Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Fashion's Most Wanted Interview - Christos Tolera

Christos Tolera

Born in 1962, Christos grew up in Islington and Dalston, London.  A man of many talents - he was co-lead singer in arty Latin band Blue Rondo a la Turk with Chris Sullivan, a model, an actor, a club promoter, an interior designer and  now an acclaimed artist.

A leading light in London's clubland and one of the original Blitz Kids, at eighteen years-old he had already appeared in the London Evening Standard, The Face and i-D magazine.

Christos and I were hanging out at my house one night chatting.  This became an amazingly frank and honest interview about his life and style over the last three decades.

Photography by Graham Smith

"We were young and we were flash.  We thought we were the best things on God's earth.  You have to at that age.  I was wearing a pink zoot suit and talking in a cockney accent - a working class expression of flash.  We were about style and we got slagged off in the middle class music press.

There were youth cults happening all over the place.  After 1983 the youth culture thing stopped, and hip hop took over the world"
Christos Tolera

Photography by Graham Smith

On The Blitz

Photography © by Sheila Rock
Visage at the Blitz Club - Rusty Egan, John McGeoch, Barry Adamson, Dave Formula, Billie Currie, Steve Strange, Midge Ure, 1980

"They were referred to as Blitz Kids, New Romantics, Glam Revivalists, but what The Face magazine called 'the cult with no name' began way back in a Soho, London venue called Billy's.  Billy's wasn't a place for those who dressed up for the occasion, but those who dressed as a way of life.  A small incestuous group numbering no more than a hundred kids, 
in search of a lifestyle."
The Face, 1980

Photography by Graham Smith

When did you start going out?
I was fourteen when I went to soul clubs like Global Village which later became Heaven, and Charlie Browns in Tottenham.  The first place I went to regularly was The Lyceum on a Monday for the soul night.

In 1978, I started going to Billy's in Dean Street on Tuesday's with Gary and Martin Kemp.  I thought it was amazing!  There was a hard drinking transexual or a transvestite behind the bar called Biba, that seemed really glamorous to me at the time.  Then I saw a load of pictures in the paper from the night I was there going on about the new club kids, I think it was the Daily Mail!

"George O'Dowd, not yet the boy he would become, was dressed in tartan bondage with feathers and boas, and worked in the cloakroom with a pouty girl called Princess Julia.  His coterie included Jeremy Healy, dressed like a George Cruikshank drawing in a crushed stovepipe hat and Artful Dodger trousers, and a beautiful blonde boy called Marilyn, who if you asked his name would breathily tell you 'Norma Jean.'  Their mentor in high bitchiness was a slightly older queen called Philip Sallon, whom I'd first seen dressed as the char lady dancing on stage at the Screen on the Green.

Graham Smith a graphic design student photographed events; John Maybury filmed them; Bob Elms put them into words; Chris Sullivan with his armoury of historic clothing, set the standard for the straight boys, and Martin's best friend Christos Tolera, simply lived it."

Gary Kemp
I Know This Much - From Soho to Spandau (2009)

Photography by Derek Ridgers
Wendy and Marilyn, the Blitz Club, 1979

Photography by Derek Ridgers
Kim Bowen and Christos Tolera, Blitz Club, 1980

Then you started going to the Blitz when it opened in 1979
Yes, that's when I met everyone I know now; Chris Sullivan, Princess Julia, Stephen Jones, Bob Elms, (Boy) George.  From the moment we met we stayed up all night and talked incessantly for hours!  The first night I was at the Blitz I met Chris Sullivan and we really hit it off.

I started hanging out at the Warren Street squat.  A lot of the Blitz crowd lived there.  I slept with anyone and everyone at the time, no men... but I must have done every fag hag in London!!  [cracks up laughing]

Christos wearing George's 'Elvis' jacket

I stayed at Chris Sullivan's a lot.  He lived in Fortess Road in Kentish Town then.  I met Iggy Pop round there one morning, that was bizarre!  I was sleeping on the floor in the front room and this bloke stepped over me with a towel on.  I looked up and thought 'Fuck me!  It's Iggy Pop!'  He was going out with this girl Ellen who was Chris's wife's friend.  Iggy went out one night and the next thing we knew David Bowie had sent a car round to pick up his passport and we never saw him again.

I used to go and see Princess Julia a lot in the shop PX (New Romantic boutique in Covent Garden).

Marilyn, Princess Julia and George, Blitz, 1979

I love Julia!
I love her.  You've got to love her!  What's not to love?

What did you think of Worried About The Boy?  Julia should have been in that!
Yes she should!  The script wasn't good.  I thought most of it was lazy cinematic shorthand.  Following him onto the dancefloor like he was fucking John Travolta?!  You don't need to follow him like that to show that he stood out.  Of course he stood out!  He could be a bitchy, horrible c**t but he made up for it in many other ways and if he liked you it just seemed funny.  I was happy to be on the right side of him.

I'd seen him around for ages, the day we finally got talking he'd just come back from court and he was painted green.  I remember thinking that was so brave.  Anyway, we just got on really well and I started hanging out with him after that.  He was absolutely hilarious and they didn't capture that at all in the film.

Christos, Philip Sallon and George, 1980

You're mentioned in George's book Take It Like A Man
I think it's on page 126!

That's hilarious!  you know the page number?  Everyone at the book launch grabbed a copy and went straight to the index to see what he'd said about them!
Yes! they did.  He was hard on most people but he was also very honest about what he felt at the time.  It was very much his voice and you got a real sense of him from the book.

