Boy Wonder

Though he's far less shocking than he was 30 years ago, Boy George still has the power to make us gasp, let alone dance

Boy George

Boy George

MW: It’s true you’ve long referenced God in your music. You had a band called Jesus Loves You for a while 25 years ago. But have your views changed since then?

BOY GEORGE: I don’t think my views have really ever changed. I’m one of those just-in-case people. So I believe everything. I believe there’s a wizard behind the curtain. I believe all of that stuff. I don’t discount anything, because I don’t think you can. I think faith and love are all about the unknowingness really. That’s where the power lies, in the fact that none of us are really, really sure, you know? And the ones that are really sure — the really mad ones, sort-of unflinching — they’re the people you can’t really have a fluid conversation with. And you wouldn’t really want to base your belief system on someone like that. So I think you have to keep an open mind with faith and spirituality; with all things in life.

And I think all these things are kind of fluid and they do change. And when you grow up a bit, you change. When I was 19 I was very, very anti-the whole thing. As a teenager I thought, “Oh, I don’t believe in God. People that do are mad.” But as I’ve got older — I mean, I’m a practicing Buddhist. I’ve always embraced the idea of something more than this. There’s got to be more than this. But I’ve never been particularly literal about it. I practice Buddhism every day, and it adds something to my life as it is right now. I feel like Buddhism is a new ingredient that’s added something to all the wonderful things going on in my life right now. Added another light to what there is already. And I don’t think I’d be able to practice Buddhism if I wasn’t in a good place.

A lot of people have said to me, “Oh, has it helped you get clean and all this?” I think, well no, it hasn’t actually. I got myself clean. I feel like it’s something I’ve been able to come back to because I’m clean and because I’m in a pretty good state of mind. Buddhism isn’t really a religion, it’s more of a philosophy. It’s not like Catholicism. The way I describe myself is, I’m Catholic in my complications, Buddhist in my aspirations.

MW: Because you were raised Catholic?

BOY GEORGE: Very, very, very, very loosely and sketchily. My family, they go to church now. It’s a regular thing. Our priest, he’s like a family friend. Which is kind of very traditionally old Irish, you know. Back in the day, you used to hear stories about the priest coming around to the family home. But obviously it was a very different relationship back then. The priest was an oppressive figure that came around to make sure you weren’t using contraception — this is Ireland, you know. Came around to make sure you were pregnant, basically. [Laughs.] Which all the women were back then. It’s a slightly different relationship now. Our family priest is a lovely man, and he’s part of the family.

I’ve got friends who had very oppressive relationships with religion growing up, so they have a very different kind of attitude. I think it’s always about how it’s brought to you as a kid, isn’t it? We never had any of that kind of fear and loathing, or fire and brimstone. It was never presented to us in that way. So, I suppose that’s why I have a kind of pretty easy relationship with all of that stuff. But I have questions, like any sane person.

MW: Are you still close with your family?

BOY GEORGE: Very, very close. I’ve always been close to my family. I think having a big family has been a very good thing for me, because there’s always someone to watch your back. And maybe remind you when you’re not really behaving that well. Or messing up your life. It’s quite good to have a big Irish, interfering family. [Laughs.]

MW: Were they supportive of you in your interest in being a performer?

BOY GEORGE: I think my family was really quite relieved when I finally started a band, because I was meandering for a while, and nobody really knew what I was going to end up doing. I left school with no qualifications whatsoever. And I lived on my wits for a number of years. And when I finally got the band together, I think everybody was quite relieved. You hear stories about families being really disappointed when their kids become musicians. Mine were like, “Oh, that’s what you’re going to do. Well, that’s great. Well, that’s something.” It felt like it was a positive thing to my family. I think they were quite pleased. And also it happened really quickly for me. Once I decided I was going to make music, my career was kind of an overnight thing. Suddenly I was famous. It was just kind of bonkers, really.

MW: I know I’ve read it before, but I don’t remember: How did you get the name Boy George?

BOY GEORGE: Well I’ve always worn a lot of makeup, and I probably wore a whole lot more makeup when I was 17, 18. I remember we did some early photos for the band. And Jon Moss was going around to record companies. And everybody was like, “Who’s the girl? Wow, she’s beautiful! What’s her name?” And Jon was like, “No, that’s George.” So it kind of became a bit of a joke, because everywhere we’d go, people obviously thought I was a girl. People saw photos and thought I was a girl. And so I added the “Boy” as a sort-of humorous tack.

MW: And how do you feel about it now, being a middle-aged man still known the world over by the nickname Boy?

BOY GEORGE: As opposed to Man George? Well, I don’t feel like I have such a battle with my gender role or my sexual identity as I did at 17. But I’m not going to become the artist Formerly Known as Boy George. I mean, it’s my stage name, you know? I’m quite aware of the fact that I’m not a boy. I mean I’m definitely male. But I’m quite aware that I’m 52. It’s not like I’m deluding myself.

Doug Rule is a theater critic and contributing editor for Metro Weekly.

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