping, too. They had never seen anybody like this in daylight hours. George and his ilk were part of the violet hour – club kids in hyper fashion who danced funny – and George was one of few exotics they’d seen. We’d had punks, or weekend punks as my older brother used to call them who stood on every street corner and were not half as shocking as they thought they were. Anyway, the fashion world had moved on by this point, so punk looked a bit, well, pedestrian.
Before George, Bowie had played with androgyny, but George’s look was different. It was lady and girl and boy and man all at once and he and it ushered in a new aesthetic. It and he were vulnerable and powerful. After that, everything changed for George and Culture Club. Since then, he’s become a national treasure with all his own teeth, though not before careering from being a heroin addict to Buddhist to jailbird to TV personality you really want to watch. And not necessarily all in that order. Boy George is unstoppable, but says he feels “no connection” with that gorgeous Boy George on Top of the Pops. “I thought I was really worldly,” he has said about that time. “I thought I knew everything. Ha! I didn’t know shit.”
There’s nothing really left of the old Boy George, though the laugh is still the same. I remember him on Wogan being all fabulously queen-y and off-the-cuff and then he’d laugh and you’d laugh because it’s one of those infectious laughs you get from ladies of a certain age who’ve smoked 40 Bensons seemingly since they were born. It’s so brilliantly filthy. Now he’s booze free and gluten free and drug free and has recently been flitting between the UK and Australia as a judge on The Voice. If you haven’t seen him and fellow UK singer Seal having a barney, it’s all on YouTube.
George says he was doing his “best Bowie poses” for our shoot and he automatically knew where the best lighting was and the best places to stand. He also decided when he was going to change outfits. He’s a professional, see. God knows how many shoots he’s done over the years. He looks great, though. And has had absolutely “no work [done] whatsoever”. No scars behind the ears – I know, because I looked when he was having his make-up done. And no filler? “No way!” You’ll see why later.
Now we’ve set him up, we’ll let him go. He’s known for his sharp wit, and turning on your phone to record him is easy. He’s full of naughty stories. Here are just some of them he revealed on the day.
THE NOTORIOUS DRESSING-UP BOX
Should you be invited round to his place, says George, prepare yourself for the “dressing-up box” – a colourful collection of odds and sods and all sorts of out-there clothing that he has accumulated over the years. There’s a lot of old Westwood in there, too. George is a fan of the “invitation only” Westwood sample sales, the most mental affairs of old queens and serious collectors fighting over the best bits. Fangirls such as George’s friend and clubland pin-up Philip Sallon – who looks like Quentin Crisp’s Elizabeth I in Orlando (a good thing) – are always there, looking incredible and snatching the best pieces. Those invited to George’s dressing- up box can also try on some of his best charity-shop finds. One recent discovery – a polka-dot jacket – sounds very Leigh Bowery. That box is a fashion shoot in its own right.
BOY GEORGE FOR DIOR HOMME
It was management who first approached George to star in the now-epic Dior Homme ad campaign that saw our hero shot in black and white and sitting on the outside back pages of the coolest mags in fashionland. “You know what was really funny about the whole modelling thing?” says George. “I’d made a joke to my manger and told him, ‘I want to do some modelling,’ and he was like, ‘I’d probably give that idea up if I were you.’ ‘No, I know!’ I said. ‘But wouldn’t it be funny if I did some modelling at my age? It would be great!’ And he said, ‘Well, you know… whatever.’”
Anyway, about a month later, George’s manager called him back: “Hello, witch!” (George’s manager always calls George a witch.) “He said, ‘You know you asked me about doing some modelling? Well, do you want to start really big?’ I said, ‘Why, who’s interested?’ He said, ‘Dior,’ and I said, ‘Oh, that’s a good one, let’s do that!’” And thus, George – alongside the actor Rami Malek, A$AP Rocky and model Ernest Klimko – were shot by photographer Willy Vanderperre to be the stars of this summer’s coolest campaign.
BOW DOWN MISTER
Breaking news: George is working on an idea that will have Culture Clubbers beside themselves. “I don’t know if it will ever happen,” says George, “but a song I wrote called Bow Down Mister [Just to interject here, Bow Down Mister is possibly one of the best pop songs in the world ever and, at the time of its release, chimed with a whole new movement in music.], well, we’re talking about maybe doing a TV programme where I go back to India and go to all those places mentioned in the song.”
Yes, you heard it right: Boy George to (potentially) visit the places named in top 30 hit Bow Down Mister. Please, please, please make this so. Here’s the opening of the song for you lot too young enough to remember it, including just two of the potential places he’ll visit: “From Bombay to Bangalore / All the Hindus know the score / If you wanna live some more / Hare, hare, hare.” Imagine that just for a few seconds. Imagine it. Everybody now send prayers to the universe to make this so.
Fun Boy George fact incoming: in a 1985 episode of sapphic behind-bars drama Prisoner: Cell Block H, new inmate Lexie Patterson is introduced to her fellow crims dressed as her favourite pop star Boy George, complete with hair in cotton rags and gorge-y pseudo-Sue Clowes get-up. Then it all goes horribly wrong when, in one of the most complex and improbable storylines ever, Patterson gets pregnant by a dustbin-truck driver (not sure how), escapes, kills a man with a vase (no idea), then gets caught, goes back into the same jail she escaped from and then, finally, finally has her baby delivered by some woman called Lurch, who makes use of her “animal-husbandry skills” . Anyway, after about 18 million episodes, Patterson is released and all the other prisoners decide to throw a party to see her off. But not before dressing up in George- style clobber and ragging their hair. You couldn’t make it up. Or you could. And they did.
IT’S ALL A BIT “GERBILICIOUS”
“I love women talking about other women who’ve had loads of surgery – ‘Oh, they haven’t aged a bit,’” says George, who as I’ve said, has had no surgery whatsoever, not even a needle. “He doesn’t need it – it’s still so tight!” says the very lovely Christina, George’s friend and make-up artist. “Does anybody actually age any more?” asks George. His best advice: “I think the smart thing is probably to have a facelift rather than all the fillers.” Noted. You should take note also, or risk looking like those who’ve filled and filled and then persuaded their derms to fill some more. You’ve seen them, says George – “They’re the gerbilicious brigade.”
DALE WINTON’S SUPERMARKET SWEEP
A long time ago, George was at the BBC to appear on some programme he can’t remember. By coincidence, also there was Dale Winton, former star of beyond- camp show Supermarket Sweep – essential daytime-TV viewing, in which poor people and bingo fans answered questions to win a cray-cray trolley dash around an MDF supermarket. The brightest contestants grabbed jars of coffee and Hoovers. The not-so-bright grabbed cuddly toys and ashtrays. Anyway, suddenly, apropos of George mentioning something about Winton’s compilation CD, Dale’s Disco Divas (essential listening), Winton waltzes into George’s dressing room WITH. NO. TOP. ON. “It’s a bit of blur,” recalls George. “I just remember thinking, ‘Ooh! Dale Winton’s in my dressing room with his top off. It’s just a bit, like, erm, wrong.’”
Witty, caustic, sarky and divine: our George regularly comes out with calculated and terrifying put-downs and observations. The first two of the quotes interspersed on these pages were uttered during our shoot. The others are a “very best” of George. Repeat, repeat, repeat!
Text Richard Gray
Photographer Ian Kenneth Bird
Taken from the latest issue of 10 Men, REBEL HEART, on newsstands now…