At 16, in my head, I was very advanced for my years. I wanted to be an adult, not a kid. I was a punk, wearing the punk uniform, adopting the pose. I had spiky hair, black lips, eyeliner, bondage trousers. Then, in the blink of an eye, I switched to New Romantic: sky-scraper hair, make-up, another really outrageous look. At first my mum was very against me going out like that. She tried to stop me. My dad would just be reading a newspaper and he’d take a look and say, if he wants to go out and get beaten up, let him. Gradually my mum realised I wasn’t going to change and she gave up and became an enabler. She was great on the sewing machine. She made lots of stuff for me, ’cause I couldn’t afford things.
My teens were a time of freedom, music, excitement. I had a job as a runner in a printing place so I could wear whatever I wanted. I could use the London tube as my catwalk. Everyone stared at me – it was great. I met people on the tube, had affairs with them. I remember I was over in Bank delivering mail and this very handsome Italian man was staring at me. He asked me if I was a girl, which I liked, and then he asked if I had a girlfriend or a boyfriend. I ended up going to a party with him that night.
When I was a teenager I did everything to be the opposite of my dad. Now I see I’m just like him. I get him now. My dad wasn’t the cliché. He was Irish. He had been a boxer. He could be unbelievably unreasonable – he had these huge bursts of anger, smashing things up – but he wasn’t stupid. He had beautiful handwriting. He was very handsome. Everyone loved him. When I came out he was kind of amazing. He put his arms around me and said: “You’re still my son and I love you.” A total contradiction. I have his better qualities. He was incredibly generous and kind. He would do anything for a stranger or the woman down the road. But when it came to the people who really loved him, that was more difficult. When love was too close he couldn’t handle it.
There are currently around 1,450 Big Issue sellers working hard on the streets each week.
My mum was so graceful and stylish when my dad left her after 43 years of marriage. She forgave him. She was so respectful of his memory when he died. That made me love her so much. In my late 20s I had some long, late conversations with my dad and I said to him: “The way you treat mum, why don’t you just divorce? You could be great friends.” He said: “You don’t understand, son.” It was all “family loyalty”. Then after 43 years he left her for a younger woman! He did some awful things but we laugh about them now. We say: “Oh my God, remember when dad chased the driving instructor down the street because mum had put her best coat on for her lesson and dad decided she was having an affair?” The whole cul-de-sac was out watching. We were all mortified but now we laugh about it.
My advice to my younger self would be that jealousy doesn’t make you more attractive. If you go and smash a guy’s windows he’s not going to like you more. I was thinking about one of my last psycho relationships recently. I’d got a taxi to this boy’s house and I managed to get myself past his security gates. How awful I must have seemed. Why did I think he would say, yes, now I really want to be with you, now that you’ve broken into my flat and tried to kill me. When I look back at my behaviour, how I dealt with heartbreak… I would never behave like that now. It was undignified. I’m a Buddhist now so anyone I’ve ever hurt goes into my prayers. And my last relationship, when it went wrong, I just let it go. I said to myself, come on kid, don’t make a fool of yourself – you’re too old now.
My did some awful things but we laugh about them now
I would tell my younger self not to do drugs [he was an on/off cocaine user and also a heroin user in the late 1980s]. If I’d known the kind of misery I would cause myself, all the drama, the pain I brought my mother, the waste of money and time… And it doesn’t make you feel better. I’d also tell myself to talk less and listen more. I’ve met some amazing, spiritual people who said to me – you need to listen. I remember doing this therapy course, and I was playing up, being the centre of attention. And the teacher said: “Will you shut the fuck up?”
I’d have been indifferent to the idea of fame when I was 16. My whole career was an accident. The only reason I started a band is that everyone else was doing it. I had no ambition. At first, I just wanted the bohemian lifestyle. Then I met Jon Moss and he joined my band, and I was in a relation- ship with him and it was, oh my God, then I really got into the whole thing. But it’s only in the last six years I’ve come to look at what I do as a job and I do it with more respect. But it’s not ‘all or nothing’ any more, like it was when I was younger. I can’t imagine living my life feeling like that ever again. I had no ‘off’ button. I was an extreme person.
You often make sense of your life in hindsight. When I was in prison [he was jailed for four months in 2009 for assault] it didn’t feel like it was teaching me anything. I was just getting through this unpredictable day-to-day, dealing with people who were unhinged. Afterwards I did think it made me realise how much I need my own company, time on my own just to think. And I read a lot – everything I’d lied about reading in the past: Oscar Wilde, Dickens, Wuthering Heights, Catch-22. I got friends of mine to send me classics. I found so much I loved. And now I read loads.
As an older man I understand why some people take a long time to come out. I’m reading the Morrissey book now – I love Morrissey – and I understand why he never came out guns blazing. I think he wanted to avoid defining himself as anything clear-cut. Unfortunately when you come out people define you by what you do in bed. Lots of people get nagged – “Come out, come out” – then when they do the press say, all you ever do is talk about being gay. I keep telling people, being gay is about three hours a week. I met Morrissey when Culture Club were massive and he knew I was a massive fan. He was horrible to me. He wouldn’t speak. And afterwards he called me unbearable. Then again, I probably was.