Encounter: Boy George

The Eighties’ most flamboyant pop star is sober, fit and finally making music again

Boy George in New York
Peter Yang
By Rob Sheffield
Apr 06, 2014

BOY GEORGE LOUNGES on a comfy love seat in the bar of New York’s posh Soho Grand Hotel, chatting in the Saturday-­afternoon winter sunlight, as the DJ spins Lorde’s “Royals.” All the chic people in this room have undoubtedly heard of Boy George – but nobody notices the Boy himself is right here. With his new beard and a discreet wool hat, the Culture Club star could pass for an ordinary guy – one thing he’s never been accused of being. “I’ve learned to slip by unnoticed,” he says proudly. “On the street, on the train – I pull my hat down and nobody knows it’s me. I always wanted the kind of fame that came with an off button.”

The fact that Boy George is sitting anywhere at all is an achievement in itself, after all his gaudy highs and lows in the public eye: growing up in London as the self-proclaimed pink sheep of his working-class Irish-Catholic family; global fame as the 1980s’ prettiest pop star, prancing in makeup on MTV to sing hits like “Karma Chameleon”; long-running success as a club DJ. Then his drug meltdowns in the 2000s, complete with prison time. And now his unlikely rebirth at 52, complete with his first album of new songs in 18 years.

“A lot of people wrote me off over the past 10 years,” George says, laughing merrily. “I can’t blame them – I would have written me off too, after all those car crashes I put myself through. ‘Oooh, there’s no way back from that little disaster.’ But I’ve always had an insanely optimistic streak, the part of me that says, ‘Things can’t stay as bad as they are now.’ It might be an Irish thing, I don’t know.”

Yet through all his nightmares, music kept him going: “I was always good at music. The one thing in my life I was spectacularly bad at was being a drug addict.”

These days George is a very different Boy than he used to be. He got sober for good in 2008. He looks 10 years younger than he did a decade ago – working out, keeping to a mostly raw vegan diet, practicing Nichiren Buddhism. He’s a more imposing physical presence than you might expect, tall and buff – he’s new to this whole fitness thing, but it agrees with him. In his toxic downward-spiral days, George’s larger-than-life stature made him a legendarily intimidating figure with a nasty stare – if you saw him in a New York club, you knew better than to smile or say hi. But now he’s all warmth, punctuating his words with hearty laughter. “When I was in the midst of all my chaos, I became quite maudlin and negative,” he says. “A friend told me, ‘Now you have your Irish charm back.’ ”

This is an extract. To read the full story, pick up a copy of Rolling Stone Middle East

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