"Christos Tolera was wet-lipped, dark and especially handsome, dressed in berets, smocky shirts and leather jodphurs.  All the queens fancied him, and he was too nice for his own good.  I always hoped I could bring him round.  He was Greek, after all.  Linard and I used to jump on top of him and stick our hands down his trousers.  He went mad but he still hung around with us."
Boy George
Take It Like A Man, 1995

Photography by Derek Ridgers
Christos, Soho, 1980

"What a wicked shot, look at your angel face and those scatter cushion lips!"
Boy George

George and Steve Strange, Blitz Club, 1980

Which clubs did you go to after the Blitz closed?
There were lots of other clubs popping up after that; Le Kilt, Hell, Club for Heroes, Le Beat Route, The Wag.  People were starting to do their own clubs for the first time.  Fair play to Steve Strange for what he did with the Blitz. He changed everything.  He invented something and he was groundbreaking.

Photography by Gary Lornie

On being in a band

How did Blue Rondo a la Turk start?
Chris Sullivan and I were hanging out and one day we thought 'let's do a band.'  Everyone else had a band so we thought we should too!  Spandau Ballet were our role models I suppose.  I'd been friends with Martin and Gary Kemp for years.  Martin and I went to school together.

Photography by Derek Ridgers
Martin Kemp and Steve Norman, Kings Road, 1980

We were listening to Tom Waits, The Cramps and a lot of stuff from the ZE label; James White and the Blacks, Kid Creole, Lizzie Mercier Descloux, as well as all the old soul and funk stuff we already knew.

We weren't musicians, it was important that people looked good and liked the same music but it wasn't about musicianship.  In some ways it was style over content and we knew exactly how we wanted it to look.  We were also rebelling against the rise of electronica and wanted to reintroduce freedom and passion into music.  To take the po-faced-ness out of the growing new romantic movement.  It was a serious attempt at irreverence!

Photography by Neil Matthews

Who was in the band then?
Initially it was me, Chris Sullivan and Ollie O'Donnell who was a hairdresser.  Ollie went on to run Le Beat Route and The Wag with Chris.

None of us could really play or sing at first.  Everyone was just learning.  We found a proper Brazilian drummer and bass player.  People thought we were a salsa band but we were more samba, alongside all the other influences.  A real post-modern mish mash.

How did you get a record deal?
We played lots of gigs.  The Smiths first gig was supporting us.  We were really exciting live.  Richard Branson came to see us play one night in Bournemouth.  What he saw was five hundred people going mental; sweating, going absolutely mad.  Loads of people were tearing about on the stage, going bonkers, doing the splits, it was totally mental in there!  Branson just bought into that.

How funny!  Were you not expecting him there?
No!  We went backstage afterwards and we were like "Who's that hippy bloke?"  Graham our manager went "Shhh!  It's Richard Branson!"  and I remember going "What the fuck's he doing here?"  We were so anti-hippy at the time, it was awful.  He was a nice bloke.  We even had lunch with him on his boat.

So Virgin signed you?
Yeah, but then we were pressured to have a hit almost immediately and we were unhappy with our first single because we had to change it so much from the live version, which was essentially an instrumental with a rousing chorus.  It went from being called Ay Ay Merengue to Me and Mr Sanchez.

We had to try and be commercial and a repetitive chant with an insistent dance rhythm wasn't deemed to be so at that time.  How times change!  Now every other song is a dance record.  We were actually seen as subversive at that time.  We only wrote the lyrics the day before recording it!  It got to number 40 and it was at number 40 the week after that.  We were meant to go on Top of the Pops but Ken Dodd had brought a Christmas single out!

No!  Don't tell me Ken Dodd ruined your chances of going on Top of the Pops?
[Laughing]  Can you believe it?  Ken Dodd!!  He had a BBC series at the time so he got priority.  We were told that as long as our single didn't go down we'd be on there the following week.

People don't understand that now, getting to number 40 is kind of nothing, but back then you had to sell a hell of a lot more records than you do now.  Virgin fucked up and we went down two places.

Photography by Graham Smith

What happened next?
Our first sax player had a breakdown.  He didn't even make it into the first publicity pictures, it was that quick!

That's a bit early doors isn't it?
[Laughs] Oh god!  He wasn't the first!  We had three breakdowns in the band.  Our percussionist was next.  He thought his girlfriend was a special agent and she was trying to turn him into a woman, he thought she was going to ship him off to New York to raise money for the CIA!

That's all rather dramatic when you'd only had one single out!
Yeah it was!  For the next single Klacto Vee Sedstein, Virgin were desperate for it to be a hit and they chucked money at it.  They got Godley and Creme (10CC) to produce it.

Again we wrote lyrics to one of our most popular live songs - which before had been a load of heavy breathing and chanting over a live percussion heavy rhythm track.

Everyone who was happening at the time got involved; Russell Mulcahy who was to do all the big Duran Duran videos did the video... There were mobiles in the records shops, all this point-of-sale stuff, loads of promotion, everyone loved it.  Then disaster of disasters...  The single comes out and there's a distribution problem at the plant!  They couldn't get enough product into the stores.  It literally trickled into the shops.  Chris reckons we sold about half a million of that single in six months, but not in the two weeks it counted for a chart place.

We worked with some great people - Mike Chapman, Blondie's producer, the photographer Gered Mankowitz who did stuff with Jimi Hendrix and the Stones.  Virgin were pushing us to be this pop band, which we weren't.  We weren't allowed to develop because our deal was too good.

We did a single with Clive Langer (Langer and Winstanley).  We thought fuck it, we'll do something we like, something arty and political.  It was called The Heaven's Are Crying.  Virgin didn't really like it so they didn't promote it.

We did a couple more singles after that, then Graham Ball, our manager left.  Mark started doing Matt Bianco and we split because we didn't want to do the same stuff and we were all just pissed off with it.  Our second album disappeared without a trace and we left owing Virgin a small fortune.

Photography by Derek Ridgers

At the time people didn't understand dance music.  Drum machines and programming were not around.  The ideas we had as musicians didn't translate into product then.  There wasn't the knowledge.  People didn't know what to do with us.  No one really understood what we were trying to do, in some ways we came a bit too soon.

There has been a resurgence of interest in Blue Rondo.  They've signed a deal with Cherry Red Records to re-release the first album Chewing The Fat in September 2013.  It will include all the original album and bonus remixes.

