August 3, 2020

Boy George has a new album — and a zen take on his crazy life

Boy George flaunts mermaid makeup and vixen eyebrows, but you’ll never catch him with a trout pout. Despite his obvious love of artifice, the pop star frowns on overfilled lips and eerily frozen foreheads.

“I’m horrified at the way stunning, beautiful people are disfiguring themselves so they can look like someone else,” the gregarious 57-year-old Culture Club frontman tells Alexa, backstage before a packed concert outside Chicago on the band’s global reunion tour.

“When I think of all the hard work I’ve done to get people to be individuals — and now everybody wants to have this weird look that’s just boring. And yes, I am making a judgment!” he proclaims, bursting into boisterous laughter. “There was a picture of [Lady] Gaga the other day really looking fishy and I made a comment on Twitter. It wasn’t necessarily about her, I just think that people are interesting because of their defects and their facial personality.”

As the first multi-racial band with an openly gay singer, Culture Club has always serenaded self-acceptance. Now, as the multi-platinum British band prepares to drop its first album in nearly 20 years next month (called “Life”), that ethos still resonates.

“Our message has always been: If you feel disenfranchised or left of center, we’re the one-stop shop for that,” says the “Karma Chameleon” and “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me” crooner, whose glossy red and black stage eye shadow makes him look like he went a few rounds with Tyson Fury. “You don’t have to be different to be interesting, but there’s nothing wrong with being different. Being different is a gift.”

Clothing: Boy George’s art work was translated into custom looks by costume makers in London; Hats: A Child Of The Jago; Shoes: Alexander McQueenRankin

As nonconformist as George has always been, he stays true to his sound. “It wasn’t the intention to write a pop record, but I think we just can’t help it,” he says, referring to Culture Club’s catchy new tracks, like the reggae-inflected “Let Somebody Love You.” “It’s just in our nature: We like melodic songs and we want them to get to the point as quickly as possible.”

George Alan O’Dowd (as he was born), grew up in southeast London, the third of six children in a noisy, working-class Irish Catholic clan. “I tried in vain to be like other kids,” he writes in “Take It Like A Man,” his dishy 1995 memoir. “I couldn’t hide my feminine nature.”

The self-described “pink sheep of the family” was expelled from school at 15 for truancy. By then, the David Bowie and Marc Bolan fan had bleached his spiky hair white and was decked out in paint-spattered togs strewn with chains, pins and padlocks.

In the early 1980s, George formed Culture Club with Jon Moss (drums), Mikey Craig (bass) and Roy Hay (guitar-keyboards). His proto-punk look evolved into a freewheeling androgynous style: Cleopatra makeup, pirate clothes and ribbon-tied dreadlocks topped with large, colorful hats.

The soul-meets-reggae-plus-funk-and-country band went on to sell more than 100 million singles and 50 million albums, winning the 1984 Grammy for Best New Artist. At its peak, a sighting of the iconic group and its flamboyant diva could cause a near riot.

‘There was a point in my earlier life when I definitely felt super trapped by who I was. I got bored of that, so I changed.’

But within a few years, the pressures of fame had taken a toll. Riven by personality clashes and the end of George’s secret love affair with Moss, the band broke up in 1986. Once a recreational drug user, the singer became a full-fledged heroin addict. Although he went on to become a successful solo artist, DJ and co-creator of the West End and Broadway musical “Taboo,” in which he had a role, his career was stymied by multiple arrests, community service and jail time (for assault and false imprisonment). But on March 2, 2008, he finally got clean.

Today, he’s a Buddhist who doesn’t eat meat and avoids sugar and strife. “I am a perfect person! I live on macadamia nuts and kale!” jokes the performer, who co-authored the 2001 macrobiotic “Karma Cookbook.” “I eat very clean. I’m always experimenting with fasting, and trying one meal a day, more to see if it affects my general equilibrium.”

His legendary snark has even subsided. In the past, the word-slinger shaded Madonna and dissed George Michael. Today, he praises Prince. The reformed George is chatty, self-aware, surprisingly careful not to be catty and almost — but not quite — earnest.

“When I was younger, being bitchy was about defending myself,” he explains. “I’m quippy, rather than bitchy. If I’m tweeting something, I don’t want to be cruel.”

Mindful George is also much kinder to himself. While in the ’80s he might have gone clubbing after a concert or closed down a hotel bar, the older and wiser George works out and rests up. He describes his pre-show routine as “gym, hang out, yoga, watch crap TV, watch things on the internet. Try and see the city if it feels appropriate.”

Clothing: Boy George’s art work was translated into custom looks by costume makers in London; Hats: A Child Of The Jago; Shoes: Alexander McQueen.Rankin

At home in London, he can hop on the bus or take the tube incognito, which suits him. “Once I’ve got the glad rags off and a pair of sunglasses on, I’m pretty much not bothered,” says the hit-maker, who is draped in loose black layers. “You get the odd person who will clock you — my voice gives me away and my eyes definitely give me away. Sometimes I think I should be more mysterious, but it’s just not the road I’ve taken.”

It’s a contrast from the raucous ’80s. “Back then, you were sort of a prisoner of your celebrity,” he recalls. “I didn’t like all that screaming and running after you. If somebody was a mad, marauding fan, they would find a way of getting to you. There’s a little more calmness now.

“I have kind of been on a real journey with the whole fame thing,” he adds. “There was a point in my earlier life when I definitely felt super trapped by who I was. I got bored of that, so I changed. I’m much more comfortable with being a figment of other people’s imagination!”

Although he’s seen as swaggy, George swears he’s not a slave to luxury labels. “I’ve been wearing a lot of my own art on my clothes and painting stuff,” he says, holding up a black shirt with childlike drawings on it — similar to the custom pieces he rocks in this photo shoot. “I don’t care about clothes, but I also love them. That’s quite Gemini, isn’t it?

“A lot of high fashion is about wearing money,” says the sometime-designer, who founded his B-Rude line in 2005 and modeled for Dior last year. “It’s about saying, ‘Look how expensive I am, I’ve got this handbag!’ I’m not that kind of consumer. I think that people can get quite judgmental. Especially in fashion, the wrong earrings can topple an empire.”

Sounds like a pair he’d want to wear.

Photos: Rankin; Clothing: Boy George’s art work was translated into custom looks by costume makers in London; Hats: A Child Of The Jago; Shoes: Alexander McQueen.