“I feel like modern culture is on a loop,” says Boy George, sitting in his publicist’s office, 33 storeys above London’s Euston Road.
“Every time I come out to promote something I’m answering the same questions over and over. I’m fascinated by how little original thought there is in the world.”
Gulp. No pressure then.
Luckily, the 57-year-old is a hugely entertaining raconteur. He’s ostensibly here to promote Culture Club’s new album Life – their first in 19 years – but our chat spans everything from Marlene Dietrich to Primark T-shirts and the fact he shares his birthday with Donald Trump, Che Guevara and Alan Carr. “It’s the maddest thing,” he cackles.
He’s obsessed with Twitter (“If it’s funny, then tweet it”) and fascinated by the narcissism of the social media generation.
“Everyone’s looking in the mirror,” he observes. “Boys in their underwear, girls pouting, people with surgery faces. They’re all promoting themselves. Pop culture is insane right now.”
A lot of people made the same argument when George first appeared on Top of the Pops in 1982, heavily made up with white ribbons tied through his hair, blurring gender lines in an era when most LGBT pop stars kept their sexuality hidden.
Culture Club went on to score worldwide success with songs like Karma Chameleon and Do You Really Want To Hurt Me, but their popularity waned in the late 80s, and George fell into heroin addiction.
The band split in 1986, but George recovered and scored sporadic solo hits with tracks like Everything I Own and The Crying Game, before establishing himself as a successful dance DJ in the 1990s.
Scandal hit his career again in 2006, when he pleaded guilty to falsely reporting a burglary in New York. Then, in London in 2009, he was sentenced to 15 months in jail for the false imprisonment of Audun Carlsen, a model and escort, at one point handcuffing him to a wall.
He served four months and has since quit drink and drugs.
The transformation inspired many of the lyrics on Life, where songs are titled things like Different Man, and Let Somebody Love You.
In the video for the title track, the star appears with no hat and no makeup, shedding tears as he sings about hope and redemption. It’s one of the most vulnerable, revealing moments of his career.
“Twenty years ago, I would have been much more bothered about what people thought about the way I looked,” he says of the decision to shed his stage persona, “but I’ve worked on making myself less uptight.
“I wouldn’t say I’m completely zen now, but it’s something I aim for.”
Here’s some of the other wisdom Boy George has collected over the last 30 years.
You don’t have to win every argument
When I was 19, I wanted everyone to like me, because fame is about seeking approval, and that means you’re always at the mercy of what people think.
I used to get really upset about negative comments or judgments, to the point where I’d ring people up or write them a letter, or even send them a fax, to set the record straight.
But I think I’ve learned in the last 10 years to protect myself a bit more from my own reactions. Having the last word isn’t necessarily such a great thing.
Song titles should be memorable
That came from listening to Marc Bolan. You know, Salamanda Palaganda, She Was Born To Be A Unicorn; The King Of The Mountain Cometh. I grew up with those songs – and that’s where Karma Chameleon came from.
Marc Bolan’s lyrics were completely esoteric: “I bought a car / It was old but kind / I gave it my mind / And it disappeared” (from Spaceball Ricochet). Who writes stuff like that? You can’t fake it.
Never judge your fans
When we played in America last year, there were definitely Trump supporters at our gigs. That’s fine. That’s not an issue for me. If we were to have a conversation about it, maybe it would get heated, but I’m not going to do that in a place where I’m trying to entertain people and trying to bring in a positive frequency into their lives.
I’m not going to ruin a gig by going off on a rant about something – which I would have done 20 years ago.
Everyone turns into their parents eventually
I was really taken aback when I saw the video for Life. I was like, “Ooooh! I look like my dad!” So there it is: I am my father’s son, despite all my attempts as a teenager to not be like him.
I grew up in quite a masculine house – I had four brothers and one sister – and challenging that was difficult. When I left school, all my brothers worked for my dad [a builder] and I was always saying: “No, I’m not doing that.” I didn’t know what my plans were but I knew they were bigger.
And now, in the video, I look just like my dad. I even found myself saying things he used to say. Things like, “my house, my rules”. I said that to a partner years ago and I was horrified – so I’ve stopped myself.
My voice improved with age
I can do a lot of things I couldn’t do when I first started singing. I can do a lot of things I couldn’t do five years ago.
There are lots of reasons: I gave up smoking, changed my lifestyle massively, started to work with a singing teacher and started to really understand how physical singing is. I even worked on things like elocution. I do these mad tongue exercises now.
But a lot of the stuff I’ve learned is stuff I was told 20 years ago. I just didn’t listen back then!
Be careful what you say in interviews
Yesterday someone asked me why I was crying in the new video and I said, “I’m crying about Donald Trump” – and instantly I was like, “Oh no! Now I’ve given them the headline!”
I understand that writers are always looking for something interesting to say – but it was a joke, you know?
Going incognito has its benefits
I went out to a club last year in complete disguise. My friend painted a mask and put these big, mad, surgically-enhanced lips on it. But the security were like, “You have to take off your mask”. I said [putting on a stagey Italian diva accent], “No dahlink, you crazy! I don’t take off!”
So I had to go home in a cab… and the cab driver’s face! He was saying, “Are you a bloke or a woman?” and I said, “Everything dahlink!”
It was a fun night – well the journey there and back was fun. Not getting into the club was… whatever. You wouldn’t have had that in the 70s and the 80s. We’re so much more boring now. But I’m not!