Photography by Nick Knight

On work

What did you do when the band finished?
I was doing some modelling work and I started doing interiors.  I was painting specialist wall finishes, a lot of distressed stuff.  I kept getting asked to decorate people's places and then Simon Withers and I created a business together.  Simon used to work for Malcolm (McLaren) after he split up with Vivienne.  We called it Rot Inc.  But we ended up being called The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

Who did you do interiors for?
We did this amazing house in Soho that still exists, it's been preserved.  Doris Saatchi did a piece in World of Interiors about it.

We did the Galliano shop - well it was the Joseph shop that sold all John's stuff in Brompton Arcade.  Francesca who's married to Richard Jobson used to run it.

We did quite a few clubs; I'd already done bits of The Wag - the entrance hall and a big wall upstairs.  The Limelight - we did the reception and the whole downstairs bar, they were cool and they paid us really well.  A lot of work for Vince Power at the various incarnations of the Mean Fiddler.  We did the interior of the club RAW.  Lots of backdrops, the ones with the flying cocks!  They eventually ended up being used by Danny and Jenny Rampling at Shoom.

Why did that end?
After a while Simon and I decided to stop doing it.  The last job we did was Mary Greenwell, the make up artist's place.  I was living on the floor in someone's attic and we'd spent over £100,000 on Mary's house.  I just thought, I can't do this anymore.  I didn't think I was making any money.  I couldn't understand it.  But really I was just living a hedonistic lifestyle I couldn't afford.  I had been making really good money, but I'd just spent it all!

Photography by Nick Knight
Yohji Yamamoto catalogue

Oh no!  What did you do then? you were in quite a few music video's
I was getting asked to be a lot of other people's videos; I was in Sade's video for When Am I Going to Make a Living.  Others off the top of my head were Terence Trent D'Arby's Sign Your Name, Spandau Ballet's To Cut a Long Story Short, Holly Johnson's Americanos, Eurythmic's Wide Eyed Girl, Bananarama's Preacherman, Michael Jackson - the one with Slash in it - Give In To Me, a dance one, Enigma's TNT For The Brain...  I even did Gina G's Ooh Ah, Just a Little Bit!

You used to go out with Sade?
Yeah we went out for a while, we were really great friends more than anything.

More recently I was in Lily Allen's video for Twenty Two.  I was the love interest and I had to dance with her.  I like her.  She made me laugh.  Jake Scott was directing it and Lily asked me how I knew him.  I had to admit that it was from going out for years and that I knew her mum and dad.  I didn't really want to say I knew them because I thought it would spoil the atmosphere.... and I was being quite flirtatious up until then!

Have you seen Keith (Allen) or Alison (Owen)?
I saw Keith a while back and he was really sweet, really supportive about what I was doing.  When we were at Lily's video shoot, Alison turned up later.  When she saw me she looked a bit worried when she found out I was playing Lily's love interest!

You've done lots of other film work too
I did a short film directed by John Roberts called So What.  It was the film that accompanied Withnail and I at the London Film Festival.  I've had all sorts of acting parts.  Lots of talking heads for documentaries about the New Romantics, 80's club culture and a film about the homeless called 100 Doors.

Recently I did a bit in the new film with Russell Brand film Get Him To The Greek.  I did two days on that, had my own trailer and everything.  Russell ad libbed for so long they ran out of time so my part was cut.  I got paid well, but I'd rather have been in the film.  Since then I've been cut out of The Inbetweeners movie, although I was in the trailer at the cinema.  I'm in the Nick Hornby adaptation of A Long Way Down, hopefully I'll make it to the big screen this time!

Let's talk about your modelling
Yeah I did quite a bit of photographic work and catwalk.  And a calendar called Blues Boys.  I was Mr October for three years running!  [Laughs]

Photography by Neil Matthews
Blues Boys calendar.  Er... Hello Girls!

 Photography by Neil Matthews
In a cut off wetsuit!

Who did you do catwalk for?
I've done catwalk for Yohji Yamamoto, Commes des Garcons, John Galliano, Katharine Hamnett, Stephen Linard, John Richmond/Cornejo, Mark Powell and lots of men's Bigi In Japan.  Once I was the only man in a Galliano show.  Linda Evangelista was wearing this amazing wedding dress and I had to walk her down the catwalk.  I wore a pair of black leather trousers and a white t shirt.  I was more than a bit worse for wear at that time in my life but no one knew.

Singing Fever at Cirque D'Hiver, Paris at the Katharine Hamnett show

Yohji Yamamoto

Yohji Yamamoto

Yohji Yamamoto

Men's Bigi catalogue

Men's Bigi catalogue

Men's Bigi catalogue

Then there's the TV commercials, which ones did you do?
Oh... I'll try and remember... Phileas Fogg, Mercury One to One, The Observer, Gini, Aviva with Elle Macpherson, Sony Playstation...

You've been in lots of magazines and books
Quite a few... The Face, i-D, Arena, L'Uomo Vogue, Elle... The Boy George biography Take It Like A Man, Leigh Bowery - Life and Times of An Icon by Sue Tilley, Gary Kemp's autobiography, Robert Elm's book The Way We Wore, Fashion Forever by Ian McKell, Nick Knight's photography book, Made in the UK by Janette Beckman, The New English Dandy by Alice Cicolini, The New Romantics and The Look by Paul Gorman.

Photography by Kate Garner

On clubs

Then what?  You started doing the club night Quiet Storm? (private members night at Ormonds Club)
I'd been involved with a few clubs before then.  A night at The Wag, I can't even remember the name of it now, the first Westworld, various warehouse parties, No Pasaran, DJing at Enter The Dragon, Wetworld, The Big Snit, Limelight on a Sunday... all sorts.

My parting shot to clubland was Quiet Storm with Graham Ball our old manager from Blue Rondo.  We wanted to do something quite exclusive.

