Boy George talks about his new talent show, his Finglas family and his work ethic

Boy George sits in a lounge at Dublin’s 3Arena, an oversized gray felt hat, a dark suit adorned with the symbol of peace, yin and yang and featuring the word ‘LOVE’ on the back in colorful yarn.

Boy George, named George Alan O’Dowd, celebrated his 60th birthday in June. He struggled with drug addiction and spent time in jail after an assault and forcible confinement conviction, but here the pop icon seems quite confident and contented again.

He made a lot of new music and came to Ireland to take part in Virgin Media’s new talent show, The Big Deal. Presented by Vogue Williams, George joins a panel of judges including comedian Deirdre O’Kane, singer Aston Merrygold, Jedward and Cork music star Lyra.

But let’s talk about fashion first. “I rarely wear anything designer,” he says when asked about his costume. “I’m looking for artisans and I’ve been very lucky to find characters who can customize things or craft things for me.

“I love fashion and I love the excitement of fashion shows, but I never want to show up in the same jacket as Gary Barlow, for example. I wouldn’t want to wear the same jacket as someone else. other – and the worst is when they look better than you Cue dirty laughter and blinking green eyes.

George says the most liberating event of the past five years is his realization that he had to get out of his own way creatively. “I finally realized that originality doesn’t exist and if you’re worried about being original you’re kind of hampering your own creativity…when you get into the music business you’re basically signing a deal with a bunch of people who know nothing about what you’re doing,” he says.

“It’s an ironic thing that all you hear is ‘No’ – ‘You can’t wear this, you can’t do that, you can’t say that, you’re the wrong color, you’re not of good sexuality’…’ It’s quite amazing when you think about [the music industry] is meant to be that creative stronghold. As I got older I realized that I had to learn something in the last 40 or so years in this business and I feel like I’m supporting myself more. I don’t listen to people who can’t do what I do.

Growing up with his Irish mother Dinah O’Dowd, who left Ireland for the UK while pregnant with George’s older half-brother in 1957, and a father of Irish descent, meant frequent visits to Ireland as a child. Has Ireland changed much since those first visits? “I feel like Ireland has changed, but at the same time I think the world has changed a lot. That said, there are a lot of places where change is desperately needed, in fact, at some respects, Ireland is ahead of many places.

“I have a lot of connections in Finglas, Dublin and in the referendum on same-sex marriage it was one of the first places to vote ‘Yes’, so I was really excited about that. I thought ‘ It must be something to do with my family – there are a lot of them,’ he laughs heartily.

“But yes, I have the impression that it’s not necessarily the countries, it’s the people, it’s often the people in power who are afraid of change, afraid of not having votes…”

Boy George once said he was more interested in a cup of tea than sex and he thinks “homophobes are very excited about what they think we are doing”.

“They forget that we have jobs to do, bills to pay, other things to distract us. I joke that my sexuality takes about four hours a month (if I’m lucky) so people are obsessed with what they think we’re doing and to some extent a lot of images and references to gay culture are very sexualized.

At 60, he says his generation grew up with a level of brutality that young people today don’t really understand. “People being beaten up in their homes, on the street, abused by the media – people saying the most offensive things they would be canceled for immediately now. I was always getting hit at school and there was nothing you could do about it. And and then, of course, if you went home and told your dad about it, you got hit again. This generation didn’t have to deal with that and that’s really good news.

Despite the progress, George says he still frequently encounters homophobia today. “I’m not saying there’s no work to be done, and we’re living in utopia, but women are standing up for themselves more, transgender people are starting to have a voice, LGBTQI+ people are starting to say: ‘I will not tolerate being marginalized’ ‘.”

George says he has always been resilient and a “grafter” and that has helped him out of the many crises he has been through in his personal and professional life. “I’ve never been shy about working and I’m not precious – when I’ve been in a hole, I’ve done whatever it takes to get out of that hole. When you’re transplanted, you’ll find a way to getting out of a crisis is one of the things I appreciate about my upbringing – as soon as I was kicked out of school, my mother sent me to the job centre.

