When Culture Club first appeared on Top of the Pops in 1982, all the teenagers’ parents were saying, ‘Is it a boy or a girl’, much the same was said of Pete Burns in later years. Pete had a penchant for plastic surgery and is completely unrecognisable from his early days in pop.
Pete was born in Cheshire in 1959 to a German-born Jewish mother who, to escape the anti-Semitic jibes from the Nazi’s, moved to Vienna where she met a Liverpudlian Soldier Francis Burns and a Soldier’s tea dance.
Pete, whose middle name is Jozzeppi, grew up in Liverpool and got a job working in record shop called Probe where a lot of local musicians gathered. He didn’t have the job long as it was well documented that he treated many customers poorly, especially if he didn’t approve of the music they were buying. After the shop he formed a Goth group called the Nightmares in Wax in 1979, the following year he renamed them Dead or Alive.
By the mid-eighties Dead Or Alive’s line up featured Stephen Coy (drums), Tim Lever (keyboards) and Michael Percy (bass). Their song, You Spin Me Round (Like a Record), which they wrote together, was inspired by Pete’s days of selling vinyl and it became the first number one record by the production team of Mike Stock, Matt Aitken and Pete Waterman. In a very revealing interview for BBC Music Magazine in 2002, Pete Waterman told Adam Sweeting, “That had Ride of the Valkyries all over it. I’ve stolen from Wagner about 20 times and what I take from him is pathos, string runs and harmonies. My job is to make sure you don’t spot it. We changed a few things around, but if you listen to You Spin Me Round, the strings are straight off Valkyries – they do all the glissandos and the wind-ups.”
His appearance attracted much press and Pete once said, in an interview with The Sun, “When you’re young, self-conscious and standing in front of a camera and the photographers are whispering, ‘Can we turn his head to the left?’ you think, I’ll do something about it,” and he did, on a massive scale. Pete forked out £750 to get his nose fixed but when he woke up from surgery he knew something was terribly wrong. More than anything, it’s his lips that are always the talking point and he has had over 200 reconstructive operations on them.
Dead Or Alive had other Top 20 records; Lover Come Back to Me, In Too Deep and Something in My House and they are one group who can genuinely boast of being big in Japan.
In 2006 he appeared on Celebrity Big Brother and at one point had to apologise over comments he made about Michael Jackson, but as his co-contestants all said, ‘his had a heart of gold’. His chosen Celebrity Big Brother charity was Mermaids, a support group for teens with gender identity issues. He obviously got a taste for reality TV as he later appeared on Celebrity Wife Swap and The Body Shocking Show.
He never publicly revealed his sexuality; in 1980 he married Lynne Corlett whom he’d met in a hair salon they had both worked in and soon after they separated in 2006 he married Michael Simpson in a civil ceremony. Whenever he’s asked his regular answer is, “Forget all that. There’s got to be a completely different terminology and I’m not aware if it’s been invented yet. I’m just Pete.”
Either way, he was content, in a recent interview he said, “I can honestly say since 1976 I have lived solely off music and TV, and I’ve had a very nice life, a lot nicer than some of my peers who’ve gone broke. I’ve had a very nice life. Very.” Pete died on Sunday following a suddenly cardiac arrest, he was just 57.