Oi Wanker! John Robb Remembers Sebastian Horsley, The Last Dandy
, June 18th, 2010 09:12
Sebastian Horsley passed away yesterday. Here, John Robb remembers his encounters with the outrageous wit and artist
The death of Sebastian Horsley at 47 of a heroin overdose is surprisingly, a bit of a shock. Surprising because this was a life lived at full pelt and stuffed full of the dangers that may do you a bit of harm, but somehow one that didn’t seem set for a premature end.
I met Sebastian last year, filming an interview with loquacious rogue for a long defunct website. We trooped round to his tiny flat in Soho and bonded in a barrage of insults and shared love of punk and glam rock. Of course the bits of punk rock that one of us liked, the other detested but that was exactly how it should be. His flat was one of those perfect places - a tight, wooden space that oozed a sparse, bohemian danger. There was the rack of skulls on the wall, which added to that air of living on the edge.
A few weeks later we did a debate on the culture show. Sebastian turned up in a pink suit and with a notebook full of quotes. He was like a dark 21st century Oscar Wilde, scathing, mean and bitchy about everything and everyone but especially himself. He took great delight in winding up the foolhardy but was quite happy to get it back in spades. He attempted to be the cattiest, meanest cat on the block but was really quite loveable, oddly sentimental and generous in ways that he would have hated. Being a full time misanthropic hate whore is hard work and Horsley had a heart of gold.
Born in Hull to big money and an eccentric and (according to his autobiography) rather drunken family he famously pissed way his inheritance in a blur of prostitutes and drugs before getting cut out of the family fortune. He hit rock bottom before making a million in the city, which he invested smartly in his artwork, of which he himself was the premier exhibit. He also spent the rest of more prostitutes and drugs and crucified himself as a performance art piece in the Philippines in 2000 - to prepare for a series of paintings on the topic that mixed religion and S&M. Winding people up was a perfect work of art for him.
Without pain killers he was nailed to the cross before passing out. The outrageous nature of the event won him the column inches that his brilliant sense of exhibitionism craved.
A self-made man he was very much a creation of glam rock before being sharpened by the adrenaline of punk. This was a time when you could grow up in Hull and recreate yourself as some fabulous specimen. Already having his head turned by the genius of Marc Bolan he was in some sort of far away fantasy land. In fact, a deep love of Bolan was one of the other things we really bonded on: Sebastian used Bolan as the springboard and punk rock as the energy to recast himself as the last of the dandies stalking around Soho in his stove pipe hat and fancy suits. He looked like some sort of gothic overlord, a cyber Oscar Wilde ready with a cutting quip and sharp observation.
He hung round the fringes of media fame and had just a launched a play about himself a couple of days before his death. Stephen Fry had bought up the rights to his bestselling Dandy Of the Underworld book to make into a film. The book detailed his eccentric upbringing and zigzag life and will make a great film.
The spotlight that he craved was about to shine full beam onto his puckish face. But the world’s most rubbish drug, heroin, came and stole that one brief glimmer of glory, in a postscript that even the craven and cynical old queen would have had to allow himself a smile at.
I remember the last of the great English dandies, a ghost from Victorian times, whose emails would be stuffed full of posh putdowns and nasty wit that were easily batted back with nastier put downs. He always appreciated that.
I last heard from him a couple of weeks ago. "Oi wanker", he cried in his usual polite way and then asked me to write about his upcoming play. Let me reply then, wanker: I’m really sad to see you go. The world needs a bit of colour and it needs romantic fools who decorate the world with their brazen madness. RIP