The House That Made Me

Boy George’s return to his old home makes for queasy viewing.

The people at the Channel 4 press office were inexplicably reluctant to let me see a preview of the first part of the channel's new reality-show-cum-social-history series, The House That Made Me. I've no idea why. Were they worried I would spot its wafer-thin format? Or were they merely keen to keep this episode starring Boy George (9 December, 9pm) under wraps for reasons of news management? The latter, I expect - though my strong feeling is that while it's mildly interesting that Opus Dei now owns the mansion flat in west London where George lost his virginity, it's still not exactly front-page news. Hard to be surprised by anything George-related these days. It's only a couple of years, after all, since the bizarre episode that led to his conviction for falsely imprisoning a male escort. The escort in question, who eventually escaped into the street in his underpants, was Norwegian - a detail that has for some reason stuck in my mind like glue.

But I digress. In The House That Made Me assorted celebrities - Michael Barrymore and Jamelia are up next - revisit their childhood homes, which have been made over so that they look as they did when the star in question lived in them. The star wanders around and says all the bleedingly obvious things a person tends to say when he returns somewhere after a long absence. In George's case, this involved a trip to south-east London and comments about the incredibly small size of the living room of his old council house in Eltham.

It was no doubt at this point that the producers of the series grasped the weediness of their flimsy time-travel theme. Gazing at a load of G-plan furniture and brown wallpaper does not a 50-minute programme make. How on earth to stretch the thing out? Well, if there is a second home whose residents are willing to have their interiors completely, erm, rearranged (I was going to say "wrecked", but this isn't Changing Rooms: I'm sure they put everything back just as it was before) then shoot that, too. So, off George went to the bigger, Edwardian house to which he moved aged 14.

Finally, he had to track down various "missing" items, and drone on about those, too. This was all very stagey. He retrieved a record player from a music journalist, and a sewing machine (just like his mum's) from some kind of batty museum of sewing machines. And he fondled an old pair of boxing gloves in memory of his late father, whose temper was awful.

Our hero's trip down memory lane appeared to leave him feeling unexpectedly queasy. It was easy to spot the signs: a watchful quietness followed by much desperate laughter thereafter. George titters strategically whenever something is too close to the bone. My strong hunch is that, fairly early on, he started to have second thoughts about taking part (indeed, in an earlier cut, he could be seen having one of his famous strops), though, of course, he never looks what you could call happy these days, sober or not. The inky tattoos on his bald head and pasty visage make him look like the winning entry - "Angry Face!" - in a children's decorate-your-own Easter Egg competition, and not even his seemingly endless collection of brightly-coloured Stephen Jones hats can do anything to change that.

George, clever and articulate, has always been acute when it comes to fame. His life, he said, seems to have happened to someone else; on paper, he can never believe that it's his. Knowing that being famous sends you "up your own arse" is, however, not the same thing as being able to stop it from happening. There was a strange unreality about his conversations with his four geezer brothers, and even with his beloved Irish mother. He stood at a distance from them, and you could not help but feel that this emotional gap, with which he has lived since he was a teenager, is the source of most of his problems. His mother reminisced uncertainly about the moment he told her that he was gay. "I didn't know anything about the mechanicals," she said comically. From beneath his luxuriant false eyelashes, George cast the camera a glinting, rapacious look. Innocence and experience, and never the twain shall meet.

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 13 December 2010 issue of the New Statesman, The radical Jesus