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➤ Aside from the freaks, George, who else came to your 50th birthday party?

❚ YES, OF COURSE SHAPERSOFTHE80s was at the fruit-cakiest party of the summer, and we can offer a selection of pix not widely seen in the tabloids.

Boy George, 50th birthday,Jon Moss, Barbara Moss,

That Man in the Middle: George O’Dowd celebrates his 50th birthday with former Culture Club drummer and father of three children, Jon Moss and his wife Barbara at Tuesday’s party. © Dave Benett/Getty

Boy George, 50th birthday, Dinah O'Dowd

That Boy with his doughty mum: Dublin-born Dinah O’Dowd is still up for a party at 71 even after bringing up George and five other children! She spilt the beans in her own book Cry Salty Tears (Arrow Books 2007). Spot the marzipan chameleon. © Dave Benett/Getty

➢ The Daily Mirror said it was “camper than Christmas at Louie Spence’s house”
➢ The Sun dubbed it a “bonkers bash” in print and “wacky” online
➢ Holy Moly called it “a terrifyingly horrid looking party”

❚ BRITAIN’S BIGGEST-SELLING PAPER, The Sun, couldn’t have been more shocked by Boy George’s 50th birthday party when 1,500 guests crowded into two of the largest nightclubs — Lightbox and Fire — set in railway arches at the heart of London’s gay village, across the River Thames and upstream. The area became infamous for 200 years as the Vauxhall Gardens, a fabled pleasure-seekers’ amusement park which opened in the 17th century and closed only in the 19th. It was deliberately sited outside London’s city limits and also its by-laws, so that Fielding’s novel Tom Jones immortalised the gardens as a place “where people come to undo others — and others come to be undone”.

This morning’s Sun spluttered: “As well as a host of transvestites, George, sporting a black top hat, was joined by a selection of PVC-clad ghouls and other creepy-looking creatures, some clad in bondage gear. One man even had his head fixed inside a bird cage.” A “source at the party” — with this phrase The Sun was distancing itself from the unimaginable goings-on — reported : “It wasn’t for the faint-hearted. Some of the outfits were a little weird.”

Shapersofthe80s can’t compete with the selection of frenzied ghouls pictured in The Sun and other tabloids, largely because we were idling in the quiet outdoor tents and feeling our age with some of the original Blitz Kids a couple of years older than George, the baby of his clubbing generation. We had a good dinner first and arrived when the weirdness was in full swing, genuinely surprised that, despite the ravages of 30 years, a sizeable contingent of ex-Blitz Kids had turned up out of loyalty to Britain’s chief genderbender. The keener ones showed up on time to get their faces into the early-edition pap pix, though a lot of cool people didn’t. For many, the prospect of a free bar 8–10pm didn’t provide the bait it once would have done.

Boy George, 50th birthday,Holly Johnson

That Boy with Holly Johnson: the vocalist with 80s shock-band Frankie Goes to Hollywood is today a painter whose work has been exhibited at the Tate Liverpool. © Chris Jepson

Boy George, 50th birthday,Emma Woollard , Jeremy Healy

Among George’s guests: artist Emma Woollard and Jeremy Healy, formerly half of 80s pop duo Haysi Fantayzee, today a prominent club deejay who also provides music for fashion shows — until recently John Galliano’s. © Dave Benett/Getty

Cameron Jones, Roman Kemp, Boy George, 50th birthday, Paradise Point

That Man in the Middle: his two gorgeous companions are budding stars from London’s new livepop band Paradise Point, singer Cameron Jones with bass player and former schoolmate Roman (son of Martin) Kemp. © Getty Images

Relaxing at last into middle age, the very Blitz Kids who perfected the idea of “Your Look” while shaping the Swinging 80s left the showing off to the kids at the party who thrill to dress as an inflatable rubber sex doll, or to attach to their naked vital parts every toy and fruit that drag acts have been dangling before all-male audiences at the nearby Royal Vauxhall Tavern since World War Two.

The notion of originality seems strangely lost on today’s drag queens and seven-foot tall trannies whose platform boots clomp through every poser nightclub in town as they push their way, as if by right, to the front of every bar queue. (And manage not to catch the barman’s eye. How does that work?) Back in the mists of New Romance, in 1979, the oldtimers each established their own Look not only to gain them admission to the Blitz Club but to personify their individual attitude. And after “the party that lasted four years”, dressing up as a nightly competition lost its novelty. By the mid-80s each Blitz Kid had arrived at a visual brand statement that had or would launch their careers and more or less last them for life… a personalised image that declared self-evidently I am a Serious Professional and This Is What I Do: I am Urban Deejay, I am Pop Stylist, I am Comic Relief Wannabe, I am Wideboy Producer, I am Dior’s Next Choice, I am Westwood Trainwreck, Pop Art Object, Rock Idol, Mockney Wag, or Sex on a Stick (for eternity, I hope).

