Inside the bizarre world of Pete Burns -- Jan 9 2006
PADDY SHENNAN on the weird and wonderful life of Big Brother's Scouse celebrity
Paddy Shennan, Liverpool Echo
ONCE seen never forgotten, Pete Burns used to walk around Liverpool wearing
outrageous black PVC outfits, black contact lenses - and human bones in his hair.
"Nobody was as wild as me. Some people used to laugh, but I knew one day I would
show them all."
This was the Dead or Alive frontman, now 46, talking to the ECHO long after he'd
shown them all by storming to the top of the charts with You Spin Me Round (Like A
And now the man of his word is showing them all over again, this time in the
Celebrity Big Brother house.
Move over Michael Barrymore, the real drama queen's in town.
"He caused a sensation in Liverpool because he was the ultimate head-turner,"
recalls Geoff Davies, who employed him behind the counter at Probe Records in Button
Street - where Pete staged a party to celebrate getting to No. 1 in spring 1985.
Geoff adds: "The nearest I ever got to being involved in a fight was when I stopped
some fella beating him up in the shop because he took exception to his appearance."
It has previously been suggested that Geoff employed him because he knew he would be
bound to attract more customers, but he says: "I never looked at it like that. I
just thought things were always lively and fun when Pete was around. He was great
company; so funny and so bitchy.
"He must have worked for Probe for about two years - and I also rented out part of
the shop to Pete and his girlfriend, Lynne, whom he later married (they wed in 1980
but recently divorced), where they sold weird clothes, including a lot of PVC."
Just a few yards away from Probe was Eric's in Mathew Street. A Cavern for the
1970s, it was the focal point of the Liverpool punk and new wave scene between 1976
It was a place where Pete and Lynne held court - and the place where Roger Eagle,
who ran the venue with Pete Fulwell and Ken Testi, told Pete he would no longer be
allowed entry unless he formed a band.
Pete Wylie, who, together with Julian Cope, played in that first Pete Burns band -
the Mystery Girls - is another fan of the man. He says: "I remember seeing the Sex
Pistols at Eric's. Nobody had ever seen anything like the Pistols and I'd never seen
anybody like Pete - I had a camera with me that night and took one photograph of the
Sex Pistols and three of Pete Burns.
"He wore black PVC and his head looked like someone had melted a load of black vinyl
down into a kind of space quiff. Pete Fulwell said that when The Clash played Eric's
the whole audience moved forward, but when the Mystery Girls played Eric's with Pete
singing the whole audience moved back."
But Pete, he adds, didn't just have the look, he had the mouth - and the guts.
"He was the funniest bitch you could ever meet. And although walking around
Liverpool looking like he did took a lot of bottle, he didn't take any s**t off
anyone - he would never back down. His mouth could get him into trouble but it could
also get him out of it.
"And he's also quite a big guy, so it was a brave person who took him on.
Johnny Rotten made I'm A Celebrity watchable when he was on that show - I think Pete
Burns will do the same with Celebrity Big Brother. It certainly won't be boring."
Liverpool-born music writer Paul Du Noyer famously said of Pete: "You could have
thrown a hand-grenade into the middle of Church Street and caused less reaction.
He's a born entertainer."
Pete, himself, told the ECHO: "I think I must have been a bit crazy in those days. I
mean I did look pretty odd, but the thing I loved was when I used to get the train
from Port Sunlight into Liverpool and nobody said anything, even though I must have
looked like something that stepped out of the taxidermist."
But his sense of adventure was in evidence years earlier - at the tender age of
seven he insisted on wearing a Red Indian head-dress at school.
He said: "I think my parents knew they were in trouble when I wouldn't go to school
without my head-dress and my mother used to have to come to the yard and set up a
wigwam so I could go in there at break time.
"I suppose I've always felt I've been in some kind of spotlight because of my
appearance. But I came out of the punk era and I don't understand people who make a
spectacle of themselves and are apologetic about it. I just do not apologise for
being a freaky-looking person.
"I think being flamboyant is very like a drug, though. I can take a dose of
flamboyancy that would kill most beginners and that shocks a lot of people. But I've
never done it to try and be provocative, I've done it because I know no other way to
After hitting the top, Pete stressed: "I didn't abandon Liverpool. I stayed as long
as I could, but in this business you have to come to London because you have to be
on call for things like studios or just management decisions and I make sure I'm
here so I can keep control."
Though it's true he didn't enjoy some of the reaction he provoked here: "It
definitely wasn't safe for me to live there because the city, at that time, about
1982, became potentially very violent towards unusual looking people.
"But I do accept that at that time, anywhere I went in the world, it was likely to
be that way.
"If you make yourself stand out and you're very conspicuous, human nature's first
instinct is probably to attack, criticise or abuse you.
"Liverpool was great and everything was exciting but gradually the attitude towards
freaky people became very nasty.
"The initial impact of having an outstanding appearance is that people are too
shocked to say anything, but when they see you on a regular basis the shock wears
off and turns to confusion, then the next step is aggression. Eventually they just
thought 'He's a w****r, let's throw a bottle at him'."
Of his cosmetic surgery career, he told us two years ago, when he was promoting the
Here And Now Tour, which also included Kool & The Gang and T'Pau: "I don't think I'm
going to end up like Michael Jackson, I haven't had anywhere near as many things
done as people think.
"If you buy your own house and live there for a couple of years, eventually you're
going to knock down a wall or paint it a different colour. I'm just re-decorating."
* For more information on all things Pete, go to http://www.deadoralive.net
A total superstar
PETE Burns is a man with a plan - a game plan to win Celebrity Big Brother.
"He's got a genius plot - it's a big plan," a close friend told the ECHO.
Adding to the mystery, he added: "You would not believe what he's been through in
the past two years. He's been through a couple of years of s**t and he will talk
about this in the house.
"I'm so proud of him; he's the bravest soul in the world."
The plot thickens. On the programme's launch night, Pete revealed that, four years
ago, he began to suffer major problems after his lips were injected with a
"I just wanted to die," he said.
He went on to explain that the reconstructive surgery he subsequently paid for cost
him his house and his 30-year back catalogue of songs.
Davina McCall later said Pete had spent the last 18 months undergoingreconstructive
surgery - but is there something else Pete is waiting to tell us?
I think we'd better stay tuned.
His close friend also told the ECHO: "Pete's one of the most intelligent, well-read
people I have ever known. He is also the most genuine, talented person; an absolute
"He's the sort of person who someone like Johnny Rotten would come up and say 'Hi'
to while ignoring everyone else in the room. He's exclusive, elusive and aloof - a
"I think he'll win the show. He'll certainly do Liverpool proud."
And the friend describes Pete and Lynne Burns, despite their divorce, as being like
"peas in a pod" adding: "They are soulmates - and two fantastic people."