wed 13/12/2017

Steve Strange, 1959-2015 | reviews, news & interviews

Steve Strange, 1959-2015

Steve Strange, 1959-2015

Ghost biographer remembers the New Romantic leader as a creative spirit and true pioneer

Steve Strange – One Man, Many Images

The death of Steve Strange, aged 55, was both a surprise and not a surprise to me. His adult life in and out of the spotlight had been something of an unpredictable rollercoaster ride where anything could happen.

I had followed his career since the late 1970s and the early 1980s when he was at the forefront of the New Romantic movement, minding the door and acting as general tastemaker at the Blitz Club in Covent Garden. Then in 2001 I was approached by a publisher to ghostwrite his autobiograply, Blitzed!. His contemporary Martin Kemp had just had great success with his book, True, and there was a feeling that Strange could do the same. His on-off rival Boy George had also produced a very successful book, Take It Like A Man.

 It was an act that demonstrated his volatility, but also his love for his family

I met Steve in London, and while it would not be strictly honest to say we became great mates we did get on well. He was friendly and kind and open, and we met regularly to do a series of interviews. There was a hint of the ongoing turbulence in his life, however, when we kept having to meet in different places because of changes of address. There were also periods when we did not meet, when he went back to stay with friends and family in south Wales.

His family was always very supportive. The book deal followed shortly after Strange had been given a suspended sentence for shoplifting a Teletubbies doll from a shop in Bridgend. It was an act that demonstrated his volatility, but also his love for his family. He wanted the doll for his nephew.

As we spoke over the months, the stories flowed out. His change of name from Steven John Harrington, his early punk days meeting the Sex Pistols, his tabloid acclaim as New Romantic pioneer. He had clearly loved being the centre of attention, hanging out with Paula Yates and living in a palatial pad in Kensington. And, of course, he loved being a pop star as the frontman of Visage. Yet at the same time he remained something of an enigma to me. He was soft-spoken and modest about his achievements and had never lost that slightly camp lilting Welsh accent, even when dressing as an exotic peacock and colouring his hair well into his forties (I can confirm it was not a wig, despite what some people said).

But of course, there was that dark side. He recalled it was the fashion world rather than the rock and roll world that introduced him to heroin. He had been generous with his money when he had it, but as the hits dried up and the drugs drained his bank account his friends seemed to drift away. After that first flush of fame, life was difficult time for Strange and he battled to fight his addiction. 

Working on the book was part of the cleaning-up process. What I realised as we collaborated closely was that he was the kind of person who would do bad, self-destructive things if his mind was not occupied doing good, constructive things. The book kept him busy. I could see that when he was working on it with me he was in a good place. There were times however after publication when he had a gap to fill. I heard about him turning up at the publisher's office asking to borrow money which he promised to pay back but never did. Yet he also lent me money when I was at his flat in Chelsea and wanted to grab a sandwich.

Now that he is gone I don't think there will be anyone like him again. He really was one of a kind. Strange occupies a very particular place in cultural history. He was in at the start of club culture, alongside his chum, DJ Rusty Egan. Without Strange we might not have superstar DJs. In fact without him people might have nothing to do on a Saturday night apart from sit in the corner of a pub nursing a pint. London's clubland ought to have been paying him a royalty for the last three decades. 

And in a way he paved the way for the reality TV stars of this century. He ended up being kind of famous just for being famous. Though let’s not forget that Visage also made a few very important records, most notably "Fade to Grey", but also the harder, harsher 1982 album The Anvil. There was a bit of a - no pun intended – grey area about how much Strange contributed to the music, but without him the records clearly would not have had the impact they had.

Watch Steve Strange on Loose Women in 2012

Inevitably Steve and I lost contact after the book came out, but not before one glorious launch party in Soho which reunited him with old friends such as the Kemp brothers. Some people on Twitter have noted the coincidence that the man behind "Fade To Grey" died just as Fifty Shades of Grey came out. What feels more symbolic to me is that the man who was so creative, so distinctive and so original, and who symbolised so much of what made central London great in the early 1980s has died just as the heart is being ripped out of central London by developers who do not have a creative bone in their body.

London's clubland ought to have been paying him a royalty for the last three decades

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters