Blitz Kid Marilyn, Getting to Know the 80’s icon: Interview

marilyn 80s icon Blitz Club

Marilyn né Peter Robinson

For his Autumn/Winter 2016 catwalk, Charles Jeffrey paid homage to the Blitz Kids of the 80s with a cast of New Romantic renegades; his motley crew wore make-up inspired by a drag dream mélange of Boy George, Trojan, Leigh Bowery and Marilyn, while they paraded looks that recalled wild and debauched nights at Steve Strange’s infamous club. Think the Prince of Darkness meets the Scarlet Pimpernel with a dash of trainspotter anorakage and S&M bondage. Indeed, Charles Jeffrey’s nod of the most celebrated subculture of the ‘80s was proof that the Blitz Kids had superseded their status as historical style shapers to become the stuff of legend.

As one of the most photographed Blitz Kids of his generation, Marilyn (né Peter Robinson) was a fixture on London’s underground club scene long before he released a record. He modelled his look on Marilyn Monroe, riffing off the classic bombshell look at first (“it used to take me at least two hours to get ready just to buy a bottle of milk!”) then later adopting a less contrived style with long blonde dreadlocks and a gender-fluid wardrobe that veered from exquisite Antony Price gowns to crop tops and chinos.

Talking About the 80’s

The singer achieved chart success with his 1983 song ‘Calling Your Name’, which begins with one of the best hair flicks in video history; it’s enough to make a seasoned L’Oreal girl look positively amateurish. Marilyn – without a doubt the prettiest Blitz Boy – lived a high octane life and was photographed alongside everyone from Madonna and Raquel Welch to Andy Warhol. Like many of the ‘80s Blitz Kids, he spent time at the Warren Street squat, along with Boy George (who remains one of his closest friends), Princess Julia, Stephen Jones, Leigh Bowery and many more ‘outcasts’; a tribe of extravagant party people who unwittingly became the cultural influencers of a youth generation disillusioned with the rising unemployment and hard-line policies of Thatcherite Britain. The Blitz community wasn’t politically motivated but its members represented an optimistic rebellion that was more relatable than the anarchy of punk.

But just like his heroine Marilyn Monroe, the singer had his very own Icarus moment. Fame, fortune and unbridled freedom came at a price when he fell into substance abuse. By the mid-Eighties, the singer was addicted to heroin and prescriptive drugs – it was a dark period that lasted a shocking 20 years. “I had given up on my life”, he says matter-of-factly.

Peter "Marilyn" Robinson for Something About, London, 09/08/16 |
Peter “Marilyn” Robinson

Marilyn Resurgent and Happy

It may have taken him two decades, but today Marilyn is drug-free, happy and embarking on a brand new adventure: he’s writing and recording music again with his confidant and former Blitz Boy ally, Boy George. A studio album is on the cards and his new single Love or Money – an upbeat, reggae-flavoured tune – is due for release on September 23rd. There’s more hair flicking in the video, only he sports a bleached blonde bob these days. He looks in great shape considering his upheavals and his fighting spirit is echoed in lyrics like, “live and love yourself this is my philosophy” and “I don’t need you to need me, keep your charity.”

Before we meet at King’s Cross Granary Park for our photoshoot, I’m worried I may not recognise him. I’m old enough to remember Marilyn from his heyday, when he could strike a pose and sculpt an eyebrow like no one else. His style was so iconic and his spirit was the epitome of 80s rule-breaking; an indignant two fingers up to the stuffy traditionalism of set gender roles and accepted dress codes of the era.

Peter "Marilyn" Robinson for Something About
Peter “Marilyn” Robinson

As it turns out, the Blitz icon looks remarkably good – beefier but very fit and instantly recognisable by his razor sharp cheekbones and almond-shaped eyes. He’s warm and utterly charming. More importantly, he’s full of optimism for the future and isn’t keen to dwell on the past.

He sums up his 20-year self-imposed isolation in just a few sentences; like the lyrics in his new single, he’s not after any ‘charity’: “It’s not the section in my life that I want to dwell on. It’s an element in my life, like all the other experiences that make me who I am today. I don’t live in the past or the future. I live in the now.”

