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Interview with Boy George

Aired March 22, 2010 - 17:49:00   ET




BECKY ANDERSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): George Alan O'Dowd, or Boy George to you and me, has been making hits and hitting the headlines for over two decades. Boy George and Culture Club shot to fame in the 1980s.


ANDERSON: With his striking looks and soulful voice, the band went on to sell over 20 million albums.


ANDERSON: After they split, the colorful pop superstar successfully reinvented himself as a D.J. But the star's private life has never been far from the front pages.

In 2006, Boy George spent five days cleaning the streets of Manhattan as part of a community service sentence for falsely reporting a break-in. The Culture Pop front man has publicly battled with drug addiction and last year was jailed for falsely imprisoning a male escort.


ANDERSON: He's now back on the music radar with a new single, "Amazing Grace."

Boy George -- your Connector of the Day.



FOSTER: And Becky did, in fact, catch up with the pop singer.

And she began by asking him what he learned from that time in prison.


BOY GEORGE, SINGER: The biggest sort of like change for me in the last two years was getting sober. That was the biggest change. So, really, I went into prison sober. I had almost a year sober before I went to prison, because my whole -- the whole thing was kind of -- kept getting put back and put back. And so it was sort of long after the event when I went to prison, it was quite weird. But I went into prison, you know, with a completely clear head.

And, you know, I had had kind of almost a year of recovery so, you know, I went in a very kind of Zen frame of mind. You know -- you know, I've been working in a 12 step program. You know, I was a totally different person by the time I went to prison. So, you know, it was really, for me, a question of kind of just surrendering to it.

I mean I have this kind of innate loathing of authority.

So it was a challenge, you know?

I mean -- and, also, I think, like most people, you know, I had lots of kind of very weird ideas about what it would be like, you know, and why is this going very quickly (ph) is that, you know, it's just like -- how would I describe it?

It's like being back at school.

ANDERSON: George, talk to me about "Amazing Grace."

BOY GEORGE: I read this amazing book two years ago called "The Power of Now," which really kind of affected me and made me really think about the way I over think about everything. And "The Power of Now" is all about kind of living in the moment. And, in fact, you know, it -- it's one of the hardest things to do in prison, because the moment doesn't seem to change. It's like "Ground Hog Day."

So that was a real challenge for me. But, you know, yes, I think the song is about kind of, you know -- first of all, for me, realizing that I have the -- the best job in the world. I -- I do what I love and I get paid for it.

So I've kind of reached a point now where I realize that I'm very lucky to do what I do, you know?

And -- and, you know, in my life, there's been so many moments where I've been in amazing places, but I haven't really been (INAUDIBLE) I've been arguing with someone or, you know, I've been at the Taj Mahal or the Grand Canyon and I've been having a row about something really pressing (ph). And there's been a lot of that in my life.

So what I try to do now is kind of be present in everything I do, however mundane or however exciting.

And to kind of enjoy what I do -- and that's really what the song is about. And also, it's -- it's about kind of being in a very difficult situation, which prison was and kind of searching for kind of some sort of brace, some kind of, you know, spirit of hope or whatever it may be, you know.

So, yes, it's a kind of spiritual song.

ANDERSON: Let's get to our viewer questions.

Martin asks: "What do you miss most from the '80s?"

BOY GEORGE: Nothing.



BOY GEORGE: I mean you...


BOY GEORGE: You know, I mean I suppose, in some ways, the reason why people always harp back to the '80s is because that was the last kind of really experimental period of -- in -- in culture and music.

But I don't live in the past, you know. And, you know, I'm not trying to reclaim my pop crown or anything like that. I haven't ever wanted to do that. You know, I've done that.

So why would I want to do it again badly?

You know, what I say is that, you know, people -- all the people from my generation, if you like, that are still making records are not making records they want to make, they're making records they have to make in order to be successful. You know, and if I wanted to kind of make those sorts of records, I'd hire the latest producer or I'd work with -- you know, and I'd end up doing things I don't want to do.

So, you know, I lowered my expectations many, many years ago. I mean, you know, I don't any kind of grand expectations.

But, you know, what I do know is that there's lots of work out there, it's a great life and -- but, you know, it's hard to explain to people that I'm not trying to recreate what I've already done, you know, because people -- that's what they do.

ANDERSON: Silvestro asks: "Did it matter to you that it was perhaps more your sexuality than your great voice that -- that did make the headlines in the past?"