The brightest and the most single-minded Blitz Kids always will embody Essence of Glamour — subtle, immaculate, witty, first. (Just look at the picture of Julia below!) They still populate the two core tribes, the Exquisites or the Peculiars. By their Themness shall they be identified. All respect to Peter York, whose definitive essay on Them appeared in Harpers & Queen as long ago as 1976, and should be required reading for anybody who isn’t, well, Homer Simpson.

Boy George, 50th birthday,Pepsi DeMacque,Martin Kemp, Steve Strange, Shirlie Holliman

Among George’s guests: Pepsi (DeMacque) & Shirlie (Holliman, today Mrs Kemp) flank actor and Spandau Ballet bassist Martin Kemp, and Steve Strange, former Blitz Club host who made his reputation in the 80s by changing his clothes daily. © Dave Benett/Getty

Boy George, 50th birthday, Princess Julia, Julia Fodor, Jeffrey Hinton

Among George’s guests: former Blitz Kids (and indeed Blitz coatcheck girl) the immaculate Princess Julia and the ever-scruffy Jeffrey Hinton, both today leading club deejays in the UK and abroad. © Shapersofthe80s

The arch-poser Christos Tolera facebooked after George’s party: “Well that was fun… It was like being in the 80s but without the carnage… Never have I seen so many old people looking so good.” And indeed it did seem that even Steve Strange — especially Steve Strange — had applied five times the Essex-Girl minimum of bronzer to create this season’s visage.

What was mildly heart-warming on Tuesday was to realise that who turned up was itself confirmation of the bonds of friendship within the Blitz camp. Yet the apprehension in the air was palpable as pleasantries were shared. One or two did cut the others dead. Over three decades, there have been fallings-in-love and fallings-out… recriminations and insults and envy as people stumbled through life’s great obstacle course… Many have succumbed to temptations that only will-power and time can heal. Some discovered that dreadful experiences can enrich the soul, others that to scratch a lover is to find a foe… Peter Ustinov believed: “Friends are not necessarily the people you like best. They are merely the people who got there first.” We are where we are. Would old romantics really want it any other way?

Boy George, 50th birthday,Sue Tilley,Stephen Linard, Les Child

Among George’s guests: designer and former Blitz Kid Stephen Linard, the biographer of Leigh Bowery and Lucian Freud model Sue Tilley, with dancer Les Child who has choreographed countless pop promos and tours since the 80s. © Shapersofthe80s

Boy George, 50th birthday,Stephen Jones, Judith Frankland

Among George’s guests: celebrated milliner Stephen Jones with his tie being worn on an unusually rakish tilt, meets up for the first time in decades with Judith "Ashes to Ashes" Frankland whose pink crimped hair seems inspired by Bette Davis as Baby Jane. © Alice Shaw

❏ NAMECHECKS — Amid the trannies at the party (deciphering genders proved quite a challenge at times) were a few genuine female celebs such as designers Pam Hogg, Judith Frankland, Stevie Stewart, singers Beth Ditto, Sonique Clarke, Pepsi & Shirlie, author Sue Tilley, artist Emma Woollard, heiress Daphne Guinness, promoter Rose Turner, deejay Princess Julia and broadcaster Janet Street Porter, whose landmark TV documentary 20th-Century Box put the Blitz Club obsessives on the media map in 1980…

Non-transvestite males included ex-Culture Club members Jon Moss, Mikey Craig, musicians Holly Johnson, Martin Kemp and son Roman, singer Cameron Jones, choreographer Les Child, milliners Stephen Jones and Philip Treacy, stylist Judy Blame, model Luke Worrall, restaurateur Paul Murashe, deejays Fat Tony, Rusty Egan, Jeremy Healy, Jeffrey Hinton, Mark Moore, Brandon Block, designers Rifat Ozbek, David Holah, Stephen Linard, impresario Phil Polecat… Who didn’t we see in the crowd?