These days Marilyn doesn’t dress up the way he used to. He’s make-up free and kitted out in a vintage Balmain suit worn with a loud Union Jack T-shirt. Not conservative by any means but a far cry from his highly polished 80s alter ego.

“Sometimes the Blitz Club felt like fancy dress to me”, he says of those seminal rule-bending years. “Those of us who lived in the squats [really] lived it. If I ever left the house for a pint of milk or anything like that, I would get fully, fully ready. I would put on stilettoes, make-up, corsets, the whole thing just to walk 100 yards to the shop. That is my definition of ‘living the image’. If you go to work all week and dress up for this particular club on a Friday or Saturday night, well that’s just costume.”

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Marilyn is outspoken but never waspish. In fact, he tells me that many of his closest friendships were forged in the 80s. “What you get is what you give out. that’s the vibration of frequency,” he muses.

He seems surprised to hear that the Warren Street squat and its many famous dwellers have become part of London’s fabled fashion history – especially at Central Saint Martins which was designer Charles Jeffrey’s former stomping ground as an MA student. But the singer concedes that London has become a homogenised “filmset” of a city.

“London wasn’t like that back then”, he laments. “There were communities, different areas, different shops. It was different as you travelled through it, it was a changing landscape. Now it’s like a computer game. It doesn’t look real and everyone’s

plugged into the fucking mainframe. I’m not scared exactly but I’m just aware of where this is going. Like Big Brother gone absolutely mental. Barcodes, tracking devises, chips in your arm… where does it stop?”

Covent Garden and Soho in the 80s were a far cry from the gentrified Starbucks-friendly areas they have since become. Soho was a haven for sex worker and druggies, peppered with commercial ‘discos’ and the odd dive bar including Chris Sullivan’s famous WAG club. Covent Garden was a smidge more salubrious but it was dull, badly lit and characterless. When Steve Strange launched his first night at the shabby Blitz wine bar on the aptly named Great Queen Street in 1979, he started a revolution. Known for his strict door policy, Strange can be credited for creating a fashion movement as well as a music venue, where extravagant ‘freaks’ would converge for a hedonist night set to a soundtrack of Pop, Electro Synth, Glam Rock and a heavy dose of Bowie. There was nowhere else like it.

Marilyn’s memories of nights at the Blitz are every bit as colourful as you’d expect them to be. While Leigh Bowery, Trojan and Boy George remain the era’s stand-out subversives, one of Marilyn’s most admired style-setters was Kim Bowen. “She used to live in Warren Street [the squat]. She had a unique vibe about her, you know,” he says striking a ‘give a fuck’ look to illustrate her attitude. “ She was not actually like that at all though. I used to love Kim and her style.”

The legendary designer Antony Price was another close friend. “I used to love Antony.  He was such a character. So much fun!”

Marilyn is less flattering about Vivienne Westwood (“she was a bit of school matron, even then!) and Leigh Bowery, who was unquestionably the most extravagant character of the Blitz clan. “I am going out on a limb here. I’m not slagging him off because I didn’t know Leigh to any great depth because we didn’t connect like that, but I don’t know where this whole [icon] status has come from. For me, I just found it a bit phoney. His accent was so over-the-top. Now he’ so celebrated. I respect others who look up to him, but I just don’t get it”, he reveals before adding, “I suppose he was a walking piece of art!”

And what about his enduring friendship with Boy George with whom he is currently collaborating. “I love George and I love our relationship”, he explains. “It’s so multi-layered. Our experiences through life are very similar. He went through his experience with drugs, I went through mine. The beauty of our relationship now is that we can both look back individually at our histories and feel gratitude for today and the excitement of what tomorrow may bring.”

As our interview draws to a close and we finish off our Karma Cokes, it’s clear that despite his upheavals, Marilyn has retained the freethinking optimism of his youth, cradled in the unlikely environs of 80s Covent Garden. A Blitz Kid in spirit, forever.

Writer: Alexandra Zagalsky

Photographer: Wunmi Onibodu

Peter "Marilyn" Robinson for Something About
Peter “Marilyn” Robinson