Friday, 4 September 2009

Paying lip service

Pete Burns must be breaking out the bubbly tonight, having been awarded a £450,000 out-of-court settlement from the plastic surgeon who 'ruined his career and life'. The eighties pop icon has spent the last two years battling for compensation for the botched lip implants that blighted his face, and now it seems that justice has finally been done.

Despite being the dictionary definition of a one-hit wonder, Pete has managed to sustain an improbably high profile for the last quarter of a century, thanks to his willingness to court controversy and inspire outrage. Inexplicably combining the feminine glamour of a page three girl with the voice of an angry scouse dockworker, he's able to shock and entertain in equal measure.

His appearance on Celebrity Big Brother in 2006 introduced the foul-mouthed antagonist to a whole new generation of onlookers ('fans' would be stretching the point somewhat) who watched him bully, bellow and belittle his fellow housemates. He regularly attacked former Baywatch performer (again, 'actress' would also be a stretch) Traci Bingham simply for being nice, and yet often sprung to the defense of beleaguered entertainer Michael Barrymore. Strangely, Pete's time as a housemate was most notable for the outfit he wore for his big entrance - a coat he claimed was made from gorilla fur. Tests confirmed that the coat was actually made from Colobus monkey pelts imported before 1975, which helped Pete avoid prosecution.

Following his turn (like a record) on CBB, Pete also popped up on the inaccurately-named Celebrity Wife Swap, and a show called Pete's PA, which endeavoured to find the temperamental gender-bender an assistant - like the Apprentice with a lower budget and more tattoos.

But throughout his career, Pete's celebrity has been defined by two very specific things. The first is THAT song. You Spin Me Round (Like A Record) launched the post-Hi-NRG Europop sound of uber-producers Stock, Aitken & Waterman with its distinctive 'cowbells and handclaps' arrangement which Bananarama 'borrowed' several months later for their cover of Venus. Despite the fact that Pete has complained "I'm sick of that song. It's like still wearing school uniform when you're 50", he's been more than happy to allow other artists to use it, and cash the royalty checks in return - Dope, Jessica Simpson, Flo Rida and Dannii Minogue have all either covered the song or interpolated elements of it in their own tracks.

But the other defining element of Pete's life in the limelight has been his extraordinary appearance. Pete sees his face as a work-in-progress, reasoning "If you own a car, you change that every few years and that's just what I'm doing with my appearance." Sadly though, Pete took this thinking a stretch too far when he opted to replace his lips with airbags. Several dodgy injections of lip-filler resulted in swelling, blisters, discharge and lumps, and in the end, he looked as though someone was holding a bright red flotation device in-front of him.

It's always a shame to see surgery go horrifically wrong (unless you're a TV producer for Sky), but Pete's argument in the lawsuit did seem a little tenuous. For instance, he claimed that, were it not for the botched gob-job, his career would have been at its peak, and that his disfigured appearance meant he didn't leave the house for months. It seems churlish to mention how seldom he has bothered the charts since that first number one single, or how often Pete has quite happily appeared in the spotlight on a range of TV shows.

Nonetheless, having allegedly felt suicidal over his appearance in recent years, this change in his fortunes should finally help Pete positively embrace the future. Having formed the band Dead or Alive, maybe Pete's finally got the answer he was hoping for.

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