remembering i-Con pete burns
Fiercely intelligent and wildly unconventional, Pete Burns was an eccentric who blurred gender and sexuality with biting wit and charm. Speaking to Burns in 2007, Paul Flynn called him "as witty and wild as Quentin Crisp or Oscar Wilde" on the pages of...
Hi Pete, how are you today?
Yeah, I'm alright but you'd better hurry up and get on with this. I'm a very busy woman, you know.
I know. Did you go to Vivienne Westwood's triumphant return to the London runway last night?
Did I fuck! I'm not interested in sitting on a front row with a load of stuffed shirts watching clothes on anorexic models that you can't get in the shop anyway. At my age you stop getting fashion like that. Everything just looks like a re-hash of a re-hash to me.
That's a bit depressing, like. Don't you think there's any such thing as originality any more?
For a grand old dragosauraus like me it looks like we've reached a time where everything is being repeated over and over again.
What if I were to put it to you that Pete Burns is a true original. Would you take the compliment?
I'd take it as a compliment, yeah. But it's impossible to be objective about yourself like that. I just do what I do and there's probably a million people up and down the country dong something similar, but because they're living in East Bumfuck no-one gets to see them doing it. They didn't stumble over a wire and find themselves being watched for it. They didn't get that particular curse.
Is there bravery to being Pete Burns?
I wouldn't say bravery, no. If I can say something very un-PC here, I think that what I have is a bit like a disability. It's just a state of being. It definitely has nothing to do with bravery. Compliments don't pay the mortgage and compliments don't cure illness. So I'll take the compliment but what does it do for me while I'm scrabbling around in a litter tray, picking a cat's hair out of it? A very fabulous cat's hair but it is cat's hair nevertheless. I was at a point where I was so used to people's derision that whatever turnaround happened from me being in people's homes on TV shows came as a complete shock to me. All these people that were supposed to hate me started to like me for some reason. I became this sort of stately homo.
Do you see yourself in Quentin Crisp's lineage?
It's not a pattern I set out to repeat but something similar did happen to us. I read about him after he'd died and I had met him. I mean, what a great guy. He stood alone. And to go through a life of being completely vilified and then to find some sort of affection from people? Yeah, something similar happened to me at some point.
Was Big Brother that thing?
Don't ask me. I didn't watch a second of it. I went into it for the big fat pay check and expected to be hated, come out after three days and go on a big spending spree. And it sent my life into turmoil. People coming up to me on the street and quoting things that I'd said to Tracy Bingham or Jodie Marsh. I don't even know who won it. You think I'm being camp but I don't. I just remember coming out, holing myself up in a hotel room, and shagging myself silly.
Do you have a pathological instinct to say what you feel all the time?
Do you know what? I just hate silence. I can't bear it.
You just fill air?
Yeah. I talk absolute shite just to get a reaction because I cannot bear the sound of silence. I'm not good in my own company. I pace up and down, put the radio on, anything to stop the silence. Silence is the loudest noise, you know. People think I'm not intelligent but I will never not tell the truth. But your truth is mercurial. Opinions change.
Do you like doing the TV stuff?
Yeah, I love it. It's so much better than touring. I've rolled over enough floors in a dirty thong, thank you. I've spoken to enough imbeciles in Texas who say 'Oh, how do you like Texas' and thought 'I've seen the inside of a fucking hotel room. What do I know?' With TV you get a car, hair and makeup, it's not far from home, you roll in, do your thing and that's that. It's perfect.
Do you ever take a holiday?
What's the point? I went to Paris for a week just after I'd met my husband but I just looked for the shops. Now everywhere's the same. There's a Gap and a Starbucks and there's even a Viv in most fucking countries now. It's all about repetition. It's the fucking truth!
What would you like to be reincarnated as?
Oh, let me have a think about that. I'll come up with a good answer to that one. Come back to me on it.
Can I ask how much you got paid to do Wife Swap?
A lot! That's what attracted me to doing it. The money. People think I won't do things like that so they go in way above the market level. It's afforded me a lovely house, somewhere very sophisticated and nice. It's the home of my dreams. I don't really have any worries really, apart from where the next face-lift's coming from. And who doesn't have them?
Have you seen the pictures of Madonna recently?
Have I ever!
Do you think she's had one?
All I'll say is look at the ears, honey. They ain't where they used to be.
When was the first time you tried botox?
1988. It was still illegal here but I'd heard about these injections that they gave paraplegics and found a crooked doctor in Holland who'd do it. I looked at all that beautiful paralysis and I wanted a bit of it. I kept on looking at people in Hollywood who couldn't move their face and thinking 'great look! What is it?' It's deadly, toxic, poisonous? I'll have a bit of that! It's served me well. I must say that at some point in culture it will become an economic signifier. Who can afford it or not? You'll be able to tell how well people are doing because they'll wear it on their face, though you do see some of the supermarket checkout girls now with it, who've saved up. Good for them. Know what I mean? And I've always said that surgery can only enhance what you've already got. People think I lie at home all day smoking, but I'll work out four or five times a week.