I used to love Quiet Storm.  Let's talk about that
It was great at first.  Lots of good people came down.  Bryan Ferry came quite a bit with Antony Price.  A friend of mine from school was working on Robin Hood so he brought Kevin Costner with some of the other actors.  Michael Hutchence used to come a lot.  That's the first time I thought Kylie was kind of cool when she came with Michael.

She got cool when she started going out with him
Yes she did!  he was a lovely bloke.

What about Helena Christensen?
Oh yes... I remember when I first saw her.  I'd never seen her in the flesh before and she's like something from another planet!  she looked like an animal or something.  She was amazing!  She must have been pretty young then.  It was at some party with Michael in Charterhouse Street.

Photography by Corinne Day

It was strict on the door at Quiet Storm wasn't it
Yeah, it was so busy.  The only people that didn't pay were a group of sixteen year olds we used to let in early that included Kate Moss and James Brown the hairdresser.  They were all friends with the coat check girl.  Kate had just started doing a bit of modelling.  I thought they were a really cool bunch.  The only other person we let in for nothing was John (Galliano) and his pattern cutter Steve, becaused John was fucked and had no money.  John was bankrupt, sleeping on people's floors.  It had all gone tits up.  His stuff was absolutely brilliant, but people weren't buying it then.

Photography by Roxanne Lowit
Kate Moss and John Galliano

I bet there were a lot of people that didn't get in?
I always let good people in.  It used to get so full, some of my friends would turn up late and not be able to get in.

It was hard enough keeping the acid house crowd out.  A lot of them were hooligans.  They thought because they sold a few E's, they were cool and it entitled them to come in.

Why did you give up Quiet Storm?
I just got fed up with it.  I didn't like the way it was going in the end.  I didn't like clubs anymore, I didn't like people anymore really.  I just wanted to stay in with the people I wanted to be with.  I was forever wanting to go home early and then I'd stay up all night talking shit to my friends.

I tried one more club night after that... A cynical ploy to try and cash in.  It was a night at Shaftesbury's called Snatch with various people who'd done big nights with top DJ's but it was a disaster and spelled the end of the road for me and clubs.

On drugs

OK, let's talk about what happened next
Drugs had started to take hold of a lot of people in clubland at that time and I needed to get away from that scene and "find myself".

Photography by Paul Sturridge

I went to Bali for five months to concentrate on painting, change focus and sort myself out but as they say, you can take the kid out of London but you can't take London out of the kid.  I just ended up hanging out with lots of girls... and guys, doing nothing all day on the beach, talking shit, staying up late, blah, blah, blah.  I think I came back from Bali more lost than when I left.

You got some good jobs throughout all this though didn't you?
I got cast in some great things.  I only had to turn up when I was booked so it was easy.  I was doing commercials and a lot of high profile stuff.  I might have only worked for ten days in a year but because I was on the front of magazines and on TV, everyone assumed I was doing loads more.

You were doing well with your art too
Yes, it was awful... I'd got everything I'd always wanted... but I still couldn't understand why I was so unhappy.

I'd made a load of money.  I lived in a flat in Hampstead for nothing.  I had a studio to paint in.  I had an art exhibition coming up... but I spiralling out of control, just deeply unhappy.

Tell me about the art exhibition
It was curated by Richard Jobson.  01 For London were filming it.  I was about two and a half hours late turning up.  Paula Yates had already fucked off by the time I got there.  The cameraman filmed a few bits but it never got used.

I was really fucking up by now.  I had all these things going for me, I was trying my hardest, but I still couldn't stop.  I'd always told myself I could stop when I wanted to, but I just couldn't.  That was it.

The sad thing about that kind of existence, it becomes a very insular, introspective experience.  There was no way back for me.  There was nothing strong enough after that.  I started hurting people close to me and I secretly felt like an absolute failure.  I'd fallen from what was perceived as a great height and I couldn't see any way back.  When I'd finally cut all ties and everyone turned their back on me I went to the West Country to rebuild myself.  I found help there and slowly I began to find out who I was again.

How long were you away?
I didn't come back to London for three and a half years.  I took it really seriously.  I didn't want anything to do with my old life.  It was over.

I went to Bristol for quite a while.  I liked it there and there was a good scene happening at the time with Massive Attack and all the Bristol bands.  Then I went to New York, and after that came back to London to paint.  I was still getting commercials and stuff.  People didn't really notice there was a break.

Amazing.  Were you ever tempted to start up your old life again?
You have to remember, I didn't stop something I was enjoying.  I don't look back at it with fondness.  The last few years was kind of horrible.  There were good moments in between... but the end was The End.

Let me sum it up for you;  First of all it was fun.  Then it was fun with a few problems thrown in.  Then it was a problem with a few bits of fun thrown in. Then it was just a problem.

Very well put!  You obviously have an addictive personality, what have you replaced your addictions with?

Photography by Neil Matthews

What were your best times?
There were a couple of years in the Eighties when everyone took ecstasy.  I had the best times ever then.  We didn't even really go out.  We'd all hang out round someone's house.  There were lots of models and hairdressers and ex-pop stars *can't mention any names*.  We used to have such a brilliant time; mucking about, having a laugh, dressing up.  It was a lot of fun.  Although it all got a bit out of hand in the end.  People snogging each other's girlfriends, then people sleeping with each other's girlfriends.

Haha!  It could get a bit like that, but out of all drugs it had the most benefits I think
Yes, that aside, it was fantastic.  It really opened me up.  That time changed me as a person and allowed me to get over my fear of intimacy.  It opened a door that has never closed.  It was genuinely beneficial to me.  I experienced a giving and receiving of love that I hadn't really experienced before except when I was drunk, which would disappear when I was sober.  It introduced me to a part of myself I really liked.

On the rave scene

What about the rave scene?
I hated Shoom! (early London acid house club) I know everyone loved it, but I couldn't bear it in that basement full of dry ice, smoke and a lot of people who mostly, I wouldn't want to be seen dead with.  I liked Jenny Rampling though, she was great, and really funny.

