As one of the British club scene’s most imfamous DJs, with a career spanning five decades and countless venues, DJ Fat Tony was always going to have quite the story to tell.
Well now he is, in his brand new memoir I Don’t Take Requests – out now – which sees the producer and LGBTQ scene legend tell “most extraordinary stories of depravity and hedonism, of week-long benders and extreme self-destruction – and of recovery, redemption, friendship and the joy of a good tune.”
In this exclusive extract from the book that’s been edited for Attitude, Fat Tony reflects on height of his 80s partying and drug-taking days, including his friendship with the late George Michael and a deliciously dicey encounter with Madonna…
Chapter 7 – Cara Get Your Coat
London was really happening at the beginning of the 90s. Acid house was coming to a close and with it, a load of smaller club nights had emerged, another part of the natural cycle. There were so many little nights that we would all go to – every night of the week there was somewhere else to go. In terms of variety, it never got better than that. There was Love at the Wag, and clubs like City of Angels, RAW and Pure Sexy. There was a bar called Cruise next to Peter Stringfellow’s with pinball tables and we would sit underneath them absolutely off our nuts on E. Everyone else would be cruising downstairs. It was the coolest place to go to. It was a lot of trouble and a lot of fun. This was pre-social media, when people could go and do what they wanted and meet men. It was probably safer than people turning up at random guys’ houses off Grindr not knowing if they’re going to be drugged. Phone apps have taken away the element of getting to know someone.
For the most part the 80s and the early 90s were all very sparkly, innocent and fun. We’d go out and have an absolute ball. We would meet Chaka Khan on the dance floor then go round to George Michael’s house and sit there while his mum was hoovering around us. People became very famous very quickly, but they were still in your tribe and still just your mates. There was a brief moment during acid house, when everyone was off their nuts on E, that all the tribes melted into one, but when we stopped taking E and started on coke again everyone reverted back to their gangs and became judgmental cunts again.
I’d been freebasing coke since the early 80s. It hadn’t taken hold straightaway, but someone had asked if I wanted to try it, and as I am with all drugs except heroin, I was like, ‘Sure!’ I’d try anything. But I probably started doing it more at this point and it made everything that little bit harder to keep track of. I would be DJ’ing and turn up three hours late. I’d leave my friend Cozette there having to fend off all the organisers asking if I was coming or not. I’d always blame it on the dealer and say that they’d been late, but God knows where I’d been – I might have been having sex, I might have been getting high somewhere and not realised the time. I might have actually been waiting for the dealer, but it’s unlikely.
I played for Madonna twice. The first time it was the after-party for a gig the record label had organised and the second was for her birthday, I think it might have been her thirtieth. Christopher, her brother, had seen me and he basically said, ‘My sister’s coming and they want you to do her party.’ I was hanging out with him at the time. On the day of the party I had to go to the Groucho for a soundcheck and all the roads were closed off – Old Compton street, Dean Street – all filled in with those vans with news dishes on the top. Back then, celebrity parties were big, big things… I remember thinking I should probably get myself a bag to see me through the night so off I went to my dealer’s house in Queensway. I remember telling him that I had to be back in forty-five minutes. So we start chopping out lines and then he gets the bong out and we start freebasing coke.
My set was starting at 7.30 and I was only leaving my dealer’s house at 7, totally wired. The cab dropped me atthe end of Dean Street and I remember running back to the driver and being like ‘I’m DJ’ing,’ but the police wouldn’t let me through. I got so bollocked when I finally got there.
I was so fucked that I was dribbling, I had proper coke face – I would gurn so badly. An added problem was that [Boy] George hadn’t been invited to the party, so I invited him, and unlike a normal person who might just tell their friend it wasn’t going to work, I told them that if they didn’t let him in I would turn the music off. And so Madonna’s brother Christopher goes and gets him. By this stage I’m really not handling it very well. Totally spangled and just about managing to play tracks into each other without any moments of silence. Just. And so Madonna comes over and asks me to spice it up and I remember telling her to fuck off. ‘Did you just tell me to fuck off?’ she said. ‘No one ever tells me to fuck off. I like your sass. Keep playing.’ And high-fives me! Gina was behind me, absolutely fucking mortified. ‘I can’t believe you just told Madonna to fuck off and that you’re still standing here.’ He was absolutely horrified.
I just didn’t give a fuck.
