By Jeremy Miles
Boy George’s Karma really does seem to have a chameleon-like quality. How many other 47-year-old former heroin addicts about to face trial for unlawful imprisonment would be likely to laugh happily and tell you how incredibly they lucky they are?
This one-time doyen of the New Romantics is due in court next month after being accused of chaining a 28-year-old male escort to a radiator at his London flat. You’d never know it though.
Despite the fact that, theoretically at least, he could be facing 15 years in jail, George is cool, calm and collected and concentrating on the positive.
He has just released a new single – Yes We Can – a message of hope complete with samples from Barack Obama’s speeches, and he is currently on a major new UK tour which includes a concert at Bournemouth Pavilion on October 24.
Yet a full quarter of a century after the young George O’Dowd was catapulted to stardom as Boy George, this latest flurry of activity is being seen by some as a last-ditch attempt by a middle-aged has-been to kick a stagnant career back into life.
Certainly on paper it looks pretty desperate. An eighties pop star who has endured years of addictions, run-ins with the law and tawdry tabloid headlines trying to prove that he’s still got what it takes.
George couldn’t care less. When I caught up with him at a London hotel recently he was reflective about his past, optimistic about his future and dismissive of those who bad-mouth him.
“Has been, never was, never would have been… it’s irrelevant,” he laughs. “I’ve heard all those things so many times. I’ve learnt not to take things like that seriously … they don’t define me anymore.”
Although unable to talk about the forthcoming trial for legal reasons George seemed both content and grounded. Witty and talkative, he explained how he is finally clean of drugs and feels that the roller coaster that has been his life is levelling into something more positive and meaningful..
He admits that dealing with his problems under the glare of international media spotlight has been far from easy but insists “Apart from the fact that everything I do is documented I’m no different from anyone else.
“I’ve finally learnt that the trick is not to do those things that get you into trouble in the first place.
“I have now made a decision that I will try and avoid any of that kind of thing in the future. I’ve just had enough of it. I suppose it’s great to be able to say that I can still get arrested, but it’s not what I want.”
He speaks sympathetically about his old friend and eighties contemporary George Michael who ran into yet another storm of headlines last month after being caught using crack cocaine in a public lavatory.
“I just hope he’ll come to his own point of realisation, just like I did,” George told me. “From the outside looking in I can see how chaotic and sweaty and miserable it must be for him, but when you’re in that situation it’s really hard to be clear-minded. When you’re doing that stuff you can’t see how boring it is. It’s only when you come through the other side that you think ‘Oh My God. What was I thinking of?’
Boy George knows from bitter experience that drugs can literally steal your life.
“You end up not coping with things at all. You think you are but you’re not. You’re just going round and round in circles. In the last year or so I reached the point where I suddenly realised: ‘I’ve done nothing for four years, what is going on?’ So I made a choice and that’s what you have to do. Nobody can do it for you. Those who love you, your friends and family, can nag you and they can point it out to you but, until you’re ready to make that leap, nothing’s going to change.”
Having made the decision to turn his life around George says he hugely excited by this new phase in his career.
There has he admits been a long break from making music.
“I haven’t really released a record in 10 years. So I suppose I’m kind of re-booting myself like a computer.”
George claims that many of his career moves have been “instinctive” but argues that he has always been a realist.
“I think for a long time I was the only person who actually realised the eighties were over. I took a break round about the time the charts were being flooded by boy bands and that whole reality TV thing. I just felt as though I didn’t have a place anymore but recently I’ve begun to feel it’s a good time to start making music again.”
At the height of his fame Boy George was one of the most recognizable people on the planet. Flamboyant, camp and highly quoteable he was rarely out of the newspapers.
He laughs about it now but says it all got decidedly out of hand.
“When you first experience that stuff (fame and celebrity) you don’t stop to analyse it, you just go with it . Suddenly there are people taking your picture and writing about you but at the time it all seems kind of normal.
“It’s only with hindsight that you suddenly realise: ‘Oh I shouldn’t have done that or I shouldn’t have said that.’ Only afterwards that you start thinking about it and it dawns on you that maybe that wasn’t such a good idea after all.”
But fame can be a distorting beast and George certainly wasn’t above throwing the occasional spectacular celebrity strop. Looking back he says he now realises how utterly stupid it all got.
“I don’t get fixated on silly details anymore. The way I look at my life now is that I do something I really love and I get paid for it. I’ve learnt to enjoy what’s happening to me rather than being distracted by stupid things that don’t really matter.”
“I can remember at the height of Culture Club being flown across the Grand Canyon in a glass helicopter and not even really remembering being there because I was too busy having a row with Jon (Jon Moss his former lover and band mate). It was all because he’d looked at someone. You know I thought he was trying to get off with one of Bananarama or something. How ridiculous is that?
“Now I’ve learnt to enjoy my life and be able to think ‘You know what, this is amazing. Aren’t I lucky!”