I liked Shoom but we were all helped along but various additives
Yes true.  It was the crowd it started to attract.  I didn't like the democratisation of club culture.  You have to remember, I grew up trying to avoid people like that for fear of getting beaten up.  You could get beaten up for what you wore in those days.  I went to school with those type of people.  In a time when everyone else was getting loved up, I just couldn't love everyone.

Yes it was a totally different scene and clubland diversified so much
I found it difficult once the dressing up was over.  I went to warehouse parties in a suit!  People couldn't cope!

Photography by Ian McKell
Boy George's 40th Birthday Party, Soho, 2001

Where did you go out then?
I found a new lease of life a few years back in terms of clubbing.  I'd been hanging out in West London, The Electric, places like that.  I didn't like those people.  I hate over-confident women that take too much cocaine.  They used to really offend me.  They're all of a certain type, a little bit too laddish.  All still 'havin' it' in a middle class sort of way.  I hated the lads and ladette's thing.

Then I started going to Lady Luck.  It was in Euston, below Secrets the strip club.  All the girls from AP (Agent Provocateur) went there.  It was a really cool crowd of people.  It was right at the beginning of the burlesque thing.

Lady Luck was great at the time.  It was only a couple of hundred people, actually more like 150.  Every youth cult was represented in some way; There were a few skinheads, Norwegian mods (very cool) people who looked like they were from a John Waters movie, people dressed in rubber, plus all that vintage crowd.

Photography by Chloe Barter

Is that when you started getting all your tattoos?
Yeah, that's when I got a lot more done.  I was forty one.  I got one of my tattoos touched up and then just carried on.

What does your tattoo say?  And what are they all?
This one says Nil Desperandum.  It's a mirror image so that only I can read it.  It's a message for me, not the world... it means 'do not despair.'  There's a heart, the word love, a dagger, roses, a key, two skulls, a dead bird and this one on my side, a mermaid - a girl called Claudia who used to work at Frith Street Tattoos in Soho did that.

What were you wearing then?
All the Sixties narrow stuff I used to wear came back into fashion.  After going to Lady Luck I got rid of all that and started wearing the Forties stuff again.  However, the irony is lost when you're older.  When you're nineteen and you're dressing like a forty-something Hollywood idol, there's a sense of irony.  It's sad that the irony is... there is no irony anymore.

You've always been good at dressing. Whenever you're out you always look great
I really enjoy dressing.  It's something I love to do.  I believe it's the last bastion of self expression.  It's all we have left.  Even tattoos are becoming homogenised.

People are just so straight! - some of the gay places in the East End can still be edgy, but the West End clubs are all full of boy band wannabes.  Otherwise most places I end up at are like an extension of a fucking student union bar!  It's like a tribe of lost children professing individuality but without the courage to do it alone!

On art

How did you get into art?
I've always loved art and I've painted for years.  I thought I was too old to go to art school when the band finished and I was only twenty three.  I went to art school at thirty seven.  I did a three year degree course and got a first.

What inspires your paintings?
For the last three years it's been a T. S. Eliot poem, Burnt Norton.  I read it and a line inspires me to paint.  Sex and death is always ever-present.  That moment of discovery, a little peak before death or the height of life.  It's about looking for that moment of truth.

There are a few lines on my website I wrote about my work;

'A held breath, a secret longing
A space in between
The calm before the storm, a state suspended
The moment before a sigh of relief.'

What is your favourite piece of art?
The Rothko rooms at the Tate Modern.

Photograph © Tate

How do you feel about the art scene now?
I find it hard in this country at the moment when it comes to art.  Where's the balls and the passion and the sex in this country?  For a country that lauds it's sons, Bacon and Turner, there is very little encouragement to nurture anything new that is expressive or romantic.  It's a terrible contradiction... It leaves people wanting.  Objectivity is overrated in art.  I like to celebrate subjectivity.  It's all we have that is anywhere near any concept of originality.  There are relatively few ideas in this world, but there are infinite ways of expressing them.

On women

What qualities do you look for in a woman?
I like someone who can make me laugh, someone who laughs with me.  The most important thing is that she fancies me! [laughs]

I like someone who likes conversation.  I like someone who has real passion for something, whatever that might be.  Someone gregarious, who likes to dress and likes to undress.  Someone who walks like a gazelle.  Someone to lean on and to lean on me.  Someone who thinks I'm great [cracks up laughing].  Someone who loves life and loves me.

I've always imagined this woman... she's foreign, one of those really clever and sophisticated French or Spanish or Italian woman, walking calmly through a storm... wearing white.

What about looks?
I've been out with every type of woman imaginable.  I don't have a type.  Looks wise I like dancer's bodies.  I like tone.  I don't like women that are too big, although most women think they're too big.  It's ok if they're short and young and a bit curvy, it's cute.  I like a little bit of something in the eyes, a bit of mischief.  I like women that look like they're smiling on the inside.

Wow!  Christos, you certainly know what you want!
I've said all this... but I've fallen in love with someone with bandy legs, no tits and big ankles before.  But I really liked her face and she made me laugh and I fancied her like mad.  So I'm not actually that fussy!

Photography by Lucy Rimmer

Have you ever met your perfect woman?
Yes, I thought I had but it turned out to be a bit of an illusion.  I've had my moments but I think the sad thing is that maybe when I was at my most vital, I didn't make the most of it.  I'm not saying I was a better person then, I actually like being older.  I like having lived through what I've lived through.  I think I'm a much nicer person and I'm much more generous in spirit than I ever was.  I'm much less self-centred.  I make a good boyfriend.  The choice of women just gets smaller.  Actually, I fancy more women, but less fancy me!

They'd have to be a good dresser
Yes, but not necessarily to compliment me.  I like it if they have their own thing going on and most importantly I need a woman who allows me to dress up and not be intimidated by it.

