David Hoyle is appearing at London’s Soho Theatre at the end of this month in a new show called Ten Commandments. Here, for posterity, is an early interview he granted me in his Divine David days that wasn’t previously available online.
Mark Simpson meets the leggy, legendary performance artist David Hoyle.
(Attitude, October 1996)
The theme from Stanley Kubrick’s ‘2001’ thunders on the P.A. Lights flash. An unearthly, apocalyptic creature, tall and skinny, in a rubber Eva Brown outfit, a wig like Liza Minelli’s hair after four weeks in the bottom of a dumpster, and with mascara that reaches down to his artistically pronounced cheek-bones (bones inspired, no doubt, by David Bowie c. Diamond Dogs) giving his large round eyes the look of a Medusa on meth, stalks to the edge of the stage and raises his arm in a mock fascist salute.
Just another crowd-pleasing traditional comedy drag mime act.
“Good evening, ladies UNT! gentlemen,” he announces in a voice that is part we’re-all-friends-here-tonight working men’s club cabaret and part Bette Davies in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane (third reel). “Thank you for coming,” he says, enunciating ev-ve-ry syllable. ‘I would like us all to remember that we are all beau-ti-ful. Each and every one of us is beau-ti-ful. Every single living creature is beau-ti-ful. Even you madam, at the back there with your dayglo sandals, yes you. You’re beau-ti-ful too.”
“Do you like the way I’m dressed?” asks The Divine, gesturing to his alarming apparel. “I’m hoping to meet a neo-Nazi and get shagged by his Nazi cock so I can feel really gay and really live with myself in the morning. And, after all, being gay is so fulfilling. How nice it is to meet a gay man and discuss life and the world: ‘What do you think about the situation in Bosnia?’ [putting on a growly butch idiot voice] ‘I go to the gym, like, one day, like, and then the next I don’t go, coz that’s my day off when my muscles grow, like.”‘
“‘What do you think about child prostitution in Thailand?”‘
“‘I go to the gym, like, one day, like, and then the next day I don’t go, coz that’s my day off when my muscles grow, like.'”
A legend on the Manchester cabaret circuit for several years, Divine David, the most important and original performance artist of his generation has now descended on London, the capital of gayness and shitey heartlessness with his smash hit show VIVA VIVA APATHY! at the Market Tavern, Vauxhall.
And, make no mistake, he’s come to hold us all to account, to hold up a mirror in which we can see our own grotesque, Boyzy, brainless reflection. It’s Judgement Day for poofs and you better get nervous.
In the flesh, minus the scary mascara and bedlam wig, David is an attractive, fair-haired, blue-eyed man in his early thirties with twinkly eyes and a manner so warm, gentle and attentive that I can’t help but fall helplessly in love with him by the third cup of sweet tea. He is, quite simply, a born star. We may all be beau-ti-ful, but David is the most beautiful man in Britain.
But why is he so bitter? “It’s interesting, isn’t it?” he says, clearly over-familiar with this charge. “Because you love life, and you want to improve it – because you’re passionate – you get accused of being bitter. I’m not bitter; I’m angry. Angry about dehumanisation. About a gay world which is as deep as a layer of lycra. I look forward to the day when the music stops. A man will walk down Compton Street and into one of the bars and see someone sweeping up in silence. He’ll asks him, panicking, “What’s going on, where is everybody?”
“‘Didn’t you know that tonight is the night when it’s all over?’, will come the reply. ‘Now we have to be people and have conversation.’
“And it would be wonderful, wouldn’t it?” enthuses David, his eyes flashing. “Instead of standing around ogling one another, trying to look colossal and insensitive you could be putting stamps in a stamp album: ‘Oh, this one’s from Antigua, isn’t it pretty?’ Someone else could be making a Spanish galleon out of matchsticks: ‘It takes a lot of patience, but I think it’s worthwhile in the end.’ Wouldn’t that be nice? I think that all this energy going into being a sexual animal 24hrs a day is hysterically funny, don’t you?”
No one who has seen him perform his song “Being Gay”, where he sings over and over with increasing hysterical over-investment, a la Yoko Ono, “Being gay!“, before finally finishing with a snarled ‘Is a waste of time!‘, could disagree.
