The Darkness's Justin Hawkins: 'Contrary to expectations, you'd never catch me dogging'

The I Believe In a Thing Called Love singer on life in Lowestoft, Queen and writing jingles for Ikea

Hi, Justin, where are you?

I am eating vegetarian food in a Japanese restaurant in London. Five days a week, I only eat vegan, and mostly vegetables. I do eat meat or fish if it's been spectacularly prepared, and has died in an accident. 

Nice. You're looking good in your new press photos. Have you lost weight?

Yes, I was 15/16st. I'm just under 11st now. 

How did you lose so much?

A combination of bulimia and speed. No, the key is to stop eating meat and fish, and stop drinking milk. Just drink water. Get rid of bread. Oh, and go to the gym every day. 

I see you've got a goatee and moustache.

Yes, the moustache happened in 2009, and when we started doing the Darkness again [in 2010] the rest of the guys talked me into growing a beard, which I was resistant to, but now I love. 

You're also quite heavily tattooed.

Yes, I've got one of a winged microphone, a "mind-sword", the TDK logo, and one of vintage mid-'80s synthesizer the DX7 – as used by Queen – that I had done in 2008. 

Why did you decide to have a vintage mid-'80s synthesizer engraved on your arm?

Because I have one in my synthesizer collection at home, and they make me laugh. 

Any other tattoos we should know about? I have individual images of the members of Queen, from the album Hot Space on my fingers. I thought someone should stick up for Hot Space – the contentious, disowned Queen album – so I did. It's a really iconic piece of artwork, and Under Pressure is on the record. I also have "Lowestoft" tattooed on my stomach. 

So rappers have "Compton", you have Lowestoft?

Yeah, I'm on the East Side. Of England. 

Do you still live in Lowestoft?

Yes, I live near where I went to school. I'm literally five minutes from my mum and dad. I go round every day. I take my dogs there and hang out. 

Do you take your washing?

No, I enjoy doing laundry. It's part of the grounding process. 

What's it like there?

I rent a house next to a nature reserve and a football pitch, and a beach – a wild one, where people go to do dogging. There's a lot of sex that happens in the bushes. I see men standing in them, fully erect. Happens all the time. It used to be a nudist area. Great place to walk the dogs, although it's not ideal if you don't want to see men's cocks.

You imagine it's the least likely people who go dogging.

I know. You expect people like me to do it, but you'd never catch me dogging. 


No. Contrary to popular expectation. 

You're single, aren't you? (1) What's it like?

You miss your pets when you're away from them. When you're away on tour and you've got a girlfriend, there's always the check-in phone call: before the gig, after the gig, whatever. I didn't think I'd miss that – it was one of the things that annoyed me about having a relationship – but actually now it's gone, I sort of do. And I can't ring my dog. He's no good at Skype. And FaceTime's out of the question. 

Much has been made of your period of bacchanalian excess. For example, you once made a male lackey feed you spaghetti bolognese in a lift. Hardly Caligula, though, is it?

Ah, but you don't know how he came to be in a lift with me...

There has been a lot of alcoholic and narcotic excess in the Darkness' history, but not much of the sexual variety …

When you're in a relationship with the manager of the band, it's quite difficult to, you know ... These days, I'm too focused for that: I get up, have porridge and water and really strong black coffee for breakfast, then I run 6km, then I do my weights, then it's time to warm up my voice because I get up late, and then two hours before the show I put my makeup on and do my stretches. Then there's the show. Winding down for me doesn't involve fucking – I wouldn't be able to do my morning thing the next day. 

You're one of the few metal bands that women like. 

Yeah. I think we're all a bit effeminate. We're not men's men, much as we may appear to be so. 

Are you, to paraphrase Suede's Brett Anderson, a heterosexual who's never had a homosexual experience? (2)

My sexual persuasion is nobody's business but my own – but I'm easily persuaded. Just kidding. Is that a genuine question about my sexuality?

Er ...

I want to go back to that sexuality thing. You reckon I'm gay, don't you?

Er, are you gay?

None of your business! It's funny because it came up recently in a German interview. They reckoned that when you Google Justin Hawkins, one of the first things that comes up is: "Is Justin Hawkins gay?" And I'd like to think that's because there's something I do that connects with a gay audience. Maybe it's all the cocks I suck?

Talking of sex, in the video to your latest single Everybody Have a Good Time, you get intimate with a bear. 

It was going to be a monkey, but animatronic monkey faces were too terrifying. So we came up with the bear. Unfortunately, the record company said it would be too expensive to have an animatronic one , so it had to be a guy in a bear costume. With a bra on. 