Why would someone mind you dressing up?
You don't understand, because you're not that straight, so things like that don't bother you.  A lot of women aren't confident enough.  I'd love to meet someone who could support me when I need it, who I can also learn from and it goes without saying that I am not asking for something I am not offering.

I don't know if you'd find that in someone younger, don't you think you should go out with someone in the same generation as you?  By that I mean the same decade
People used to ask me what I had in common with someone of say, twenty six.  I'd say; we have art in common which spans the last five or six hundred years, films, music.  I don't sit and talk about what I did twenty years ago.  Most people do.  I speak to people on the level and I talk about today quite a lot.  I have opinions.  I like to go and look at art, new stuff and old stuff.  People in their very early twenties have a different way of looking at things though.

You've been out with quite a few younger women haven't you?
I have, but not so much in the last couple of years.  I've had my fingers burnt a little bit. 

The reason I like young women is because they are still idealistic.  For example they really want to believe that money doesn't matter and they've still got that naivéte that you need to have that level of confidence that can be attractive to someone who has grown tired of neurosis and suspicion.

Photography by Jake Gavin

But then you've got this other generation of young girls that think they don't have to work.  It's all about materialism, they think they can have some surgery and be like Jordan or something
Awful, awful.  Oh no!  I can't bear girls like that, they make me ill.

She's certainly not my idea of a role model!
She's cold and she just lusts after money.  It's unbelievable.  It promotes cheapness.

It promotes no talent
Yes and it promotes that money is the be all and end all.  The fact that there's no talent is bad enough.  I find that incredibly sad.

Eva Mendes

Which well known women do you like?
Oh God!  Well, Eva Mendes, but who wouldn't?  Sherilyn Fenn from Twin Peaks, I liked her when that was on.  Juliet Binoche.  Jane Birkin was lovely!  That Serge Gainsbourg, he's had some great birds!  And Roger Vadim - he's done them all!!  Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde - those cheekbones... amazing.  Debbie Harry when she was in Blondie.  Penelope Cruz - whenever I see her in Almodovar's films I think she has real spirit.  There's a Spanish dancer and actress called Laura Del Sol.  Raquel Welch in 10,000 BC!  Katharine Hepburn.  Lauren Bacall - she was beautiful...

You can't help but love Marilyn (Monroe) but I don't think I'd have liked to have gone out with her.  She'd have been a fucking nightmare.  I bet I would have got on really well with her and we'd be really good friends, but she'd be a nightmare...

Oh!  and Monica Belucci.  She's married to Vincent Cassel.  He's a really great actor and he's got her!  What a c**t.  And Angelina Jolie of course, but she's a bit over for me now

Over?  I bet you wouldn't kick her out of bed though?
Not over, just... She sounds like a nightmare!  I might kick her out of bed, but I'd like to fuck her first [cracks up laughing]

That's a big old list!  Who would be your favourite?
The best looking woman who ever existed for me, has to be Bardot.  That's unusual for me as I'm not big on blondes.  Bardot looks absolutely filthy while retaining some kind of softness and innocence, alongside an inner strength.  There was something about her that is just so sexy.  It might just be that she knows it!

The one person I'd really want to fuck would be Brigitte Bardot.  Not now though!!  Not surrounded by a load of cats!!  I quite like the fact she looks like an old handbag now, and that she couldn't care less.

Photography by Lucy Rimmer

On style

How do you describe your style?
I cherry pick the best things from 20th Century men's fashion.  I like workman clothes and that Hollywood idol stuff.  I'd describe my style as an eclectic mix of 20th Century classics.  I like a slightly theatrical masculine style.  Post modern.  My clothes range from 1920-1960.

Fred Astaire dancing with Rita Hayworth

Who are your style icons?
For the way he wore clothes - and he wore things fantastically - It has to be Fred Astaire; his trousers are sometimes a little bit short, sometimes without socks.  I liked the way George Raft dressed.  Sammy Davis Jr. was a great style icon of mine.  Even though she's a woman, I love Katharine Hepburn's style... the high waisted trousers - she had a great look.  The best dressed band were The Temptations in the Sixties.  Out of English people... Bunny Rogers - he had a twenty six inch waist or something ridiculous for a grown man.  I found him fascinating.  He had an amazing collection of Thirties suits that looked even better waisted, almost like a caricature.  Robert De Niro in The Godfather.  Marlon Brando in Guys and Dolls and everyone else in The Wild One - the striped t shirts.  The biker thing is not really for me, not without a motorbike but I love that look.  Elvis in 1956.  He shopped in a place in Memphis where mainly black people shopped.  He was one of the only white people that shopped there.  He bought pink trousers, stuff like that.  Little Richard was quite bonkers.  But if I look at elegance and throwing things together it has to be Fred Astaire.

Photography by Richard Dawson
Christos in The New English Dandy

Where did you get your clothes from when you first started going out?
I had this tailor I'd found called Bob, an old merchant seaman that made really good suits.  A made-to-measure suit was £55.  He was just off the Whitechapel Road.  I used to buy curtain material from Brick Lane and Petticoat Lane and take it round to him.  The first one he made me was an electric blue suit.  There's a Derek Ridgers picture of me in it.

Photography by Derek Ridgers
Christos, Soho, 1980

What's your current favourite outfit?
Some white trousers I bought in the Margaret Howell sample sale in a cotton/linen mix, rolled up with white shoes and no socks.  I feel really sexy in that.

What's the oldest thing in your wardrobe?
I have suits that are sixty years old.  The oldest thing I have that I still wear is a suit I had made in 1981 by Chris Ruocco in Kentish Town.  It's a pinstripe zoot suit.  It's a bit more fitted than it was, but it works.

What are your favourite shoes?
A handmade pair of 1940's black and white correspondent shoes.  The tip is black, the heel is black and the rest is white.

What's your favourite watch?
I have a 1928 Rolex Half Hunter that's gold.  My favourite watch if I had the money would be an old Patek Phillipe or a Fifties Rolex or Omega.

