❚ THE SON OF A BOXING CLUB MANAGER, camp, skinny, loud-mouthed George O’Dowd was one of the most towering egos among the original Blitz Kids in the London of 1979. He famously worked as cloakroom attendant at the Blitz club where he has since happily admitted “rifling through pockets and handbags” while he was about it. His catchphrase was “Buy us a drink, then.” If you declined, or somebody otherwise offended him, he was likely to unleash all the vitriol his tongue could muster, on friend and foe alike. If they stood up to him and lashed back verbally, he occasionally awarded them an ounce of respect.
Because he was younger than many, he was virtually the last out of the Blitz stable to put together a band and win a recording contract in 1982. It was then a slow burn before Culture Club eventually hit No 1 with Do You Really Want to Hurt Me? in the UK and No 2 the next year in the US.
They soon became one of Britain’s international “pure-pop” supergroups with a blue-eyed reggae sound led by Boy George’s impressively soulful voice. The band won a Grammy in 1984. At his peak, George was Britain’s second most globally recognisable fashion icon after Princess Di. At home his unthreatening brand of androgyny had endeared him to mainstream audiences and he made himself every grannie’s favourite popstar with his line about liking “a nice cup of tea” in preference to sex. It was nevertheless a long time before he confirmed the obvious: that he was gay.
The glory was all over effectively by the third album.
George was developing heroin addiction and his romance with drummer Jon Moss fell apart. Grim headlines recorded the deaths of two friends from drugs and before long the tabloids reckoned that “Junkie George” had eight weeks to live. Culture Club broke up in 1986 and the singer’s life swung between unedifying extremes as it pretty much went off the rails for the next 20 years.
These were defined substantially by his drug habits, precipitating repeated encounters with the law, a community service sentence sweeping the streets of Manhattan, and the non-release of many new recordings. He turned instead to deejaying. One small highlight came in 1995 at the ripe old age of 34 with publication of his, for many people, shockingly frank autobiography, Take It Like a Man. This week he admitted: “Nowadays I probably would have said less. The new me would not have gone as far as I did.”
His fortunes hit their lowest ebb last year when he was sentenced to 15 months in jail “for falsely imprisoning a male escort by handcuffing him to a wall and beating him with a metal chain,” as reported in The Guardian. “The judge told the 47-year-old former Culture Club front man, whose real name is George O’Dowd, he had left the escort ‘shocked, degraded and traumatised’ by the ordeal… Passing sentence… Judge David Radford said the singer’s offence was ‘so serious that only an immediate sentence of imprisonment can be justified’.” After four months, George was released on home detention curfew wearing an electronic tag.
None of which was recycled of course in this week’s principal TV interviews as he returned to the commercial pop spotlight with a new dancetrack, Amazing Grace, the first release by a new label, Decode Records. They have boosted George’s vocals with luminous support from Portuguese singer Ana Lains.
In a cosy breakfast sofa chat for GMTV today, there were chill echoes of those other insouciant jailbirds, the former politicians Jeffrey Archer and Jonathan Aitken, when George showed little sign of remorse for the offences that landed him in jail. Neither did the airhead presenter Lorraine Kelly raise the issue. At least in his grilling by CNN viewers online somebody called Hillary asked: “What do you think the meaning of your life is?”
Later on Monday, George did allow one glimpse of reflection onscreen: “The biggest change for me in past two years was getting sober. I went into prison sober, with a completely clear head, in a very Zen frame of mind. I was a totally different person by the time I went to prison. It was a challenge. I discovered it was like being back at school.”
On the genesis of Amazing Grace, he said: “The song is about realising I have the best job in world. In my life there have been so many moments when I’ve been in amazing places and haven’t really been there because I’ve been arguing with someone. I’ve been at the Taj Mahal or the Grand Canyon having a row about something really petty. So what I try to do now is be present in everything I do, however mundane or however exciting… It’s also about searching for some sort of grace. It’s a spiritual song.”
There’s hope yet, then. Might we expect George, born into the Catholic Church, to follow the path of the saintly Aitken by discovering one god or another and some contrition? Let us all pray.
➢ Boy George performs his comeback single, Amazing Grace, this morning on GMTV… and beforehand George talks about his future
➢ At CNN on Monday George reflected on reinventing himself
before and after jail
➢ Ladypat’s trippy video of Boy George’s Amazing Grace, featuring Ana Lains
Boy George calls the press ‘sanctimonious’! What can a remorseless thug expect?
➢ Nick Duerden in The Independent this April gets the measure of the man jailed for assault on a younger man: “One thing he didn’t do inside jail was ponder the crime that had landed him inside in the first place. ‘No I didn’t. Why? Was I supposed to?’ ”
➢ Patrick Strudwick on the vile diminishing of Boy George’s crime (The Guardian last December): “We still cannot seem to take crimes of sex and violence against men seriously. The response of the authorities to female victims of rape and domestic violence is often lacking. The response of the public to male victims is one of disbelief, apathy and even humour.”
➢ Which spurs us to reread Alan Franks’ very thorough interview from The Times last October: “What should he feel about the crime that got him jailed? Remorse, surely. Isn’t that what we want to hear before we too can move on from it? The good humour vanishes from his eyes and he says tartly: ‘I’m not going to talk about that.’ ”