All the same, why doesn’t he do proper drag and put his make-up on right? “Because I don’t believe in gender. I’m very into the circus. To wear false tits and perfect make-up would be to endorse a controlling consensus I don’t subscribe to. People say, ‘Hey, you look bloody a mess, you do.’ I say, ‘I’m sorry, I thought I looked beautiful.’
“My face is a canvas; I’m into 1920s German expressionism, Otto Dix, that sort of thing. It’s like when I cut myself on stage at Viva Apathy! – it was just a rock ‘n’ roll cliché, a show-business cliché. And there are a lot of performers I’d like to see cut themselves a bit more, a bit deeper. The entertainment they give people is a form of euthanasia. Frankly, they should just stab themselves to death on stage,” says David, giving his trademark throaty, gurgling, disturbing laugh: slightly ha-ha-that’s-a-joke!, and slightly ha-ha-you-think-I’m-joking??
Yes, that’s all very well, but a lot of readers, I’m sure, would like to know why he doesn’t go to the gym and beef up and buy some sportswear get himself a boyfriend and be happy? “I have to say it doesn’t make any sense to me,” says David. “Funnily enough, I don’t want to be loved for my pectoral muscles or an impersonation of a moron. I know I’m too skinny to be loved by my gay brothers, but I prefer to be self-reliant. Yes, I am essentially an incurable romantic, but I’ve learnt that it’s wasteful to condense your energy into a single laser beam that pierces only one heart – much better to be a mirror ball splashing light everywhere, I say.”
“Of course, I do feel sorry for young people coming onto the scene. They won’t experience much compassion or conversation. That’s why I go to gay bars and stand in the middle of the floor and sing [putting on his perfect Northern cabaret vibrato] ‘I wanna know what love is/ I want you to show me….’.
Divine David, real name David Hoyle, was born in the show business mecca that is Blackpool in 1962. His mother worked in his grandad’s chemist shop and his father was a merchant seaman, away for nine months of the year. “I missed him very much,” he confesses. “I remember when I was about seven, coming home from school and this man coming up to me and spinning me around. ‘Don’t you know who I am?’ he asked. ‘Er, I’ve got to go into the shop and buy some sweets,’ I replied. I didn’t know what else to say. It was what you might call a difficult moment.”
David was raised for the most part by his grandparents. “They were from a generation whose heyday was the twenties and thirties, Fred Astaire dancing on tables, satin ball-gowns and the like. I appreciated that. Their house was calm and peaceful; I could read and draw to my heart’s content – I drew the whole time. My mother’s house, on the other hand, was straight out of a sixties kitchen sink drama – shades of Cathy Come Home, if you will.”
His mother had a hard time and David is forgiving about any shortcomings. “It’s funny,” he says, looking wistful, “you go through life as an adult looking for love in all the wrong places, rejecting family and all that because you’re queer, and then you realise that, flawed as it was, you never quite match the love you got as a child. My mother was doing the best that she could as a Northern working woman with an absent husband. She always said that she had to be a mother and a father to me. I think she felt a little guilty, as mothers do. I remember her saying, when I told her that I was gay, ‘I knew I should have made you play with that Meccano set.'”
At school David’s unnatural talent began to shine forth. He remembers dressing up in the Princess’ outfit in third year infants, an evening dress arrangement with clear plastic high-heels. One girl hissed at me: ‘You can’t be the Princess! You’re a boy!‘ and pushed me into the wicker dressing-up basket. But I didn’t want to be the princess, I just wanted to be beautiful.”
David also liked to run around the playground wearing his grey duffle-coat inside out – “it had a fleecy lining which made me look special” – singing ‘Leaving on a Jet Plane’. Planes had a peculiar attraction. At nine, with his best friend, their favourite game was to walk downstairs pretending to be film stars disembarking from an airliner. “One of us would pretend to take photographs. At the bottom of the steps, we’d trip over and die dramatically of a twisted ankle. Don’t all children play those games?”
