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Boy George: Forget the car crashes of the past

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Healthy food, sweaty clubs, no posing: welcome to the new-and-improved world of Boy George. Oh how we've missed him.

Celebrities often come with a list. A never-ending inventory of things you're not allowed to talk to them about.

Under no circumstances are you to ask them about that really interesting thing everyone knows they did, their PA will bark. Don't ask them about their love life, don't ask them about their problems, don't ask them about anything other than this product they're flogging.

Boy George isn't like that.

Despite being a bona fide superstar, once one of the most recognisable people on the planet (apparently growing a beard and losing weight have given him new-found anonymity), you can ask him anything and he'll answer it.

His heroin addiction? He'll talk about it. His personal troubles over the past 10 years, culminating in a prison sentence for assault and false imprisonment? He'll talk about it. His burning desire to be taken seriously again as a musician? He'll talk about it.

"I've made some colossal mistakes and my judgement has been off many times," the 52-year-old admits from his hotel room in America, the first time he's been allowed back into the US since a drugs arrest in 2005. He's there on a DJ-ing tour, taking in New York, Boston, LA and more.

"I can't go back and change it, so I have to, as the cliché goes, learn from my mistakes. I'm smarter in some ways but I've had so many bangs on the head it had to sink in at some point!

"I've been in a kind of cultural wilderness with all the personal stuff I've been through over the past 10 years. In the thick of all the fame and madness you can and do get very lost. It's taken me so long to work out who I am away from the spotlight. I got very confused and there was no separation between my work and my private life. In fact, I didn't really care about having a private life but now it's super important. I like to switch off."

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George is speaking to us ahead of the release of his new album, the poignantly titled This Is What I Do. However, before we get into the nitty gritty of the record, first things first, what's it like to be back in the good ol' US of A?

"Ha! It's great. This has been my year of being anonymous, I barely get recognised in the UK since losing weight and sporting a beard and now the same is true of America because I haven't been here for seven years.

"Obviously, I'm known to my audience in the clubs where I DJ although there have been complaints here and there that 'some guy in a hat with a beard came on'. Some people haven't kept up or have omitted to read the poster properly, which clearly states DJ set. I'm still asked to play Karma Chameleon! In general though, the dance scene is a parallel universe and most people who go clubbing know I play house music but you get some people who think it's an 80s disco.

"It's been amazing actually to be able to enjoy walking around the States freely. I guess when the album comes out that will all change but for now I'm loving my freedom."

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This Is What I Do, out in two days' time and his first studio album in years, is an important record for George, who wants to bring the focus back to his true passion, music. "The title of the album is telling people to forget the car crashes of the past and focus on me as an entertainer. It's what I'm doing."

The record itself is grown-up, honest and powerful, the perfect match for the 'lived-in voice' George has cultivated over the years.

"I like to think I've always been honest in my music, perhaps a little too honest at times. I'm in a very good place right now so that is reflected in my music. I think for me, songs are a way of making sense of life and relationships. Often, I'm just posing questions that I don't have answers to. This album is free-flowing and joyful. I think growing up has been a good thing for me. I'm happy to be a 'grown up'. Finally!" he laughs. "I'm probably the most proud of Bigger Than War on the album because it reflects so many of my influences. It's quite hippy and very Lou Reed, if he was funky. Someone said I sound like Huey from The Fun Loving Criminals in that song. I like that comparison.

"But I've got to say, I'm very happy with the noise I'm making right now. I'm 52 so I'm never going to have that angelic nasal tone. I can do stuff I couldn't do when I was younger, my voice is bigger and rounder but there are things I can't do now at my tender age. I have zero falsetto. I have a lived-in voice as, Mark Ronson recently said. I've been around the block and I guess my voice has experience. I have a ton of voices and it really depends on my emotional mood as to which one comes out."

All about the boy – performing at the Isle of Wight Festival in 2011

The Culture Clubber will be taking the new album out on the road from November, but does this mean the end of his extremely successful spell as a DJ?

"No. The two are very different worlds. I love my DJ work. It's been an amazing and rewarding second career and I'm not giving it up just yet.

"But when it comes to making an album, I enjoy the creative process more than anything. Creating something is always the most fun. Selling it comes less naturally but I love playing live shows and I'm really looking forward to some serious touring."

The 'serious touring' will bring him to Birmingham's Glee Club on November 12. And the second city holds a special place in his heart.

''My aunt lived in Birmingham and my grandmother lived there til she died, so my summer holidays were spent in the Midlands and Birmingham,'' he says. "In fact, I won a competition for Birmingham's Weirdest Person and was presented with a lovely bottle of Champagne by Andy Gray. And I moved to Walsall when I was about 17 and for about a year I lived in a flat with Martin Degville, who was in Sigue Sigue Sputnik, on the High Street. I also worked for a time in the Bull Ring."

But, being in the clubs, being back out on the road, does he ever worry about falling back into his old habits?

"I'm clean. I have chosen a new path. Everyone knows where addiction took me. I wouldn't give up the joy and clarity I have right now for all the riches on the earth. I have peace in my soul so NO I'm never tempted. In the words of The Dragons 'I'm out!'

"I always think of that Human League song Human. That's all I am at the end of the day. My troubles may seem great but that's because they are in the public domain.

"These days, I invest an awful lot in my own personal happiness and it comes from very simple things. A nice meal out, a laugh with friends, a visit to a good art gallery, cooking, walking. If you can be moved by the small stuff the big stuff will blow your mind."

Wise words. But now for some dishing of dirt: what does George make of the current trend for half-naked, badly-behaved celebs à la Miley, Rihanna and Bieber? Does any of it shock him in the slightest? This is a former Blitz Kid after all. "I don't think you need to shock to be interesting. What shocks other people can usually seem very ordinary to me. Most things have been done it's true but it's up to the individual how they interpret things or how they put their own spin on it.

"For me, the music has to be special. It's not enough to just dress up, or strip off. You have to have something to say or at the very least an emotional agenda. I demand to be moved!"

And the clubs of today? Do they ever shock him? Can any of them hold a candle to the wild venues of the 1980s?

"It depends where you go these days. If you go to a ritzy club with free-flowing champagne and rich people spending fortunes on VIP tables, you won't find me.

"I'm more underground, sweat on the walls, paint peeling, loud speakers and people loving the music. No posing! The margin between what was once considered naff or cool is very thin these days. Dance, or the high end of it, is the new pop music but there is a much more underground scene where you won't hear pop dance. These are the clubs I tend to play."

Calm, collected and happy, George seems to be the most contended he's been for years, like nothing could throw him off course. Not the usual state for one who reaches the 'icon' level of fame.

"Ha! I haven't felt very iconic over the past few years but I'm working on it," he chuckles.

We tell him he is, that there's not many people who have musicals, books and TV shows dedicated to their life and times. 'Eighties George' has even become a favourite fancy dress costume. And you don't get more iconic than that.

"Hmm, I suppose. I know it might sound wicked but my favourite ones are those who do it all wrong. OMG, I've seen some right tragedies over the years. I've had a few tragic looks myself though to be fair!"

Elizabeth Joyce

Boy George performs at Birmingham's Glee Club on November 12, visit www.livenation.co.uk

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