Boy George, 50th birthday, Stevie Stewart, David Holah

Among George’s guests: ex-Blitz Kids Stevie Stewart and David Holah, the clubland designers behind the funkiest, trippiest label of the 80s, Bodymap. © Shapersofthe80s

Boy George, 50th birthday,Alice Shaw, Eve Ferret

Among George’s guests: Alice (fromthepalace) Shaw, lifelong pal of George who campaigned to find witnesses to this year’s assault on nightowl Philip Sallon, seen with Blitz Club cabaret star Eve Ferret, who recently returned to the boards in London’s West End. © Alice Shaw

Boy George, 50th birthday,Slippry Feet,Jody and Bayo

Among George’s guests: Emma, Jody and Bayo, the dancing feet behind the Most Promising Cabaret Act of 1989, Slippry Feet, and still bringing laughter to, er, millions. © Shapersofthe80s

Boy George, 50th birthday,Christos Tolera ,Judith Frankland

Among George’s guests: former Blitz Kids, painter Christos Tolera, who once sang with Blue Rondo à la Turk, and fashion designer Judith Frankland, who appears in Bowie’s Ashes To Ashes video and in the header to this website. © Shapersofthe80s

➢ Interview: Boy George hits the big Five-0 and says, yes, he has ‘lots of regrets’

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2010 ➤ Three key men in Boy George’s life, but why has TV changed some of the names?

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Romance blossoms: Drummer Jon Moss gives George a peck at Planets club in July 1981 way before Culture Club existed. Photographed © by Shapersofthe80s

OK boys and girls, fasten your seat belts. This Sunday sees another Boy George media event… and it’s gonna be a bumpy ride. The Beeb has turned the pop star’s teens ’n’ twenties into a TV bio-drama titled Worried About the Boy (BBC2, 9pm Sunday May 16). We get 90 minutes of foot-stamping, chair-throwing, cry-baby tantrums over his self-confessed “dysfunctional romances”, all of which were documented in his eye-wateringly frank 1995 autobiography Take It Like a Man, which has inevitably inspired Tony Basgallop’s script . . .

Culture Club, Worried About the Boy, BBC, TV, 2010

Culture Club 2010: recreated by Jonny Burt, Douglas Booth, Mathew Horne and Dean Fagan for the TV drama, Worried About the Boy. © BBC

Culture Club, pop, 1982, Boy George

Culture Club IRL: Roy Hay, Boy George, Jon Moss and Mikey Craig in 1982

◼ NOBODY, NEITHER FRIEND NOR VIEWER, ESCAPES from Worried About the Boy without their heart and mind being put through the kitchen blender, though this biographical TV drama has been heavily sugared to make it palatable even for BBC2 audiences. Amusing acto-r-r-r chappies play George and his courtiers and, as a result of advertising for lookalikes to flesh out the cast – some lucky extra even plays The Hand of David Bowie – we see every one of you too who came within a gnat’s whisker of the Blitz Club in 1980. Three decades may have added a few pounds to those skinny Blitz Kids preserved in your Facebook albums, but nobody forgets how this London club proved to be the nightlife crucible where the decade’s new pop scene was forged, and where George was almost the last among the dozens there who put bands together.

Worried About the Boy, 2010, BBC, drama,lookalikes

Lookalike call: “You will be paid”

In this Red Production for the BBC we see Mathew (Gavin & Stacey) Horne playing Culture Club drummer Jon Moss, Marc Warren from Hustle playing Blitz host Steve Strange like some Cruella de Vil (George likens him to Caligula), but the one who’ll steal all the Bafta awards is Royston Vasey’s Mark Gatiss as a dead-ringer for Malcolm McLaren. Gifted. A far-too-pretty newcomer called Douglas Booth plays George himself – but then G. O’Dowd is down in the credits as a programme consultant, so there’s the prettiness explained. As Mathew Horne told GMTV: “George helped out by providing clothes and [coughs] rectifying any inaccuracies.”

We enjoy plenty of comedic moments, yet the crucial line is delivered wearily by Jon Moss: “You’re a needy bastard, aren’t you!” The heroes in the sentimental plotline – petulant boy can’t get his life into gear – are not only his long-suffering boyfriend and colleague in the band, Jon, but as depicted onscreen George’s infinitely patient Dad, Jerry O’Dowd.

The early scenes offer a visual Who’s Who of the New Romantics and the director jollies things along with a comic-strip approach, using captioned freeze-frames to make sure we can tick off the celebs from 30 years ago. The essential dinginess of Covent Garden’s infamous Blitz Club, with its ambience of a steam-age railway station buffet, has been captured in Salford’s Racecourse Hotel in Greater Manchester. For anybody who lived through the real thing, this recreation of the 80s and the sheer electricity of the Blitz itself look hyper-realistic onscreen in HD, yet much of it feels somehow only half-realised, and seriously short on pizazz. “Dressing for the Blitz was real theatre,” the St Martin’s designer Fiona Dealey once observed about the New Romantic credo. “It wasn’t just another uniform.” At full-throttle the 24/7 Blitz Kids became living works of art and crackled with charisma you could have toasted crumpets on.

