Grayson Perry: 'I’m an unapologetic fetishist'

The artist, 58, on art, road rage, teddy bears and his mum’s affair with the milkman

My childhood was chaotic. Mother had an affair with the milkman, who later became my stepdad and my father left. My stepdad was an angry guy and Mother was a hysterical narcissist. It was a toxic mixture and there was a lot of disruption and violent arguments in the house. I retreated into a fantasy world to protect myself.

If I’d had a happy childhood I definitely wouldn’t have become the person I am – although a bad childhood isn’t a recipe for being a creative person. There are many people in the arts who come from perfectly happy, middle-class homes.

I nearly joined the army at 16. I went straight down to the recruitment office, but the guy said: “I don’t think you are quite ready.” He was right. I think it would have worked out very badly.

Cross-dressing got me when I was 12. I had a fantasy about being a prisoner in a German PoW camp and being ordered to dress as a woman. It gave me such a buzz that the next day I borrowed a dress from my sister.

My beloved teddy bear Alan Measles was my substitute dad. He was my first Christmas present from my parents when I was a baby, and became my best friend. I grew up in a dangerous environment in which to be an assertive male, so I parked a large part of myself with him for safekeeping.

My whole existence is a two-fingers-up to a certain sector of the art world. I was having a coffee recently and this woman said: “My son likes putting on dresses, he loves you.” Brilliant. I love that I can reach that popular audience.

Road rage is my vice. I’m a cyclist and motorcyclist, and people who don’t indicate drive me nuts. I’m not usually recognised on the road because I’m a boiling anger ball, but a guy once popped his head out of a hole in the road he was fixing and said: “Shouldn’t you be in a dress?”

I’m an unapologetic fetishist, which is a dirty word in other branches of the trans community. Once during filming I hung out with a bunch of trans people and I overheard one say: “He’s just a cross-dresser.” I turned round with my gun-turret head on and said: “Just a cross-dresser?” I got their number.

It’s handy being married to a psychotherapist. Philippa is so clear-eyed. We met at a creative writing course more than 30 years ago. We became good friends before we became lovers.

Therapy has been the biggest influence on my work since I first did it about 20 years ago. I started because if anything went wrong, it was always a catastrophe, never just a blip. I had a god-awful temper and I still do – but just more appropriately.

I don’t care how I’ll be remembered after death. For all I know people will put all my work in a skip the next day.

To buy tickets for Grayson Perry’s tour, Them and Us, go to


Ruth Huntman

The GuardianTramp

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