After leaving school David got a job at British Home Stores. “I believe I was the first boy in the history of BHS to be put on a till; I felt very proud, as you can imagine.” He also worked on the cold meat counter. “I learnt a lot about life there. One day a middle-aged lady came in and asked for some bacon pieces for a quiche. She asked for only the fattiest pieces. She said her husband had just been diagnosed with a heart disease. “Hasn’t he been good to you?” I asked. “No,” she said. So, I found her the fattiest bacon in the shop.”
But the stage of BHS proved too small for his ambitions, and David began appearing in working men’s clubs as a character called Paul Monery-Vaine, ‘based on the Pulmonary vein in your heart’, who was to be an early prototype for the visceral Divine David. “I sang ‘Hey, Big Spender’ and ‘You Made Me Love You’. I ended up closing the show every Sunday evening.” Then there was a summer season in a theatre above a Cafe on Coronation St, Blackpool called Blackpool Breezes; The main act billed themselves ‘As seen on TV’. I later found out it was Maltese TV.”
In the early eighties the bright lights of London and bedsit land beckoned, and David began hanging around The Bell in Kings Cross – a post-New Romantic, mixed gay/straight, male/female pop-rock venue for all sorts of ‘artistic’ runaways newly arrived in London. He was drinking, dancing, laughing, and having fun, before he found himself all alone in an isolation ward with acute hepatitis listening to a doctor tell him how ‘his sort’ disgusted him.
David beat a tactical retreat back North, to Manchester where he kept alive the ‘alternative’ spirit of The Bell, developing his rock ‘n’ roll drag persona all through the desert years of dance and dull obedience to the pink pound. As he announced in his triumphal recent London ICA performance: “We’ve had seamless disco house music for ten years now. I feel like it’s time for a change. D’you know what I mean? I’m just a little bit bored. I feel that it’s time to move on and change the fucking record.”
That same evening, after hip-wigglingly, arms-in-the-air, ecstatic performances of his handbag house anthems “Bingo (Your Number’s Up!)” and “Mardi Gras (Time to Die!)”, David’s finale is an act of homage to the gay men he has loved. Picture a row of watermelons with smiley faces drawn on them lined up on stage. “Meet my ex-boyfriends,” invites David. He picks up the first watermelon: “This is Steve. Steve and I went out for three months (I call him Steve because we were on first name terms). It was beautiful. We loved one another. Then one day Steve came to me and said: ‘I’ve found someone with bigger arms and that’s important to me. I hope you understand.’
“What do you think I ought to do with him?” he asks, picking up a large wooden mallet. ‘SMASH HIM!’ the audience shouts. David takes a few hesitant, fey swings which stop just above ‘Steve’s’ head, before suddenly letting out a terrible, harpie shriek and smashing the watermelon to a pulp with a salvo of righteous blows, spattering pink across the crowd, and then quickly despatching the other melons. Mallet dripping, dress covered in pink slime, out of breath, wig akimbo, David gives the audience some agony aunt advice: “Ladies and gentlemen, if your boyfriend makes you feel grateful for a fuck – kill him! If anyone stands between you and your dreams – kill them!”.
“Anybody who survives is taking revenge,” David tells me later. “Revenge is a creative force. No matter how much you were told not to be artistic, still being artistic, that’s revenge; no matter how childish and naive you were told your ideals were, still believing in them, that’s revenge.”
Why does he go on about death all the time? “It’s inevitable. It’s real. My hepatitis experience taught me that. And I’m still not convinced it’s the worst thing that can happen to you. If you’re yourself for just one day on this Earth, then maybe your whole life has been worthwhile. If you can’t, then maybe death is preferable. And yes, I bring up death because I’m perverse.” After all, this is the man who when asked to come up with a list of Top Ten records for Boyz (a gay free paper), included at No. 4 “The sound of new-born lambs calling to their mothers on a busy motorway.”
Is he a prophet, urging us to mend our ways, or is it too late for that? Is he the angel of doom? “That would be telling,” he says, batting his long eyelashes. “I do think that if we decide we want a future then we might have one. The powers that be can do what they want for the millennium, but, personally, I think that a mass lifting of consciousness would be quite funky, don’t you?”
2011 video interview with David Hoyle