Stephen Linard, Blitz Kids, Andy Polaris, 1980, worried About the Boy, 2010, TV, Daniel Wallace

Blitz Kids: Daniel Wallace plays “Christopher” in Worried About the Boy (BBC), while being closely modelled on fashion designer Stephen Linard (picture, Derek Ridgers); Andy Polaris is airbrushed out of the TV drama after appearing in an early script. (Picture: Richard Law)

◼ OF COURSE THIS PLAY TELLS only one Blitz Kid’s tale. Your immediate reaction is: ah, well, this is a TV drama about, let’s face it, a very odd boy who dressed as a girl then called himself Boy and today still lives life as the Man in the L’Oréal Mask. In his 1995 book Take It Like a Man (TILAM for short), co-authored with journalist Spencer Bright, George wrote that as a teen “I felt like a freak… I was so paranoid, I never let anyone see me without my clothes or face on”. Yet on another page he claimed: “I craved normality.”

Blitz Kids, Boy George, Christos Tolera, 1979

Blitz Kids: Christos is another of George’s friends airbrushed out of the TV drama, Worried About the Boy

Before Culture Club finally saved his bacon at the age of 21, his mum said of working in the Blitz’s cloakroom “That’s not real work”, to which he complained that “Mum didn’t understand the disco celebrity concept”.

What is George’s problem? You don’t have to be Freud to guess. His book depicts his life as an epic shagathon and the TV play gives us a quick glimpse of one love story. And another. And a third. “I chased after those boys with trouble in their eyes,” George himself wrote, elaborating his sexual deeds in far more detail than we need. After publication, one of those boys, Theatre of Hate singer Kirk Brandon, took a “malicious falsehood” charge against George to the High Court where it failed, and Brandon was ordered to pay costs which subsequently meant declaring himself bankrupt and George forking out £600,000. This Sunday, sorry Kirk, but you’re going to have to brace yourself for some perfectly respectable snogging scenes which your actor performs on nationwide TV, not to mention being captioned to make sure we’ve checked your full name.

Blitz Kids, Myra, Philip Sallon, Boy George

Blitz Kids Myra and Philip Sallon: two more of Boy George’s circle airbrushed out of the TV drama, Worried About the Boy

Both book and play parade basketsful of dirty washing in public and some of George’s former pals will be grateful for having been air-brushed out of history. In this TV drama some names have been changed. The puzzle is that others have not. Kirk is Kirk, Jon is Jon… but Wilf becomes “Vernon”.

The past decade has produced a clutch of TV docs that reckoned the Blitz scene was full of “gender-benders” (the tabloids’ sanitised euphemism for gays and, worse, transvestites). In reality you’d be hardpressed to find any 100% trannies at the Blitz, not even George or his bitter-sweet sidekick Marilyn (a handsome boy called Peter Robinson who lived daily life as a Monroe doppelganger). Yes, the fashion was for New Romantic lads to wear mascara and frilly shirts and flouncy pants and even Big Tone Hadley makes jokes about wearing his grannie’s blouse onstage, but most Blitz boys didn’t actually wear girls’ clothes, at least not underneath. (Don’t ask me how I know; there are some things a man has ways of knowing.) Even the brief “men in skirts” era revolved round plaid kilts, not your actual skirts.

The truth is that for all the media-bending, the Blitz divided down the middle into a club of at least four or five halves where the screaming queens comprised but one of them. By mid-1980 when the Blitz standouts were clocking column inches as hot media celebs and record contracts began to look possible, at the earliest opportunity the straight factions broke away to establish distinctly less gay clubnights at Hell, Le Kilt and ultimately the legendary and exceedingly hetero Beat Route.

Boy George, Blitz Kids, London, 1980, 1981, Wilf, Kirk

Early pashes: George at the Blitz in March 1980 with Wilf, whose name has been changed for the 2010 TV play (photograph © by http://www.homersykes.com); right, with Kirk aboard a coach for a daytrip to Brighton in spring 1981 (photograph © by Richard Law)

Inevitably there was always overlap. What certainly caused confusion among both the gay boys and the envious girls was the nonchalant gender-bending by some straight boys, either just for the sake of adopting a trendy stance before the cameras in this burgeoning Pose Age, or to bait the girls (campness can present a very effective challenge to the fair sex), or simply because being what today’s dating websites dub “bi-curious” was, you know, “a phase they were going through”. So feistier females became fighting termagants in order to stake their claims on the goodlooking males. Never doubt, however, that hell hath no fury like a jealous queen.

