The final rehearsal for the haunted-boat play was last night. I hosted it in my flat – which made sense. I don’t have the burden of a housemate, whose feelings I have to take into consideration when I wish to be expressive. If I feel like wandering around the house at 4am in my y-fronts, drinking milk straight from the carton, well it’s no-one’s concern apart from my own. The play seems to be almost ready. I won’t tempt fate by saying any more.
After the guys had left I switched on my computer to watch Eastenders before bedtime. I have very narrow tastes when it comes to my televisual entertainment – that grim London soap opera is the only programme I watch on a regular basis. While I was waiting for the show to load on the Player, I looked at Facebook.
What kind of fuckery was this? Pete Burn – singer of Dead or Alive was dead following cardiac arrest at the age of fifty seven? Tell me that this is not true? This can’t be happening.
2016 has been an awful year for the deaths of the talented and good – David Bowie, Prince, Victoria Wood, Caroline Aherne, Alan Rickman, Hilda Ogden. While upsetting, they had no real impact on me – I’m quite resilient when it comes to celebrity death. They are not my friends. I don’t know them, and their legacy lives on in their work.
But Pete Burns’ death was surprisingly upsetting.
I remember way back in the mid eighties, being a shrimp of a human. At my all boys primary school, Top of the Pops on Thursday at 7pm was the show to watch. The hit parade. The great and the good of the pop music world. While the Irish Top 30 was played on 2FM at Sunday lunchtime on the radio by Larry Gogan. Radio it lacked visual impact and panache of Top of the Pops. I dreamed of growing up and appearing on it – although even back then I suspected my singing voice might become a hindrance to this ambitious goal.
I remember being transfixed by this crazed looking individual on my screen. The band was Dead or Alive. The singer was unknown to me. The song was ‘You spin me round (like a record)’.
I was mesmerised by the song and the band. And most especially by the singer – a sinister long-faced gent, with massive billowing hair, a painted face and a glittering eye-patch. The song was addictively catchy, and he sang the lyrics with an aggressively venomous voice . I loved the song instantly, while I was fascinated, yet disturbed by the vocalist.
The next day Pete Burns was the talk of the schoolyard.
‘Did you see that song on Top of the Pops last night?’ Which song didn’t have to be specified. There was only one song. It spun me right round, baby right round, like a record baby, right round round round.
They had some follow up hits – ‘Lover come back’; ‘Brand new lover’; ‘Something in my house’; ‘My heart goes bang’ but none matched the success of ‘You spin me round (like a record)’. Despite the fact that they were even more insane and bonkers. And catchy in a truly deranged manner. An intoxicating blend of gay disco; punk and new romantic electro.
Pete wasn’t gay though. Oh no. Sure didn’t he have a wife? He fell into the Boy George; Annie Lennox; Sigue Sigue Sputnik category. He was a ‘gender bender’. In the 1980s Boy George used to pretend that he preferred a nice cup of tea to sex. Pete Burns was married. This was very convenient. It meant that the press didn’t need to acknowledge just how strange and queer and exotic they were.
Towards the end of the 1980s Dead or Alive faded from the music scene and I thought no more about them.
Until 2006. From the distant shores of the Netherlands I heard rumblings that the new and improved Pete Burns was a contestant on Celebrity Big Brother. And what a vision in in a colobus monkey fur jacket he was.
In the intervening years Pete had decided to alter his appearance to something almost unrecognisable. His lips were pumped to exploding point; his face a waxy mask that looked like it was melting; the fashion was on point. His jacket was confiscated by the police as it was allegedly made from gorilla fur (which was illegal). His fury was hilarious ‘It’s vintage – I didn’t kill that gorilla. My jacket has been arrested’.
His personality was utterly rancid and completely hilarious. Speaking with a deep Scouse accent which seemed incongruous with his appearance, he spoke his mind – sometimes with extraordinary cruelty, but always witty and sharp.
Appearing on Celebrity Big Brother was clearly beneath him. However he’d lost his entire fortune on eighteen months of reconstructive surgery after a cosmetic procedure on his lips went wrong. He needed the cash.
Thanks to his unique appearance, getting a job in Tesco seemed unlikely. So his second career as a reality TV star began.
And what a career it was. The docu-series about rebuilding his life after being released from jail for trying to stab his husband, by moving in with a deranged fan; the series about his search for a personal assistant; to his psychic adventures. All were fascinating- for Pete’s personality and appearance more than anything.
He was a legend and an icon.
It is often said, but it is rarely true – R.I.P. Pete Burns: we won’t see his like again.