In the late 70s, before they became household names and still just teenagers, two pioneers of 80’s queer culture met in a Swiss Cottage flatshare. And yes there was a boy involved.
We’re gathered in the basement of a swanky hotel in central London. We’re about to witness the coming together of two of 80’s queer culture’s pioneers. Marilyn and Boy George are about to have a sit down with Kate Flett and 50 journalists.
M: We met around someone’s (house) I think her name was Jane in Swiss Cottage.
BG: Punk Jane…
KF: Nobody had surnames did they?
M: Punk Jane – Jane was her surname… (laughter) A mutual friend of ours took me round. I didn’t know what the subtext of the script was, but I was being used by said friend to…
BG: Piss me off.
M: That was a bonus…
KF: So there was always a subtext?
M: Always a subtext.
BG: My best friend and I had fallen out and I had been replaced by Marilyn, who was a year younger than me. So replaced by a younger model…
M: I’ve never grown out of the role.
BG: My friend was going around with this young blonde person and it was kind of tense.
M: Very. I was completely unaware of what was going on. I didn’t know the dynamics between (George) and Philip Sallon… It was like walking into a lion’s den. This one (pointing to Boy George) was back-combing his hair and giving me looks, I was so terrified.
KF: So when was this?
M: Everything was still in Black and White.
KF: You were super young.
M: What are you implying?
KF: Nothing at all… I just thought it might be ’79 / ’80.
BG: No no, it may have been the end of ’76!
KF: You were children!
BG: Yes… mental. The second time we met was at a club called the Sombrero, which was a run down 70s disco we used to go to on the weekends. He came with Phillip to this club and I done this whole new look, a complete transformation. So Phillip came up and spoke to me, not realising it was me. As he spoke to me, he realised it was me and kind of ran off. I believe that Marilyn walked up to me and said, “What do you think of Phillip?” which is one of Marilyn’s famous lines when he wants you to bitch about people…
M: I wanted to know what was going on… that’s why I asked.
BG: Can we just establish at this point (he) was in full Marilyn Monroe drag.
M: I still wanted to know what was going on. Since the first meeting and then the second one I had a little more info and I knew there was some kind of… Philip was… I’m editing myself. Philip’s wonderful, he really is wonderful, but he has an opinion, a very strong opinion and his perception of what went on. I like to hear both sides before I make up my own mind. The more info the better.
BG: You’re padding this out. I was fabulous, you were fabulous, we were destined to be friends.
M: In a nutshell.
BG: It was kind of instant really. I loved the way he looked, I think he quite liked the way I looked. At that time, the New Romantic scene was quite tiny, it was a scene with a massive ego. There was only 200 people at the most. So when you met other people that were like you, you tended to kind of befriend them. I just saw another freak and was like, “You’re going to be my friend,” it was kind of destined that we would end up friends.
M: That’s all great, the way you look and everything, but for me when you look into someone’s eyes, what I see beyond whatever the facade is, that’s the thing that’s important to me. When I looked at him there was a connection…
BG: Are you being romantic?
M: It wasn’t that kind of look.
KF: You just clicked?
M: On a really deep level… That doesn’t happen very often.
KF: Where did ‘Marilyn’ come from? Let’s find out how you ended up being in that room with Phillip, wearing your full Marilyn Monroe drag. What’s the journey?
M: I started off at school. I had huge problems at school. I was hiding. I was always hiding and trying to get through the experience. I had it from every angle. I felt really repressed. I started getting into punk. I was attracted to the freedom of it because I felt so repressed. I started going to these nightclubs and there was this one club, called the Embassy Club. By this time, my hair was bleached and I put on a little bit of makeup and I was sitting on this stool at the bar and there was a group of guys standing next to me and one of them turned round and went, “Oh my god! Look at him!” There was a spotlight above the stool I was perched on. He was going, “Look, he could be in my front room he’s like a work of art!” and for me, who had that repression, it was like, ‘oh my god’ I was used to getting attention, but not that kind of attention. He was going, “Oh, you’re beautiful, I could have you in my front room under a spotlight and I found out after that his name was Roy Miles, who was the Queen’s art dealer. That validation felt amazing to me. In my head it was obviously to do with the makeup. I had a little bit of blusher on. So the next week I had a little bit of lip rouge on, and I got more attention, I kept thinking it was to do with that. I didn’t think it was anything to do with people liking me for the inside.
KF: It gave you a confidence?
M: Yeah. I was being noticed and in an appreciative way. That felt good and I wanted more of it.
KF: What kind of life were you living outside of the nightclubs?
M: I just didn’t exist. I stuck black bin liners on my bedroom walls and windows. I would sleep. I was like hibernating until the next nightclub I went to.
KF: Were you more unhappy than your average teenager?
M: I think something had snapped in me by then, I was like, “Oh f*** off”. It might sound bitchy, but something inside me snapped. I would look at people and go, “You are picking on me? Get a mirror.” I started being really judgmental of how other people looked. “Don’t f***ing tell me about me, take a look at yourself before you start picking on this”. It went from one extreme to the other. I turned into this creature.
KF: (to Boy George) did you meet ‘the creature’?
BG: My story is quite similar. I think what happens when you’re a kid, your defensiveness becomes a powerful tool. When I met my first manager Tony Broaden, and he was trying to get me signed to a record deal, he said that I would walk along the road with him and I’d be really dressed up and people would stare and make comments and I’d scream at them, “What you looking at”… That weird defensiveness was very much part of the 70s. You don’t know whether people are laughing. A lot of eccentric people don’t like be to honed in on. You dress up, but you don’t really want people to make comments. Which is odd because obviously they’re going to. I recognise a lot of myself in that weird defensiveness and becoming a bit spikey to manage yourself getting through… You were always running the gauntlet. Particularly in the 70s because you had all that fabulous tribal stuff, with Mods and Rockers and Skinheads. There was always someone to punch you. It was quite brave. When you’re a kid, long before you start dressing up, you’re made aware that you’re different. Because you’re not interested in the same things as other boys, in football… You’re made to feel different. Later on you start to discover fashion and music and start to build an identity and then people pick on you for different reasons. I guess you make a choice. You either fold in on yourself or become… fabulous.
You can read the entire Q&A in the latest issue in THEGAYUK. Subscribe now to never miss another issue.
Watch Marilyn’s brand new single “Love or Money”