By Bob Merrick
Do you find that people in the U.K. are more open to gays?
We still have ages to go, but there seems to have been a sexual revolution with the Internet. We're becoming closer to Europe'and with their laws being much more open than ours were. For example, we've had to reduce the age of consent to 16, just to be within the European union, so that's kind of a good thing as far as changing the mindset about sex in general. But on the other extreme, it is like the lid has been taken off Pandora's box and people are fucking left, right, and center, and you don't know who's into what or what's going on. I feel like it's overtaken me really.
The whole country is on the down-low! How are your hips? You recently had both of them replaced. What happened?
They're fantastic! I feel like a new person. I think it's a bit genetic, and it may have been from the steroids I was on when I had pneumonia in New York.
So basically, you're going to be the Bionic Andy Bell?
Yes. I used to pretend to be the Bionic Woman anyway when I was a teenager. At the local swimming pool I would make that noise she made when I would jump off the high dive. I would say they should film me and play it backwards and it would look like I was jumping out of the water. I was either that or one of Charlie's Angels. Of course, I was always Jill.
What made you decide to go public about your HIV status?
That was another thing that was just hanging over my head and I just felt like I was clear in my mind about what I wanted to say and how I wanted it to be. And I just don't like having secrets.
You were diagnosed in 1998; how did you decide now is the right time?
It had been awhile and there had been a few scare stories around in the U.K. while I was negative saying that I had AIDS and that I had given it to someone else, so I was a bit nervous about what people would say. But then I just decided fuck it. Why not? I just don't like when there are rumors and speculation going around. I like to clear the air.
How has it affected your music?
From where I am now, I just feel much more grounded having had deeper experiences, which helps my singing. It all comes from the ground upwards.
What do you think about the current political climate regarding AIDS in America and the U.K.?
I think we are really fortunate because we are white and live in the west, but that kind of tends for us to bury our heads in the sand a bit and not really concern ourselves about what's going on anywhere else. There are 50 million people that have HIV in Africa and only 5% of those people have access to medicines and I think we need to be more responsible for that. You just have to get things into perspective.
Sadly, I think people pay more attention when they have a face and are reminded that it can affect anyone. What has been the response of people since you came out as positive?
It's actually been really great. Sadly, I think it's the first time we made MTV news.
I know your partner, Paul, is writing a book. What is that about?
He was going to write a book when he had his first face-lift in 1990 from a man's experience and being vain and gay and all that kind of stuff. Then he found out he was HIV positive from a blood test. Then when he had a face-lift in 2000, he subsequently had a stroke. So his book has been kind of a cathartic exercise, and his memory is amazing. He was born in 1950, so it is from his childhood, growing up in California, coming out in the '60s to hanging out with the U.S. Army guys and doing drugs and that kind of stuff, so it's gonna be good.
And how long have you been with him?
Since when I met Vince, so 20 years.
That's remarkable! If you had the chance to do your whole career over, would you do anything different or are you happy with just the way it is?
I wouldn't do anything different, but I'd quite like to have been a woman.
Well, if it is any consolation, you have always looked better in a corset than most!