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'I'm not a road sweeper, I'm not a drug addict... I'm a musician'

There are only two things ex-Culture Club singer and superstar DJ Boy George will not talk about – the exact length of time he has been off drugs and and his forthcoming trial for false imprisonment. As he arrives to play Preston Guild Hall this week, Judith Dornan pushes the boundaries

Famously exposed as a heroin addict by his brother at the height of his fame with Culture Club, Boy George is no stranger to falling off the wagon.

And he recently announced he had secretly relapsed back into old habits but was now clean again. Asked when he turned the corner, he bridles. "I'm off them. Absolutely off. Off completely."

The tabloids said you had been clean for about six months this time? "No, I've been clean longer than that." How long then? "Mind your own business, hahaha! All you need to know is that I'm clean. The time is irrelevant."

The one other subject off the menu is his forthcoming trial for the incident allegedly involving the false imprisonment of a male model in George's flat. At the mere mention, he cuts you off sharply.

"Oh, I can't talk about that. No, not at all. Don't want to either. No, I can't," before adding teasingly, "I'm being diplomatic. I'll talk about it after but not before."

Diplomacy isn't what he's famous for. Since his days leading1980s pop sensations Culture Club, he's been known for his outrageous style, even more outrageous lifestyle and scalpel-sharp one-liners.

And today is no exception. Marooned in some anonymous beige London hotel room – Room 101, would you believe – where his PR company has inexplicably decided his interviews must be held, he's on incisive form.

He sniffs: "Yes, well, I could have done this from home, I don't know why they made me come here.

"I live up the road and I've got quite a nice house so I could be there... but anyway, we're here. Although lunch is free so I suppose that's something."

His acid tongue carried him through more than two decades at the top, through record-breaking chart toppers with Culture Club to a successful solo career, to reinventing himself as a DJ and even writing his own life story in the Tony-nominated musical Taboo.

But there were terrible lows – the disintegration of Culture Club amid the fallout from the secret relationship between George and drummer Jon Moss – George later admitted most of Culture Club's songs were about Moss – and the exposure of George as a heroin addict by his own brother.

He got community service in America after a bizarre incident in 2005 in which police, called by George to his home in the middle of the night, arrested him for cocaine possession. Convicted of wasting police time, his appearance in orange overalls sweeping the New York streets caused a paparazzi frenzy.

He has lasting contempt for paps. "A couple of weeks ago, I came out of this theatre thing and I stopped for this photographer. He took my picture and then he followed me up the road because he was hoping I'd die on the way to the car. How many photos do you want of me walking up the road in the same outfit?"

But he insists the drugs are gone forever. He says: "The first time I gave up drugs, I think I was forced into it by all the media so it was a sense of like I was giving up partying. This time around, I definitely didn't see it like that, I saw it as getting my life back.

"I just reached a point where it was like Groundhog Day. And if you look at the George Michael thing or the Amy Winehouse thing, it just looks really sweaty and chaotic and hideous.

"I'm not a road sweeper, I'm not a drug addict, I'm a musician."

He recently commented on George Michael's latest brush with the law in the tabloids but says: "It's one of those things, trust him to get arrested when I've got a record coming out! The timing stinks! But I'm not commenting on him in any scathing way, I can see how mad it is."

In 1985, his younger brother, David, exposed him as a heroin addict. George says: "I hated him! It's like, how dare you tell people? You think, Oh, sooo over-dramatic! Why are they doing this to me? I'm quite happy! Of course, you're not. But you can only think about those things in hindsight. At the time, you're just not rational."

He says he's finally learned to appreciate life. "I've spent a lot of my life consumed with my own dramas, not being present at really important times in my life.

"You know, you're at the Taj Mahal and you're having a row with Jon or you're at the Grand Canyon and you're on a mobile phone. I have learnt to be present and just to enjoy stuff."

He describes Culture Club as "nightmare soap opera" and says now: "We shared out all the money equally and we tried to be a democracy but success kinda amplifies the ego.

"When you get really successful, you lose control so you're just riding this wave and some people get left behind. I remember Roy being turned away from one of our parties in New York and really getting upset."

Within the band, George himself felt belittled. He said: "There was a lot of, 'Oh, go shopping, why don't you?' or, 'You don't even know what key it's in!' Even though I wrote most of the stuff."

So, when it all fell apart and he went solo, he admits: "It was a relief because I was working with musicians who respected me for what I'd already done."

The achievement he's most proud of is making his own life story into stage extravaganza, Taboo. Playing outrageous performance artist Leigh Bowery, he ended up watching "himself" on stage.

He says: "It was very weird, particularly in America, because people were really affectionate to the Boy George character and very hostile to Leigh.

"I don't think New York was ready for a man in a tutu with latex dripping down his head and a big pair of boobs. My first scene in America was coming out of a toilet so there was instant hostility and it really made me more hostile towards the audience."

Nominated for both a Tony and an Olivier, they lost out. He says: "We were robbed! Obviously, it went to Wicked! I mean, come on!

"They had their speeches out before they even announced who'd won. I saw them, I was sitting behind them and they pulled their speeches out, I was like, oh, this is sooo fixed!"

His new single, Yes, We Can, samples US presidential hopeful Barrack Obama but George insists: "It's about me! Every song you write is about yourself. I just think he's got a great speaking voice, you know so I hired him in to do backing vocals."

And he's writing songs for others these days – including one for Kylie. But he laughs: "Her A&R man said it was too Kylie. I don't know what he meant by that.

"I'm actually doing something for Kanye West on Monday. My friend Amanda Ghost is a big songwriter at the moment.

"She met with Kanye a couple of weeks ago and he loved Karma Chameleon and he's looking for real songs. Whether or not he does it is another story! He might say it's too Kanye West!"

* Boy George plays Preston Guild Hall on Thursday, October 23. Tickets are 25 from.prestonguildhall.com

 
 
 

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