Page last updated at 15:41 GMT, Friday, 5 December 2008

Boy George: A real life chameleon

George O'Dowd leaves court
Boy George was tried under his real name of George O'Dowd

By Murray Cox
BBC News

Boy George has been jailed for 15 months for falsely imprisoning a male escort in his flat in east London. He had denied the claim, but Judge David Radford told the singer he was guilty of "gratuitous violence".

At the height of his fame in the 1980s Boy George was described as one of the world's most recognisable faces, but how many people recognised the picture painted of him during the trial?

In the dock George O'Dowd came across as a lonely, paranoid man struggling to find his place in the world. His 1980s heyday is a long way behind him, after all.

He was described as an artist by his counsel, but instead the court was given a picture of a life spent trawling the Gaydar social networking site to find men willing to be photographed nude in all night "fashion shoots".

And for someone who won his place in the nation's affections by being an arch performer, it was odd that he chose not to give evidence in his own defence.

I've been strung out on drugs for the past five years
Boy George, speaking to Q Magazine last year

Perhaps it was because his sharp wit has landed him in trouble so many times in the past, earning him a media reputation as a bitch for public spats with Elton John, among others.

His lawyer, Adrian Waterman QC, put a different spin on it: "This is not about performance, it's about his life, it's about being charged with a criminal offence."

A criminal offence for which he has now been jailed.

Of course, it was not his first brush with the law. In 2006 he was found guilty of wasting police time by falsely reporting a burglary at his New York apartment.

Cocaine was found in the flat and he was arrested, but the drug charge was dropped and he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of wasting police time. He was ordered to spend five days sweeping the streets of New York as a punishment.


Drugs have been a consistent theme with Boy George.

Snaresbrook Crown Court heard how he took cocaine with Audun Carlsen, the man he was found guilty of imprisoning, although press interviews he gave in late summer and autumn - prior to the trial - suggested he was clean.

At the height of his success with Culture Club he began using heroin, and indeed, the band's keyboard player Michael Rudetski, died of an overdose in George's home.

In 1995 he told of his substance addictions in his autobiography Take It Like A Man. It seems that ever since he has been on and off the wagon.

Boy George during his community service in New York
Boy George spent five days sweeping streets for wasting police time

Earlier this year he told Q Magazine: "I've been strung out on drugs for the past five years. But this time I'm clean for good. I don't want to die."

Boy George also said: "Getting clean at the end of 2007 was a very big thing."

He credited his return to sobriety to visits to Narcotics Anonymous.

Yet, bizarrely it seems that during a large part of his addiction he has been on a strict macrobiotic diet of the type followed by Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow.

And he famously told late chat show host Russell Harty he would rather have a cup of tea than sex, which was strangely at odds with our impressions both of him and what it means to be a pop star.

Just two more contradictions in the life of the man who sang: "I'm a man without conviction, I'm a man who doesn't know how to sell a contradiction."

No comeback

There are many labels that could be applied to Boy George these days - DJ/singer/fashion designer/photographer/impresario/author/food guru/addict - and now we can add convict.

Yet none of them really fairly reflects just how successful he was with Culture Club, who notched up seven British and nine American Top 10 hits such as Karma Chameleon and sold more than 50 million records.

Without the mask of make-up on his face during the trial, there was no glamour about Boy George and the evidence in the case certainly didn't give any sense of there being much glamour left in his life.

It was all so different when he burst on to the scene as an exquisitely made-up, fresh-faced teenager exuding youth, energy and boasting a trim figure. In court he looked fat and exhausted.

Boy George in 1983
He has long been controversial, but he did sell 50 million records

Even his lawyer said he had gained so much weight since his heyday that he would not have stood a chance in a fight against Mr Carlsen.

Now that he has been sentenced, the comeback Boy George had been working on is indefinitely postponed - perhaps cancelled altogether.

He released a new single last October called Yes We Can and was also due to go back on the road this year as a singer, as opposed to as a DJ, where he has managed to carve out a successful niche for himself.

But there are suggestions that the more sordid details of the court case could alienate some fans.

PR guru Max Clifford said that in his opinion yet another comeback was possible, but unlikely.

"I think if you take George Michael as your guideline you can never say never," he said.

Boy George also faces a hefty legal bill and and as his lawyer told the trial: "Not only will he lose money but also the chance to do what he loves - to entertain people who enjoy what he has to offer."

It is perhaps ironic that Culture Club's first massive hit was Do You Really Want to Hurt Me? In this case, it appears he did.

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