◼ THIS IS WHERE GEORGE O’DOWD’S TRACK RECORD landed him in the poo. By his own account in TILAM, life was a shagathon, he was always “eager” for one-night stands and landed “a long line of boys who couldn’t make their minds up until they’d had a few beers”. The BBC drama dwells on three nice straight lads who fell for him – “Vernon”, Kirk and then Jon (pictured here on their first date). Today IRL (such a neat online term) they are all family men whose pasts seem fated to guarantee them no chance of a private life.

Blitz Kids, Marilyn, Peter Robinson, Planets club, London, 1981

Marilyn at Planets club, 1981: Peter Robinson lived his life as the Hollywood legend. Photographed © by Shapersofthe80s

Other onscreen characters have had their names changed possibly for fears of legal action, though probably out of sheer expedience and economy of casting. Actors play Rusty Egan and Marilyn under those names, but George’s immediate circle of friends has been creatively down-sized around the 1980 squat at No 19 Great Titchfield Street (an onscreen amalgamation of the four Soho squats the Blitz Kids liked to call homes).

An early version of the Worried script included Christos Tolera (expunged), Andy Polaris (expunged), and it had even changed Barry Brien’s pet rat to a guinea pig (both expunged)! The broadcast version sees Slag Sue and Myra seemingly merged into a punkette called Mo (guesswork, this), while Hilda is renamed Sarah and the tragic Mitsu becomes Dawn. The real offence against humanity is to have dispensed with two Blitz superstars, sarky Philip Sallon and witty Stephen Linard – the beacon of his year on the St Martin’s fashion course – and to see them combined into one sharp queen called Christopher. Both were (*are*) very possessive about their distinctive lines in banter which now tumble from one boy’s lips, even though he is dressed head to toe in one of Linard’s unique silhouettes, his renowned tartan Culloden outfit.

In fact, the script is mighty short on the acid oneliners that ricocheted between George’s bitchy friends, despite the talent assembled by Red Productions. The person who comes out worst is club host Steve Strange, depicted as a thoroughly nasty piece of work (which he wasn’t IRL), seated on a throne beckoning to his minions within the Blitz (pure fiction). This is naked point-scoring by George who was famously sacked by Strange for pilfering in the cloakroom. George used to rage with envy over Strange’s media appeal. “We resented his self-appointment as king of the weird,” George explained. His envy was impotent, however. At this stage George was, as Malcolm McLaren says in Worried, “notorious for doing nothing”.

Boy George,  Blitz club, London , 1979

Reluctant cloakroom attendant, 1979: George took the job at the Blitz for the money, and was sacked by Steve Strange for pilfering

Sunday’s play ends in 1986, with George an international superstar, millionaire and heroin junkie, sacked by his band, bravely facing the future. Yet within a decade he’d returned to point-scoring, writing the book, TILAM, as payback for his downfall, in which he tears to shreds virtually all his friends, outing straight lovers and settling scores with venom.

Only last month in Midge Ure’s radio documentary, Rocking the Blitz, onetime i-D editor Dylan Jones reminded us that along with the energy and the fun, many young people became casualties of that decadent decade, as some perceive the 80s. “The New Romantic period for a lot of people was just extreme hedonism,” he says. “And as we know extreme hedonism only leads to one conclusion. A lot of people got off the track. I know at least five people who died of serious drug problems during that period.”

Boy George, Twitter, May 15, 2010

Boy George tweeting, May 15, 2010

Sudden fame, fabulous wealth and tragic fates are not unique to 80s popstars, as the long saga of rock ’n’ roll testifies.

George O’Dowd did indeed sail a flagship for hedonism yet today at the age of 48 he is alive and kicking and back on the road singing, despite his jailbird past. After watching Worried About the Boy, any viewers looking for the secret to his survival, could give the book a glance. Take It Like a Man is an I-don’t-believe-it horror story and runs to 500 pages. It is also a page-turner, so do plough on. Examine his life because amid the histrionics George has quite a few lessons to teach us.

Text © Shapersofthe80s.com


➢ ABOVE: ♫ The real Culture Club’s first appearance on Top of the Pops, 1982, which is recreated for the play, Worried About the Boy

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