How far's too far with surgery?
Oh, mark my words, and you can ask me about this again in 500 years, but we're evolving into a different species. We're a surgical melting pot. I'm obsessed with this program, Sex Change Hospital, at the moment. Genius. Truckers in America getting a vagina from Trinidad. And it doesn't change them. They're still just a trucker with a vagina. Called Maria. It's that need that I have to change myself. I am very hard. I don't do what I want, I do what I need.
It was Chantelle that won Big Brother, by the way. Have you read her book?
I don't think I could read a book written in fuzzy felts [explodes laughing].
How do you get on with your ex-wife?
Lynn is sacred to me. There's something about the word divorce which sounds very hostile but we talk every day and were together for a fantastic 29 years.
How does your first marriage compare to your second?
It's different with two men. Me and Michael have our ups and downs. It's two men. Gay marriage. Know what I mean? It never even occurred to me that I might be a homosexual. I fall in love with people, not genders. I fell in love with a woman, married the bitch, then 29 years later we're best friends and divorced and I end up falling in love with Michael, who's got a penis. Luckily for him.
How did the dos compare?
The first one probably cost £8.50, all in. I was coerced into letting a TV documentary follow the second one so we had to repeat our vows three times for camera angles and had mics up the cracks of our arses. But that doesn't change the certificate that's on the wall. Michael is still a man who either bravely or stupidly stepped into the spin dryer of my life and it's still going round on full cycle.
How old were you when you met him?
Let me see, it was four years ago, so… 16! [laughs]
Do you fear aging?
What's the point? It's not worth wasting the energy over. I'm 49, not a great number, and this year I'll be 50, another not great number. But I don't spend time thinking about it.
Do you have a spare copy of the 12" of "Misty Circles" I could nick?
I don't keep any of it. Why clutter the place up? Your records are like children. You let them go. It's funny you should mention that song, though. I'm going to be doing four or five dates around the country and Michael's asked if I'd do that one. So I might dig it out. For him.
Aaah. What would you personally say was Dead or Alive's pivotal song?
"What I Want," from Sophisticated Boom Boom. We demoed it in '82 and I'm not blowing my own trumpet but no-one was doing what we were doing. The nearest you got was New Order, which was a bit polite. We were like a cross between Divine and Aerosmith.
Did you ever meet Divine?
I saw him without his wig in a dressing room in a leopard skin bodysuit. Lovely guy. Well, I say lovely, he could've been a cunt from hell for all I know. You just know people in that moment. Like, I don't know whether Michael's out burying prostitutes in Kings Cross at the moment. He says he's in Selfridges, but you never know!
I think you'd have a suspicion, there's not many flies on you, are there?
No. Eyes like a scanner. I could spot a drop of blood or semen on anything.
Do you get sick of being asked about Morrissey?
Tell me about him then.
He just bought me flowers. And then more flowers. The room was starting to get crowded with lilies so I thought I may as well meet him. He came round to my flat and I went round to his flat a few times. But we didn't really have anything in common. He is staunchly against bacon and fur and two of my favorite things are bacon and fur.
If you were held at knife point and asked which you preferred — bacon or fur — which one would it be?
Furry bacon. [interviewer drops phone laughing].
Are there any celebrities that you see now in your lineage?
No. I like the car crash ones, really. I'll tell you what I'm obsessed with. Hey Paula! It's Paula Abdul's reality TV show. I jump up out of bed in the middle of the night and ask Michael when the next episode's on. But I don't watch it for the same reason other people do. I look at it to see how she covers up being off her tits. If you take that Hillbilly heroin, Oxycontin or whatever it is, then your skin should go blotchy and you get funny eyes. I'm bad enough after a couple of halves of lager. I just watch stuff and think 'who's the makeup artist?' or 'how do they do that?' I loved Anna-Nicole of course. She was just an absolute beauty however off her tits she was. I used to like Courtney Love but I met her and she was a bit distracted and paranoid. She couldn't fucking deal with it and kept climbing into her Blackberry. But what a life for those women. They don't feel pain.
What about Britney?
I have absolutely no interest in the girl whatsoever but I'll tell you something about her. Her last album was fucking fantastic. There's a cruelty to the record industry at the moment that you can see with Britney and Amy Winehouse. Their back catalogues are insured and it just so happens that people want to buy records by artists in meltdown. It humanizes them, you know? Oh, I've thought what I'd like to be reincarnated as.
Brilliant! What is it?
Pamela Anderson's vagina. Did you see it on that tape? Lovely and tight. Like a little money box.
Text Paul Flynn