What would you save if your house was on fire?
All of my clothes and my computer.  I feel sick at the thought of it!  It's not like fashion my wardrobe.  You couldn't replace it.

Photography by Chloe Barter

Q and A

What exercise do you do?
I go to the gym three times a week.  I used to do Bikram yoga but I haven't been for a while.

Is there anything about your body you don't like?
You can't tell now but when I was in Japan doing a show I got hit on my cheekbone and one side is more down than the other.  And my bum.  I'd like a bigger one.  Like a black man's.  Can I say that?

What's in your pockets right now?
Viagra!!  No, not really.  Car keys and money.

What keeps you awake at night?

What's your worst fear?
Heights and heartbreak.

Who has been the greatest influences on your life?
Dizzy Downes my art teacher.  She taught me art between the ages of five and eleven.  She was a bit like a surrogate mother.  She encouraged me a lot.  I did life drawings of her.  She used to wear purple platform boots, she was exotic.

Dizzy Downes

She was my first love and I got to tell her that before she died.  She died of cancer at fifty five, it was very sad.  I did a reading at her funeral and everyone cried.  I looked up and Duggie Fields and Andrew Logan, everyone there was crying.

Other influences... I'd have to say are David Bowie, Picasso, Egon Schiele, Velasquez and T. S. Eliot.

Photography by Alice Hawkins

How did your childhood affect the person you are today?
I was born into a family that wasn't artistic or aesthetic.  A Greek immigrant family that didn't read or write.  My dad was a decorator, but he was very much a magnolia kind of man.

I think that I created my own world.  To a certain extent my creativity was born out of not having stuff.  I became visually aware because of that.  I grew up in working class Islington where it was all about looking good and dressing up.

What are your eating habits like?
I eat really well.  I like rare meat and vegetables.  I love chillis.  I love food!  I love Italian food.  I love Japanese food.

If you had to have one last meal, what would it be?
Oooh!  I'd like antipasti... lots of different meats and this fantastic cheese called Burrata.  It's like mozzarella but you break it open and it's runny in the middle, it's the most amazing thing, better than mozzarella.  That with some great tomatoes and basil.  Followed by pasta with lobster, or a proper spaghetti vongole with no tomato.  Followed by a fantastic steak.  And chips please!  and something green, like cabbage or pak choi.

Photography by Claire Lawrie

What's your favourite book?
The Story of The Eye by George Bataille.  It's like surrealist porn.

What are your favourite albums?
Ziggy Stardust by David Bowie, A Kind of Blue by Miles Davis, What's Going On by Marvin Gaye, Innervisions by Stevie Wonder, Once Upon A Time In America by Ennio Morricone, Mozart's Requiem, OK Computer and The Bends by Radiohead, Moon Shines At Night by Djivan Gasparyan, African Dub Chapter Three, Dusty Springfield's Memphis album, Aretha Franklin - the one with Say A Little Prayer on, Blue Valentine by Tom Waits.

What are you listening to at the moment?
Twin Peaks theme music by Angelo Badalamenti and SMOG which is Bill Callahan - A River Ain't Too Much Too Love.

What are your favourite TV shows?
The Sopranos, The Wire, Match of the Day and Big Brother.  I have a secret society of Big Brother lovers who I consult throughout the series.

Photography by Helmut Newton
Monica Bellucci

What are your favourite photographers?
Richard Avedon, Josef Koudelka, Brassai, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Helmut Newton, William Eggleston and Nick Knight for a modern photographer.  Nick's great.  He really pushes the boundaries.

Who are your favourite models?
Out of the supermodels I liked Christy Turlington the best.

What makes you laugh?
Chris Rock, but I didn't like his last thing.  Larry David.  Things that are wrong.  Wrong things.  Social faux pas.  I loved The Office when I first saw it.

What makes you cry?
I always cry when I'm splitting up with someone.  If I'm in a sad mood I'll cry at something like someone winning the Olympics.  Triumph over adversity gets me every time.

What irritates you?
Ignorance and bigotry.

Photography by Cameron McVey
Styled by Ray Petri

Who would play you in the movie of your life?
A young Robert De Niro.

Who would you have at your dream dinner party (living or dead)?
Marilyn Monroe, Brigitte Bardot, Picasso, Leonardo da Vinci, Carravaggio, Lauren Bacall, Katharine Hepburn, Charlie Chaplin, Orson Welles, Richard Pryor, Gil Scott Heron, Barry Humphries, Germanie Greer, stick Germaine in there just for a laugh and Turner, the painter.  They'd all be fighting for attention!

Photography by Richard Avedon
Marilyn Monroe

Which one of the women would you want to take home, Brigitte?
All of them!  Well, I'd want to take Brigitte home but I'd probably get stuck with Marilyn because I'd feel sorry for her.  I'd probably fall in love with her... and then she'd drive me mad.

If you had one wish what would it be?
My wish is really simple, just to have enough money to paint without a care in the world.  I'd die if I couldn't paint.

Paintings by
Christos Tolera

I Wish


Save Ya

Me plus You

Los Angeles

Til Death Us Do Part



Mourning Rose

At The Still Point


I am organising an art show for Christos later in the year.  If you'd like an invitation please email me on tinalindsay@mac.com

To see more of Christos' work

With very special thanks to the following people for their photographs:

Cameron McVey
Chloe Barter
Claire Lawrie
Corinne Day
Danilo @ Blitz Kids
Derek Ridgers
Jake Gavin
Graham Smith
Ian McKell
Kate Garner
Lucy Rimmer
Neil Matthews
Nick Knight
Paul Sturridge
Richard Dawson
Roxanne Lowit

Derek Ridgers kindly gave me permission to use his amazing archive of photographs for this piece

And to 
Boy George and Gary Kemp for the quotes from their excellent books.
Thank you xxx

And thank you Christos.  You're a star xxx


Sarcastic Bastard said...

What a fabulous interview! It's one of the most interesting interviews I've read in ages.

