Judy Blame remembered by Boy George

13 February 1960 – 19 February 2018
The Culture Club frontman recalls the irreverent creative who helped to style many bands in the 80s using everything from KFC boxes and string to runny mascara

• Mac Miller remembered by Christian Clancy
• Read the Observer’s obituaries of 2018 in full here

I can’t remember when I first met Judy. He always talked about meeting me before I was famous, but I don’t know if that was true. I would have remembered him, wouldn’t I? He was very striking looking: a beautiful man with a very strong face and amazing hair. And of course he used to wear all these incredible creations. You were drawn to whatever he had on. “What’s that thing around your neck?!”

I got to know him well when I started buying his jewellery. When I got a Grammy in 1984, I went over to Judy’s the day before, borrowed a load of jewellery, and ended up wearing all of it on the night. Judy said: “Oh, I wouldn’t have lent it to you if I’d known you were going to wear it all at the same time.”

Then we worked together for years, on and off. He worked on tours with me and styled my videos. Judy wasn’t someone who watched from the sidelines. If you brought him in to style, he’d comment on everything – the hair, the way the photograph should be taken – and he would come up with mad ideas. I remember doing a video where he wrapped KFC packages around my legs with string, and it really looked good. He used cigarette packs, refuse, anything he could get his hands on.

Judy was formidable. For many years he was drunk a lot of the time so his behaviour was always a bit of a spectacle. Nobody’s talked about this but I don’t think he’d mind. Because it was a big part of his life. He would do shoots with you, then by 4pm he’d be rat-arsed and telling everyone to fuck off. Calling you all the names under the sun. Telling me I took him for granted. I’d say, “Judy, you need to go home.” Next time I’d see him, there would be no issue at all. Then it would start over again.

I wasn’t intimidated by him. We spoke the same language. I’ve been through my own addiction problems so there was never any judgment about it. Our generation lived very hedonistic lifestyles. And a lot of us didn’t know when to put the cap on it.

One year he came to my sister’s birthday party wearing stilettos and a monocle. I remember my Irish relatives all going, “Your man there, why is he called Judy?” I was like, “Oh it’s complicated.” By the end of the night, my entire Irish family from Dublin were in the corner with Judy necking shots and Guinness and everyone loved him. Because he was so straightforward and said what he thought.

I don’t really know why he called himself Judy Blame [he was born Christopher Barnes] – it might have had something to do with Judy Garland. The Blame thing, he used that word a lot himself – “Oh, just blame me!” – because he was always in some sort of drama. There was a lot about him I didn’t know. I watched an interview with him at an ICA retrospective a couple of years ago and learned that he’d lived in Spain as a kid and spoke Spanish. I didn’t know any of this.

Judy Blame in 2013.
Judy Blame in 2013. Photograph: David M Benett/Getty Images

Judy was so respected for his craft. He wasn’t a stylist in a “go and grab some clothes” kind of way. He came with a big knife and a safety pin and some ribbons and somehow created these incredible fashion moments which were very brave, irreverent and humorous.

Once he was styling a Shakespears Sister video and Siobhan Fahey’s makeup started to run. Instead of tidying it up, Judy said, “No, leave it.” It became a feature of the video, and quite iconic – people always talk about the runny mascara.

I was working with him just six months before he died. He made a ton of hats for me and some jewellery. That was really nice. He did mention he was having health problems but he didn’t really go into details. He was smoking like a chimney, sitting there in his big wooden throne and just coming up with great ideas. He’d been sober for about four years and was a very different person. He was clearly very intelligent, and you got to see that even more when he stopped drinking. You just always thought Judy was going to be around, so it was a shock when suddenly he wasn’t.

I always thought that Judy could have been much bigger. He probably wasn’t given the respect that he deserved. I think he did crave it, but the punk in him didn’t want to look too needy, so he would just say “Fuck everyone”. But obviously there were a lot of people who helped him and were extremely generous to him, because people loved him. I could always spot Judy’s work a mile away and it always used to excite me. I’d always be saying to people, “Oh, Judy did that first.”

• This article was amended on 1 May 2019 to correct the spelling of the band name Shakespears Sister from the correct-seeming but incorrect Shakespeare’s Sister.


Boy George

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