Big Deal: Jedward, Lyra, Boy George, Aston Merrygold, Vogue Williams, Deirdre O’Kane.

He says he is now privileged to be able to choose to work on projects such as The Big Deal: “I love watching Bake Off but I wouldn’t be on it. I love The Chase but I wouldn’t go over it.

He has already accumulated TV panel experience on shows such as The Voice UK and The Voice Australia, where his honesty, ability to “kill” and unexpected kindness made him a popular personality. As a judge on The Big Deal, he says he doesn’t really know what he’s looking for until he sees it.

“I seek honesty. If someone comes along and they’re a little fragile, it can be so beautiful. I always tell people that if they’re supposed to do this, nothing’s going to get in their way. “Vulnerability is a major element of success. Sometimes on these shows, the most successful people look nothing like pop stars. When I started, they called me a “drag queen”, a “circus act”, nobody believed that little girls were going to put posters of me on their walls. This beautiful contradiction is still so important – that’s why people like Lizzo succeed – it’s about breaking the rules and challenging people’s stereotypes.

Now that he’s turned his back on sex, drugs and the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, he says he’s getting his kicks in art and music. This year he released tracks online and aims to produce 60 tracks to coincide with his 60th birthday.

Lack of work during the Covid lockdown meant George sold the rights to some of his music. He still loves the tracks he’s produced over the decades, but isn’t just keen on looking back.

“I’m only interested in what I’m doing now. Nostalgia is a racket. I’m a songwriter, that’s my job.

He jokes that he earns 20p every time Karma Chameleon is on the radio and says that signing a recording contract is like signing a pact with the devil.

Recently returning to making music and writing songs, he describes what he does now as “nostalgia for the future”. “I feel like my standards are still the same but my expectations are more realistic…This year I’ve been making music in a non-traditional and anarchic way.”

He released a Cool Karaoke album Vol 1 in January this year and released a new single Best Thing Since Sliced ​​Bread in time for his birthday. “I’m kind of enjoying myself. I’ve been told for years that things won’t work out or no one will play and I feel like I don’t care. I feel like defying the rules will pay me dividends in the long run.

“I had long periods of not making music, being distracted and having drama in my life and I feel like this year I fell in love with it all over again. my job. It was so fulfilling. I don’t realize how much I love being in the studio and the process of writing a song.

A new love of music. and a new TV show… Boy George is back.

  • The Big Deal starts on Virgin Media One on Saturday, September 4

Boy George and the Art of Music

“This year, I was able to figure out how to do it. I have no training as a musician. I’m a storyteller so I write the lyrics and the melody and the people make the music and I write to it. I would say it’s like grouting and masonry – if you work on it, you get better at it. I feel like I’m doing my best right now.

“I worked with a voice coach for four or five years. Also, working with an acting coach has in some ways been more helpful as it relates to the physical emotions in the body. I realized how much singing is a physical thing. Early in my career I wanted to be in control – now I want to be out of control.”

Boy George on the big deal

“It’s a fascinating show in that it’s a music show and a game show – it’s been interesting to watch artists who turn down the money and still get sent home. My attitude is to “read the play” and “do the math”.

“A person is going to win, right? And it’s not a condemnation of your talent to say ‘I’ll take the money and come back next year’ or ‘I’ll do something else’ because every opportunity create another.

“I like variety. I grew up in the 1970s when there were amazing variety shows and you see the audience – people want to hear different things.

“There used to be a fantastic snobbery about variety shows, but now they’re mainstream. I think a lot of it is about emotion – a lot of these shows are actually about the emotional journey of the person and that’s true of every artist – why do people fall in love with a certain artist? It’s not just the music. You can’t separate the person from what they’re wearing, that what she thinks politically, who she is sexually, what her culture is.

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