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Strange Days - Boy George

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I suppose most of you will be familiar with the Talking Heads song Once in a Lifetime. There's a point in the song where David Byrne sings "How did I get here?" It always reminds me of those moments where you have a sudden realisation of the the raw reality of your life; exactly what it is that you are doing, exactly where you are. Not only that, but all those choices, decisions, coincidences and forks in the road that led to this specific set of circumstances, this exact point in space, time, your life. this "awakening can be quite mundane, but just as easily uplifting, shocking, enlightening, depressing or completely bizarre.

I've had more than a few of those last in my life, but the picture that accompanies this post always reminds me of one of them. This particular event took place early in 2002, I think, although the actual event is quite clear in my mind, the precise date escapes me. My girlfriend at the time was a Make-up Artist by the name of Christine Bateman, whose sister Nicola had been married to the larger than life performance artist Leigh Bowery. As a consequence of this Christine was hired by Boy George to design the hair, wigs and make-up for the stage production of his musical Taboo, named after the infamous nightclub once run by his friend Leigh and in which he was a major character.

Thanks to Christine, Danila and I were asked to create some stage jewellery for the show. George asked me to make a chain that he could wear on his face, not only for the show but also so that every time he was photographed for some magazine, it would help to publicise the show. When it was ready I went round to the theatre and asked the manager where I could find George and was informed that he was backstage. I found him in the dressing room, sitting quietly on his own and reading Northern Lights by Phillip Pullman. We exchanged the kind of greetings and peasantries that Englishmen are accostomed to exchange and I showed him the completed chain.

He was very appreciative and asked me if I would put on for him. It was halfway though the process that I had my little epiphany. It suddenly struck me that this was Boy George. I remembered seeing him for the first time on Top of the Pops; I remembered teenage classroom discussions and speculations in the red-top press about his gender and sexual preferences; I remembered TV appearances and interviews. This man created Culture Club and attracted more attention, spawned more imitators than any other group or individual of the 1980s New Romantic Movement; some might say he was the definitive 80s pop icon. He even had a puppet on Spitting Image. Somehow two decades later despite no connetion to the theatre or the world of popular music, I found myself standing backstage in a West End theatre, casual as you like, as if this happened to me every day, with my finger up his nose.

As John Lennon once sang...

"Strange days indeed."


By Russell Lownsbrough

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