Playing for Madonna was amazing – I might have been fucked, but I was still playing for fucking Madonna. Playing for Prince was amazing, playing for Wham! The Final at Wembley Stadium was amazing, doing their after-party at the Hippodrome was amazing. They closed all the streets of London off. They just wouldn’t do that now. It was at a time when celebrities really were celebrities, they were untouchable, they didn’t have their Instagram account open to you. They were superstars.
The really sad thing about these times – playing at parties for Madonna, Michael Jackson, Prince and Elton John, moments when you were playing music and making some of the biggest stars on the planet dance – was that they should have been career-defining gigs and magical moments. And they were… but I wasn’t really there. I was there in body, but I wasn’t there in mind. And I really wish I remembered. Of course, I have memories of them, but not the right memories. My mind wasn’t engaged, the only thing I was engaged with was drugs.
I was really good mates with George Michael by this point and all that competitive stuff from the 80s was way behind us. We’d been vile to George because we couldn’t stand that he was in the closet, but also you were either in the Boy George camp or the George Michael camp, you couldn’t be in both. It was old-school pop rivalry, like the Stones and the Beatles, Blur and Oasis. You couldn’t be in the inner circle and be friends with both. George started hanging out with my friends, people like the photographer Brad Branson, and the singer June Montana, and it all changed.
Fat Tony (left) and Boy George
There was angst at the beginning because of Boy George, but then he started coming to the clubs that I was doing and we’d all have loads of fun together. You have to remember that we were living in a time of Ecstasy, it was all about love and everyone was getting on and partying.
After Café De Paris I had started an Abba tribute night at Bar Industrial in Hanover Square with Dave Dorrell. He was a music manager who had done the song ‘Pump Up the Volume’ with M.A.R.R.S. It was all 70s music. Me and June Montana from the early Wag days used to do it together and that’s how it evolved. At that time, clubs were really, really fun, camp and entertaining. George had just done ‘Freedom! ’90’ and would come down with Linda Evangelista some weeks and play. Every week after that it was absolutely mobbed because people were so desperate to see him.
After that George asked me to play at his thirtieth birthday party at his parents’ house in Bushy. He’d bought them this kind of ranch and so we themed the party like an old Western with bales of hay everywhere. I went in drag, obviously – a leopard-print dress with two leopard-print bows – and a clutch bag of MDMA. I had massive yellow Vivienne Westwood platforms and was about eight foot tall.
I was with Neil and Chris from the Pet Shop Boys and they didn’t even recognise me. I was doing so much MDMA and everyone was absolutely off their rocker. There’s a really good picture of George lying on the floor and me standing on top of him with my foot (and Westwood platforms) on his back. I remember turning up to the party and I hadn’t been wearing any underpants.
As I was getting changed into drag I realised I needed a pair otherwise absolutely everything would have been hanging out, so I got the guy that I’d taken down there to give me his. Just as he was taking them off and I was putting them on, both with all our bits out, George Michael’s dad walks in and catches sight of this eight-foot drag queen putting this guy’s underwear on and it really freaked him out.
I took my George (Boy) up to see George (Michael) in Highgate about two years before he died. We’d drifted apart as he was doing what he was doing and I’d been doing what I’d been doing. I’d been at a friend’s house who lived nearby and popped around and put notes through his door saying, ‘If you ever need any help then please just call me,’ and we’d reconnected again. This was probably about six or seven years into my sobriety. We went over and the two Georges got on really well. We got there and GM gave us a tour of the house, like he always did, but BG had never been there before. Then we sat in the kitchen and chatted about the old times, about music, about new music, about gay cruising – we really covered it all. As we left, Boy George said he really feared for him and I said I didn’t think it would be long before there were ambulances at the house.
GM was worse for wear and having lived that life for nearly thirty years it’s not hard to recognise the signs. I remember the exact words we said to each other, and it’s just so sad that it was true.
People ask if I wish I’d done more to help George, but I don’t think it’s about doing more – you can’t help someone who doesn’t want to be helped. I’d been up to Highgate and spoken to him loads of times to see if he was okay, to see if he wanted any help, or if he wanted to come to a twelve-step programme with me. But addiction isolates – it’s just you, the dealer, the people you’re doing drugs with and the people who want drugs. Throw a bit of sex into the mix and you’re lost from society. In the end, he just stopped answering my calls.
I Don’t Take Requests by DJ Fat Tony is out now.