My boyfriend will die when I tell him you know someone who dated Sade. He is in love with her.

Christos' art work is so vivid and interesting. Clearly, he's an extremely interesting person, as well. The man has lived.



Wildernesschic said...

No wonder you have been quiet .. what an amazing post , a fantastic interview I agree with SB one of the most interesting that I have read for ages. What a character, what a life and what a handsome dude :)
His art is fantastic too, Its funny how many arty and talented people have a drug problem at sometime in their lives xx

Anonymous said...

He is divine!! I love his honesty and I love his art. Very sexy!!! Another great interview Christina

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

wow-this made my day. thank you Chrisina.

Anonymous said...

What a great piece. Loved the energy of this interview. and amazing pictures. Just wonderful XX

Mosaicista said...

Very interesting, quite long,skipped through it as I am running out of time now,but I thought to drop a little comment to say congrats to you. Amazing bio!Great painting talent

Ulla said...

wow! amazing... I used to see Chris around London, he knew my friend Nick. Chris is a very interesting, polite person. A real quiet storm, it seemed to me.
What a shame I never got to know him better when I had the chance.

Dash said...

Wow Christina, I am with Ruth and SB one of the best interviews I have ever read.

What an interesting, cultured and talented man.

simply fabulous.


Alison Cross said...

Christina - excellent! Ditto to what everyone else has said ;-) You really have got a knack for drawing exceptionally interesting interviews from people.

He's a really interesting guy and I admire his honesty...and his paintings!

Well done YET AGAIN!

Ali xxxx


Oh how we love Christos, very special chap indeed!

ps. i would like to buy Mourning Rose

xxx j

Caroline, No. said...

Wow. Fascinating, inspiring, courageous, honest... I'm going to reread it again, now...

I love his style and his paintings. xx

Johnny Rozsa said...

Brilliant informative and well researched story about Christos.. I loved reading it FAB!!

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I love his paintings and he's hot!!!!! thank you for that it was an excellent read.

Dash said...

Christina, I have just read the entire post again!

I know you had great material, but if I was the editor of vanity Fair, I would employ you as a "contributor"

Em said...

What a fabulous interview! And what an amazing and talented man. Love his paintings too.

Christina @ Fashion's Most Wanted said...

Dearest, SB, Ruth, Mosaicista, Ulla, Dash, Ali, Julia, Caroline, Johnny, Em and Anonymous(s),

Thank you so, so much for your wonderful and kind words. I'm so delighted you like it. It was great fun to do! And I'm extremely lucky to have such interesting subjects!

Annoyingly I missed a whole paragraph (on Kate Moss etc...) when I retyped it so I've just added it to the 'On clubs' part now.

Thank you for taking the time to read such an epic piece.

Much love to you all, C xxxxx

Christina @ Fashion's Most Wanted said...

PS. Dear Dash, ahhh! I am quite speechless (a rare thing!). Thank you. Tons of love xxx

Kim Bowen said...

What a great interview; you elicited all, well done. Fabulous choice of photos. Christos neglected to mention that the sole reason that he wasn't ravaged by all the old homosexuals of Warren St, was that I used to hide him in my bedroom!

Christina @ Fashion's Most Wanted said...

Dear Kim, that really made me laugh! Can I do you next? I have some amazing pictures of you... your outfits were my favourites xx

jeni cook said...

Tina, what an amazingly brilliant interview!!!! You asked the most amazing questions and really got the best out of Cristos. He's so honest & funny!
I loved all the pictures you used, it took me back to those fun times. His paintings are amazing too!

Full marks doll!!!

Anonymous said...

a wonderfully interesting, even captivating piece. I knew of Christos because of Melody Maker and Smash Hits etc. growing up a teen in the 80s. Coco and carioca...2 of my fave Blue Ronbdo tracks. I find Christos extremely rare/ an openminded heterosexual man with so much style and refinement. It defies logic, but it adds to his uniqueness. It must be the time and the era he came from. I love that he is a complete deviation from the norm...ANY norm.

Anonymous said...

Nothing like the mind of a man thats lived a thousand lives and it all comes out in the paintings. Amazing!

Kerri Davenport-Burton

rust egan said...

Christos, I am amazed by your story , I have to read this to appreciated what a great talent your are and what an interesting and vivid life you are living.... To deal with your highs and lows and become a stronger and better and more spiritual person is an achievement.. Some closed the door and turned away... Some lived to face each day and welcome life with it's glories and defeats... mabey I should listen nect time I meet you rather than talk talk talk.....

Cymon Eckel said...

Here Here to Rusty, i couldnt top his comments !

Anonymous said...

A Fantastic interview. Your blog is the only one I follow. Very very interesting. I'm glad somebody is documenting the London life - past & present. Love it!

Anonymous said...

True inspiration. A fantastic interview and What a fantastic Blog. Many Thanks!

Dog beds said...

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Miss Peelpants said...

Wow. What an incredible interview, I think I will need to re-read because I know I've missed things.

Thank you for alerting me to it!

laurence said...

i took the photo of blue rhonda playing live. just thought i'd mention it.

Mrs. D said...

I just came across this while looking for photos of New Romantics... What a great interview and what an interesting personality... Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I was in the same class at school as Christos and I can say what an interesting and polite guy he was, not to mention his amazing looks! Our school produced some amazing talent at the end of the 1970s/early 1980s!

A brilliant interview, thank you. I really enjoyed reading this and catching up on Christos's amazing career!

US Auto Loan Advice said...

Very exciting, quite lengthy,skipped through it as I am managing out of your time and energy now,but I believed to decrease a little thoughts to say champion to you. Awesome bio!Great artwork ability

Jack Barron said...

What an excellent interview. I didn't know Christos had achieved so much. The paintings are great. I came to your blog via a link on the FB Shoom page, which mentioned that Christos didn't like Danny's club crowd much. No wonder I didn't see him at many acid house parties. Lol.