Have you ever had amorous feelings towards an animal?

Well, when you're in a field in the fresh air, you can become amorous, and there might happen to be animals present. But it's more to do with the climate, and the rustling of leaves. That gets me going. 

There's a Radiohead cover (3) on your new album. Was that to prick their pomposity?

No. It was to inflate ours. People used to say we must hate Radiohead, but we don't, we love them. I don't know anyone who doesn't love Radiohead. This was our chance to show our respect. 

Who is the foremost pompous, preening ninny in pop?

Well, it used to be me. I thought pop was all about pompous, preening ninnies. 

Look at Jagger. 

Exactly. That guy from Maroon 5 doesn't have moves like Jagger. He's maybe got moves like Jagger's waxwork at Madame Tussaud's.  

You sing on your track, Every Inch Of You, "I wanted to be a doctor or a vet until I heard Communication Breakdown." True?

When I was a kid I wanted to be either a helicopter pilot, or a doctor or a vet. And I'm sure mum would have loved any of those. Maybe not helicopter pilot. Dad would have liked that. 

Are they disappointed in your choice of career?

Not at all. They're delighted. Over the moon. My father's a builder and he's worked all his life and he just wanted me and Dan [Hawkins, his guitarist brother] to not have to. 

Can you afford to not work any more?

No, I have to work. Spiritually as well as financially. 

It was once alleged that you personally blew £150,000 on cocaine ...

That's a massive exaggeration. It was actually £149,000. 

Was it you who spent it, or the whole band?

No, just me. 

You said you wanted to write the world's simplest, dumbest rock song with Everybody Have a Good Time. Did you achieve your aim?

No, there are simpler ones out there.

What is the world's simplest, dumbest rock song?

We Will Rock You? That might be it. 

Does it take a genius to write something that simple and dumb?

I think so, yeah. Or somebody very brave. Or an idiot. 

Did you really once write jingles for Ikea?

I did, yes. That's how we paid for the first album. It was TV adverts. I did HSBC, Tango, Mars bars, Irn Bru, the Sunday Express gardening supplement TV ad – I've been running a jingle company for the last 15 years. 

You're about to tour with Lady Gaga. Do you get nervous with stars in a higher commercial league than you?

I'm in awe of Lady Gaga. I love the mystique around her, and the way she's this entity all the time. You never see her without full make-up, or pictures of her going to the supermarket wearing something baggy. She's 100% an artist; a work of art. That's what I aspire to be. She's a hero. So it's going to be weird meeting her. But it's got nothing to do with earnings. 

What is the ratio of piss-take to authentic in what you do? 90/10? 

There's no piss-take. All of it is affection. My mum would often recount hilarious tales of hanging around with Jimi Hendrix and Brian Jones. She wasn't a groupie, I'd like to stress. But she was around in the 60s and in that scene and she loved and knew all those people. I say "knew" – not in that sense. But she ran in the same circles. Anyway, her and my aunty had a lot of famous friends. And they talked about Brian Jones turning up at a club in a pink catsuit, and the way Hendrix used to dress. All we're doing is affectionately doing music the way it should be done, and wearing the correct uniform. 

You worked with Queen's producer Roy Thomas Baker on your second album. What did he make of you?

He often compared me to the obvious, and that was lovely.

As singer and guitarist, you're Freddie (Mercury) and Brian (May) in one, aren't you?

I always wanted to be Freddie, Brian, Angus (Young) and Bon (Scott) in one. Those are my four touchstones. 

There's a track on your new album called Nothing's Gonna Stop Us. What could conceivably stop you?


Will your album, Hot Cakes, sell like hot cakes?

I couldn't care less. Although bear in mind I live in a big house in the country and drive a sports car. 

Is winning an Ivor Novello still the highpoint of your career? (4)

Yes. There is no higher accolade.

How could you top it?

It would be great if I could die and people still not know whether I'm gay or not. That would be an achievement. To get to heaven and St Peter goes: "Well?"


(1) Hawkins was previously in a relationship with the Darkness' manager. 
Back to article

(2) Anderson once declared to Melody Maker: "I'm a bisexual who's never had a homosexual experience."
Back to article

(3) They do a version of Street Spirit (Fade Out) that Thom would surely just love. Back to article

(4) The Darkness were named Songwriters of the Year.
Back to article

• This article was amended on 28 August 2012 to tidy up a grammatical slip in the section relating to the purchase of cocaine.


Paul Lester

The GuardianTramp

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