Boy George sits in a lounge at 3Arena Dublin, branded oversized gray felt hat, dark suit adorned with the peace symbol, yin and yang symbol and adorned with the word “LOVE” on the back. color.
Boy George, named George Alan O’Dowd, celebrated his 60th birthday in June. He has struggled with drug addiction and spent time in jail after being convicted of assault and forcible confinement, but here the pop icon looks quite confident and content again.
He made a lot of new music and came to Ireland to take part in Virgin Media’s new talent show, The Big Deal. Hosted by Vogue Williams, George joins a panel of judges including comedian Deirdre O’Kane, singer Aston Merrygold, Jedward and music star Cork Lyra.
But first, let’s talk about fashion. “I rarely wear anything designer,” he says when asked about his costume. “I’m looking for artisans and I’ve been fortunate to find characters who can customize things or craft things for me.
“I love fashion and I love the excitement of the fashion shows, but I never want to show up in the same jacket as, like Gary Barlow. I wouldn’t want to wear the same jacket as someone else. – and the worst is when they are prettier than you. Cue dirty laughter and blinking green eyes.
George says the most liberating event of the past five years is his realization that he had to go out of his own way in creative ways. “I finally realized that there is no originality and if you fear being original you somehow hamper your own creativity … when you get into the world of music you sign a deal with a bunch of people who don’t know anything about what you’re doing, ”he says.
“It’s an ironic thing that all you hear is’ No ‘-‘ You can’t wear this, you can’t do that, you can’t say this, you’re the wrong color, you don’t have the right sexuality… ‘It’s quite astonishing when you think [the music industry] is supposed to be that creative stronghold. As I got older I realized that I had to learn something in the last 40 years in this business and I feel like I support myself more. I don’t listen to people who can’t do what I’m doing.
Growing up with her Irish mother Dinah O’Dowd, who left Ireland for the UK while pregnant with George’s older half-brother in 1957, and an Irish-born father, meant frequent visits to the UK. Ireland when he was a child. Has Ireland changed a lot since those first visits? “I feel like Ireland has changed, but at the same time I think the world has changed a lot. That said, there are a lot of places where change is desperately needed, in fact in some ways Ireland is ahead of a lot of places.
“I have a lot of connections in Finglas, Dublin and in the same-sex marriage referendum it was one of the first places to vote ‘Yes’ so I was really excited about that. I thought ‘It must be something to do with my loved ones – there are a lot of them,’ he laughs heartily.
“But yes, I have the impression that it is not necessarily the countries, it is the people, it is often the people in power who are afraid of change, afraid of not having a voice …”
Boy George once said that he was more interested in a cup of tea than sex and he thinks that “homophobes are very excited about what they think we are doing.”
“They forget that we have jobs to do, bills to pay, other things to distract us. I joke that my sexuality takes about four hours a month (if I’m lucky) so people focus on what they think we’re doing and to some extent a lot of pictures and references to gay culture are very sexualized.
At 60, he says his generation grew up with a level of brutality that young people today don’t quite understand. “People beaten up at home, on the streets, abused by the media – people saying the most offensive things for which they would be immediately canceled. I was always getting hit at school and there was nothing you could do about it. And then, of course, if you went home and told your dad about it, you’d get hit again. This generation didn’t have to deal with that and that’s great news. “
Despite the progress, George says he still frequently encounters homophobia today. “I’m not saying that there is no work to do, and that we live in Utopia, but women are fighting back more, transgender people are starting to have a voice, LGBTQI + people are starting to say, ‘I will not tolerate being marginalized ‘. ”
George says he’s always been resilient and a “graffiti artist” and this has helped him come out of the many crises he has gone through in his personal and professional life. “I have never hesitated to work and I am not precious – when I was in a hole I did whatever was necessary to get out of that hole. When you are a clerk you will find a way out. to a seizure This is one of the things that I enjoy since my education – as soon as I was kicked out of school my mother sent me to the job center.
He says he now has the privilege of being able to choose to work on projects like The Big Deal: “I love watching Bake Off but I wouldn’t be on it. I love The Chase but I wouldn’t go over it.
He has already accumulated television experience on shows such as The Voice UK and The Voice Australia, where his honesty, ability to “kill” and unexpected kindness have made him a popular personality. As a judge on The Big Deal, he says he doesn’t really know what he’s looking for until he sees it.
“I am looking for honesty. If someone comes along and is a little fragile, it can be so beautiful. I always tell people that if they are supposed to do this, nothing will get in the way. “Vulnerability is an essential element of success. Sometimes on these shows the most successful people look nothing like pop stars. When I started, I was called a “drag queen”, a “circus act”, nobody believed that little girls were going to put posters of me on their walls. This beautiful contradiction is still as important as it ever was – which is why people like Lizzo succeed – it’s about breaking the rules and challenging people’s stereotypes.
Now that he’s turned his back on sex, drugs and the rock’n’roll lifestyle, he says he enjoys making art and music. This year he released tracks online and aims to produce 60 tracks to coincide with his 60th birthday.
Lack of work during the Covid lockdown caused George to sell the rights to some of his music. He still loves the songs he has produced over the decades, but doesn’t like to just look to the past.
“I’m only interested in what I’m doing now. Nostalgia is racketeering. I’m a songwriter, it’s my job.
He jokes that he earns 20p every time Karma Chameleon is on the radio and says signing a recording deal is like signing a pact with the devil.
Recently returning to music and songwriting, he describes what he does now as “nostalgia for the future”. “I feel that my standards are still the same but my expectations are more realistic… This year I have made music in a non-traditional and anarchic way.”
He released a Cool Karaoke album, Vol 1, in January of this year and released a new single Best Thing Since Sliced Bread in time for his birthday. “I’m kind of making myself happy. I’ve been told for years that things won’t work or that no one will play and I feel like I don’t care. I feel like defying the rules will pay me dividends in the long run.
“I had long periods where I didn’t do music, where I was distracted and I had tragedies in my life and I feel like this year I really fell again love my job It’s so rewarding I didn’t do it I don’t realize how much I love being in the studio and the process of writing a song.
A new love of music. and a new TV show … Boy George is back.
- The Big Deal begins on Virgin Media One on Saturday, September 4
“This year I was able to figure out how to do it. I have no training as a musician. I’m a storyteller so I write the lyrics and the melody and people make the music and I write on it. I would say it’s like pointing and masonry – if you work on it you get better. I feel like I’m doing my best right now.
“I worked with a vocal coach for four or five years. Additionally, working with an actor coach has in some ways been more helpful as it relates to the physical emotions in the body. I realized how much of a physical thing singing is. At the start of my career I wanted to be in control – now I want to be out of control. “
“It’s a fascinating show in the sense that it’s a music show and a game show – it’s interesting to see artists who refuse the money and still get sent home. My attitude is to ‘read the play’ and ‘do the math’.
“One person is going to win, right? And it’s not a condemnation of your talent to say ‘I’ll take the money and come back next year’ or ‘I’ll do something else’ because every opportunity creates another opportunity.
“I like the variety. I grew up in the 1970s when there were some amazing variety shows and you see the audience – people want to hear different things.
“There used to be a fantastic snobbery about variety shows, but now they’re mainstream. I think a lot of it is about emotion – a lot of these shows are actually about the emotional journey of the person and that’s true for every artist – why do people fall in love with a certain artist ? It’s not just the music. You cannot separate the person from what they wear, what they think politically, who they are sexually, their culture.