BOY GEORGE: I don't know, really. I think that people did listen to the music. I think it had a big effect on people. You know, and I think it was -- you know, no sort of artist is just their music. You know, certainly, you know, all the people that I've always loved, from Bowie to Elvis to whoever, Prince, they're all more than their music. They've all got a bit of a look, you know. There's -- there's always something more to them, you know.

I mean, yes, you -- you have to have substance, but style is also very important, you know. So for me -- you know, and the biggest thing for me is when I travel around the world and people come up to me and say, "You changed my life," you know, I was this or I was that and I -- I wasn't confident. You know, and it can be all various types of things. And that is something that makes me the most proud, I think.

ANDERSON: Jodi says: "I saw Culture Pop back in the day and I'm still a big fan (INAUDIBLE). I'd like to know what you think of today's music stars, who are mostly from reality shows," she says.

And I want to ask you about that (INAUDIBLE) a little bit later. But...


ANDERSON: -- but your thoughts on that first.

BOY GEORGE: Well, I used to be really opposed to everything and I'm not anymore. Now I don't really care. Look, whatever, you know. You know, I suppose in my early career, I used to think that everything was a competition and, you know, I -- I now see that what I do is very separate. You know, it's completely separate to what everyone else does. And I think that there's always great music being made. Always. There's always great music being made. And, you know, if you look to the kind of charts or look to the mainstream media, you're probably not going to hear anything that in -- interesting. But, you know, with things like the Internet, you now hear amazing things, you know.

So you just have to be a little bit more dedicated when you're searching for -- for quality music. But, you know, there's -- there -- there are good pop bands around, you know.

ANDERSON: What about Lady Gaga?

There's some talk of you being (INAUDIBLE).

Any truth in that?

BOY GEORGE: Well, I mean I read about it in the paper like everybody else.

(LAUGHTER) BOY GEORGE: And we have met. And she didn't mention it. But, yes, I mean if -- it's not something I wouldn't -- I would be interested in doing it, you know. I mean, when I -- I went to a show and, for me, like the best bit of her whole show was when she just sings at the piano. And if -- if it was to happen, that was the kind of thing I would like to do with her, because, you know, when she does her songs speechless, like, she totally has control of the crowd. And it was just beautiful, really kind of, you know, vulnerable and melancholy.

You know, the thing is I saw David Bowie when I was 12 so, you know, nothing really impresses me anymore. I'm like yes, whatever.

ANDERSON: A question from Caitlyn. She says she's 14. She realizes she wasn't around or even being considered during the Culture Pop heyday. She loves your work and says: "What is your biggest inspiration?"

BOY GEORGE: That's a really difficult question to answer. I mean, obviously, when I was the kid, the biggest inspiration was Bowie, obviously. That was kind of the turning point for me, long before I made records. You know, as I said before, I saw Ziggy when I was 12 at Lusch Modian (ph).

And, you know, just everything about Bowie as a kid -- you know, because I was this little, you know, teenager in suburbia, didn't fit in, you know, didn't know, you know, really what I was. And suddenly this guy comes along and, you know, it -- it was life-transforming for me.

I sat -- I started (INAUDIBLE). You know, I've been to every single gig. I used to phone into radio stations. I was a proper stalker. And then years later, I actually met him properly and that was quite amazing, to kind of meet him as a peer.

ANDERSON: Did you tell him he was...

BOY GEORGE: Oh, he knows.


BOY GEORGE: He knew. He knew (INAUDIBLE). You know, he read the book, so he knew about it. Yes. It was just -- even though I'm -- even though I was kind of a (INAUDIBLE) Ziggy Stardust, you know?

He never really got over that. And there's -- there's a handful of people that I do still get on that about.


FOSTER: Boy George speaking to Becky, a rare interview.

We'll have some laughs on tomorrow's Connector of the Day, as well, as I take on the comedic genius that is Ricky Garvais. From the original cult classic extras and the opface (ph) to his recent ventures in Hollywood with the hit, "A Ghost Town," his dry English sense of humor has earned him a Golden Globe and sellout shows around the world.

As always with our Connectors of the Day, you are the ones asking the questions. So give me some good ones to present to him. You might be interested to know he actually reached success a little later in his life, in his late '30s.

How did he build his career from that point?

What happened before he was a pop star like Boy George, I think, in the '80s, as well?

If you've got something to ask Ricky, send your questions in. And remember to tell us where you are from. All you need to do is head to You can also connect with us on any (INAUDIBLE) following via our Web site.