Boy George

Boy George shot to fame in the 80s as the lead singer of Culture Club, and his androgynous looks made him a poster boy for the New Romantics. But drug problems have followed him ever since.


George Alan O'Dowd grew up in a lively household with his four brothers and one sister. Despite being part of the large working class Irish brood, George has claimed to have had a lonely childhood, referring to himself as the "pink sheep" of the family.

To stand out in the male-dominated household he created his own image on which he became dependent. "It didn't bother me to walk down the street and to be stared at. I loved it," he later reminisced.

George wasn't exactly a typical student and with a leaning more towards arts rather than science and maths, he found it hard to fit in with traditional conformist masculine subjects. With his schoolwork suffering and an ongoing battle of wits between him and his teachers, it wasn't long before the school gave up and expelled George over his increasing outlandish behaviour and outrageous clothes and makeup.

Suddenly, George was in the big wide world without a job. Taking the plunge with any work he could find that paid him enough money to live on; he worked on farms picking fruit, as a milliner and even a make-up artist with the Royal Shakespeare Company, where he picked up some handy techniques for his own personal use.

The famous British New Romantic Movement that emerged in the early 1980s was a calling card for George, whose flamboyance fitted their beliefs perfectly. The attention the New Romantics attracted inevitably created many new headlines for the press and it wasn't long before George was giving interviews based purely on his appearance.

Around this time Malcolm McLaren, the manager of the infamous Sex Pistols, was also managing a group called Bow Wow Wow. Fronted by Burmese sixteen-year-old Annabella Lwin, McLaren wanted someone to give Annabella a bit of a jolt on the stage and strengthen her vocally - cue the talent of a certain Boy George.

After George made a few appearances, to much audience acclaim, inevitable friction between the two big personalities began to surface. However, George, by now, was inspired to form his own group and the answer came in the form of The Sex Gang Children. Bassist Mikey Craig and drummer Jon Moss were next to join the group, followed by Roy Hay. The group soon abandoned the name Sex Gang Children to settle on Culture Club, on the basis that the group consisted of an Irish singer, a Jamaican-Briton, a Jewish drummer, and an Englishman.

Success came early and the band signed with Virgin Records in the UK and Epic Records in America, releasing their debut album Kissing To Be Clever in 1982. It was their third single from that album, Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?, that scored a huge success by reaching the number one spot in 16 countries.

Culture Club already had the distinction of being the first group since the Beatles to notch up at least three top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 from only their debut album. The group's second album in 1983 was also a success, with the single Karma Chameleon rocketing to number one in numerous countries, including the US, where it stayed for four weeks.

George soon became a household name, making him a natural choice for one of the lead vocals on the Band Aid single Do They Know It's Christmas? in 1984. However, the pressure of fame began to take its toll and by late 1985, George had become addicted to heroin. Culture Club began to lose their way musically and work on their fourth album, From Luxury To Heartache (1986), proved more headache than heartache for the producers, with the recording sessions dragging on for hours. In July the same year, George was arrested in the UK for possession of cannabis and a just few days later the band's keyboard player Michael Rudetski was found dead from a heroin overdose in George's home.

During his time in Culture Club, George embarked on a relationship with drummer Jon Moss and he has claimed that some of the songs he wrote during this period were aimed at Moss directly. The pair's romance did not last though, with speculation that Moss had broken off his engagement to a woman to be with George and subsequently was never entirely comfortable in a homosexual relationship. Moss has since gone on to marry a woman and have several children.

In a recent interview for OK magazine, George said of his relationship with Moss, "I don't know if the first was love, it was more obsessive. In fact, I don't know if any of my past relationships have been love. I love my ex-boyfriend Michael in a way I didn't when I was with him - I really care about him now, it's the same with Jon. Quite often I've had to lose them to love them in a healthy way."

After their US tour was cancelled, Culture Club disbanded in late 1986. Despite his ongoing drug addiction battles, George began recording his first solo album. In 1987, Sold was released successfully. But even though he scored UK success, George never really managed to duplicate the same level of exposure in the US.

Over the years, George has continued to release various solo albums and even formed his own record label in the early nineties. His most significant acclaim to replicate anything on the same level as Culture Club's fame was his 1992 hit single The Crying Game, which featured in the film of the same name, reaching the top 20 in the US charts.

After a fall out with Virgin Records in the mid nineties, George's work was poorly promoted and subsequently failed to alight any kind of praise to establish him as a serious solo musical artist. Culture Club did reform briefly back in 1998 at a Big Rewind tour in America alongside The Human League and later the same year managed to secure a top five single in the UK with I Just Wanna Be Loved.

In 2006, the band decided to again reunite and tour; however, George declined to join them for this tour. As a result, he was replaced and after only one showcase and one live show, that project was shelved.

Although George failed to reach the same level of acclaim as a solo artist in comparison to the Culture Club days, he has fared better in his second career as a notable music DJ. He began DJing in the early 1990s and has since enjoyed many pats on the back from critics both here in the UK and in the US.

As an aside, in 2002, George premiered his musical Taboo. The star had penned the story of his own rise to fame, including colourful characters from his past such as Leigh Bowery, Steve Strange and Marilyn. The musical featured a host of new songs written by George as well as Culture Club's number one singles Do You Really Want to Hurt Me? and Karma Chameleon. American comedienne Rosie O'Donnell saw the musical and was so enamoured that she decided to finance the production for Broadway too. The show opened in February 2003 but after just 100 performances it closed, hampered by a barrage of negative reviews and struggling to meet financial ends. The UK production however, continued to be a success and went on to tour the UK, with a DVD release and book accompanying it.

In George's personal life, his demons have gained ongoing media attention even since his drug problems came to public knowledge back in the eighties. Nearly ten years after his first public drugs expose, George was arrested in Manhattan in 2005 on suspicion of possessing cocaine after it was found it his apartment.

After failing to appear in court the following year, for the same drugs charge, a judge issued a warrant for his arrest. George's no-show for his initial court date resulted in a $1,000 fine and a spell of community service. In August 2006, George reported for rubbish duty on the streets of New York - making the media's day with snaps of the usually flamboyant star in combats and trainers with a broom and disposable gloves.

It seems picking up trash in the public eye wasn't enough to keep George on the right side of the law because in November 2007, he was sent to trial charged for falsely imprisoning a male escort by chaining him to a wall. The alleged incident had taken place at his flat in Hackney earlier in the year and he stood trial later in 2008.

On 5 December 2008, he was convicted of assault and false imprisonment and was sentenced to 15 months' imprisonment.

He was released on 11 May 2009, having served just four months of his 15 month sentence.

George continues to work on his music, releasing Ordinary Alien: The Kinky Roland Files in 2010 and This Is What I Do in 2013.