Hookers, Dealers, Tailors – an interview with Sebastian Horsley

Originally published on Spoonfed, May 2010.

“I will drink and I will take drugs, and in my weaker moments I will even eat, but I will never, ever, go to a theatre.” Tom Jeffreys meets Sebastian Horsley ahead of a one-man play about his entertaining life.

Sebastian Horsley

As I walk up Meard Street in Soho, Sebastian Horsley leans out of his window, does a little wave and a minute or so later emerges into the sunlight, bedecked in checked golfing trousers, a cream tailcoat with matching waistcoat, and a rather fraying high-collared pink shirt. It’s the Horsley from Turnbull & Asser: “I’m the only male customer to have covered buttons,” he says proudly. “I enjoy my look – it’s a joke, but I enjoy it.”

If you don’t know Sebastian Horsley (where have you been?), he’s a Soho dandy, below-average artist, sex columnist, and Comme des Garçons model. He’s swum with sharks, slept with a thousand prostitutes, been addicted to crack, been addicted to smack, invented a shirt at Turnbull & Asser, won a million and lost a million, and, most famously, crucified himself in the Philippines while Sarah Lucas filmed it. You may have heard of his autobiography, Dandy in the Underworld. You should read it – it’s a masterpiece. And now it’s being turned into a one-man play by the controversial Tim Fountain, starring Milo Twomey this June at the Soho Theatre.

Sebastian isn’t quite what you’d expect – as we sit at a small table outside Kettner’s, he’s surprisingly warm, friendly and inclusive, despite the heat and his tiredness. He uses ‘we’ a lot – not in the royal sense, but in a way that puts the two of you together as part of the same little tribe. This, combined with his whip-crack wit, makes Sebastian quite splendid company.

We (by which I mean Sebastian) cover all manner of topics: the internet (“it’s just not glamorous”); England (“living in England is like being married to a stupid but exquisitely spiteful wife”); Beau Brummell (“a horrible, crashing little snob”); the Sex Pistols (“Wasn’t that incredible? Where the fuck did that come from?”); tramps (“They’re such narcissists aren’t they?”); prison (“porridge, buggery, class A drugs – is there a 5-year waiting list to get in?”); and, amusingly, the youth of today: “the problem with the youth of today is that I’m no longer one of them. They’re fucking pathetic – they don’t blow anything up any more. How old are you?”

“25.”

“Oh well, you’re pathetic too.”

“Thank you.”

“That’s alright. Why don’t they do anything any more? Age is deformed, youth unkind; you scorn our bodies, we your minds. It’s left to middle-aged toss-pots like me to have some spunk left in us. I don’t know what’s happened. The time is right for some fucking thing. All this crap about the environment – I mean who gives a shit about that? Do you think dinosaurs were wiped off this planet because they didn’t recycle?”

Sebastian Horsley

He’s dynamite on the British film industry as well. “You go to those horrible Mike Leigh films where you can smell their genitals, and urrrgh…..you leave the cinema feeling worse than when you went in. I mean what’s the point in that? You might as well just look in the mirror. They’re always whining that there’s no film industry here. There’s no film industry because you’re shit at doing it. If you were good at doing it there’d be an industry. Haven’t you noticed that, you morons?”

We talk about writers – Eliot, Kafka, Byron, Wilde, Kierkegaard, Blake (“one of those mystical morons”), and Bukowski (“were you put off him by the wankers that like him? He’s one of the holy hosts – I’m sorry to have to tell you that.). We talk about Soho, Sebastian himself (obviously) and above all, we talk about dandyism. The forthcoming play barely gets a look in, but hey ho. Dandyism is the thing – if Sebastian can be said to have a philosophy (which he’d probably disagree with) then dandyism is it.

“It’s just a joke, life,” Sebastian explains. “It’s a whole joke. And given that life is absurd, given that it’s pointless, given that it’s meaningless; to mirror it with an absurdist dance is in many ways taking up a real position. Dandyism is a ghost dance in the face of defeat.” He grins. “That’s a good sentence.”

And dandyism is also about heroism: “The only way to escape ridicule is to be ridiculous. That said, there is a serious point to all of this – I’ve just forgotten it. It’s about being heroic. Heroism is very important to me and heroism is really a reflex against the terror of death.” Then, characteristically: “Anyway, where were we? Waffling along. Waffle waffle waffle. Anyway what can you do?”

What can you do? Well I’d recommend going to see the play for a start. And hopefully Sebastian will be there – he plays himself with an amateurish charm that no actor could ever came close to. And the reviews are bound to be pretty opinionated – as the man himself says: “The world is divided into two types of people: those who love Sebastian and CUNTS.” Amen.

 

Dandy in the Underworld is on at the Soho Theatre from 9th June to 10th July 2010.