Outsiders and the “white male” problem


With The Outside Edge about to hit the shops, we’ve been trying to drum up some publicity. But we’ve hit a snag: one I’m calling the “white male” problem.

“You’re a white male,” several reviewers have now stated. “That makes you the ultimate insider. So what do you know about being an outsider?”

Of course, outsiders are often – perhaps even usually – perceived through vertical divides such as race or gender: being the rare black face in an industry dominated by whites (as with Tidjame Thiam); or the rare senior woman in a male-dominated environment (as with Chritsine Lagarde), and so on. These are powerful divides that can generate “impostor syndrome” – in which we feel both unqualified and unwelcome no matter what our attributes – as well as other issues such as low confidence, fear of failure and conflict phobia.

Certainly, no one’s belittling these divides and their impact.

And let’s not forget those horizontal divides, such as age and, perhaps most perniciously (not least because of its subtlety), class. Again, their impact can be negative: with us feeling patronised or unwelcome or even simply excluded due to something we cannot change.

Yet these divides are not the whole story. Far from it. Throughout history there’s been the notion of the misfit, the “changeling”, the person that rejects or is rejected by their tribe or peer group. This is a far deeper phenomenon – potentially evolutionary in its roots and certainly tribal (based on notions of a required collectiveness for survival). No amount of legislation or positive discrimination or well-meaning lobbying can resolve it. It’s often thrust upon us – from being ostracised – but it’s just as often a self-diagnosing “condition” (though perhaps “identity” is a better description of our malaise). And it creates sometimes unseen psychological issues that can lead to isolation, alienation and depression.

So the outsider, in this context, is someone within their own peer group. Or at least that’s where they started. They’re from the tribe or clan (or within the vertical divide) but not of it. They’ve become estranged.

There are several root causes to this phenomenon. Learning difficulties for instance – or perhaps dyslexia, disbraxia or even mild autism (diagnosed or otherwise). There may be family stress: parental divorce or rejection, for example, or sibling rivalry or adoption. Or peer group pressures: being the fat, small or ginger kid; the poorest in the class; the new boy/girl at school; or simply the one living a distance from the others.

That said, it can also be hyper intelligence, or extreme beauty or greater family wealth compared to your peers. In fact it’s anything that prevents that person adopting the core thinking, beliefs and culture of their family, peer group or tribe. That makes them misunderstand it or question it. And that also makes them misunderstood.

Given all this, it’s easy to see why being an outsider has only a tangential relationship to gender or race or even class. Of course, being estranged from your peers can encourage individuals to try and smash any glass ceilings they perceive – resulting in them being the very people most adept at breaking those deeply-embedded vertical divides. That said, both Christine Lagarde and Tidjane Thiam – as examples – come from highly-privileged insider backgrounds, so let’s not get carried away by the potential: as I say in The Outside Edge, feeling like an outsider is a highly disabling trait, though a disablement we can overcome.

10 clues that you’re an outsider

So are you an outsider? I offer 10 clues that may suggest you are (none involving race or gender), though – as stated – it’s largely a self-diagnosing condition so don’t feel you have to tick-off every trait.

1) Sensitivity in childhood. Being the cry-baby or mother-clinger is an early sign that you’re uncomfortable with your surroundings. For instance, my eldest son loved nursery: he delved right in. My youngest, meanwhile, wailed all the way there, refused to integrate and sulked until he was collected. Indeed “laterborns” are far more likely to become outsiders (see below).

2)  Strained family relationships. Children from “broken homes” can experience depression, anger and alienation, yet outsidership can equally be developed within strained, though “normal”, family situations. Mean siblings can generate isolation and estrangement – as can working mothers or absent fathers – with, again, “laterborns” bearing the brunt of it.

3) Disliking childhood peer-group activities. Around 20 percent of kids have sensitivity issues at nursery age. By school, around half will become integrated. This leaves around 10% suffering withdrawal and/or shyness into childhood. Yet the attempt to integrate can also throw up “problematic” or even “anti-social” behaviours. For instance, any form of childhood group activity – cubs, brownies, football, ballet, drama club etc. – is almost certainly rejected by the outsider. For me, cubs looked like extra school with added bizarre rituals; and the local football clubs appeared to be licensed bullying. I escaped both.

4) Rebelling against authority. Anyone telling others what to do can find themselves at odds with outsiders. Parents and teachers, of course: but I also found myself falling out with community organisers of any form, as well as people in uniform, local busy-bodies and even the old lady running the post office. I saw right through their paper-thin authority and became determined to challenge it.

5) Late or early onset adolescence. An interesting one this, but those deviating from the norm with respect to the onset of puberty can find themselves psychologically distant from the group. Yet this tends to be gender dependent: early-onset girls are the most likely to develop “non-normative” behaviours that lead to alienation, followed by late-onset boys.

6) Identity hopping. To the outsider, standardised youth identities can all seem attractive – not least because we think that there lies salvation. Punks, goths, metalheads: every era has them, and outsiders can jump right in. Yet we jump right out again after discovering the need to adhere to a new set of (this time unstated) rules regarding dress, outlook and hierarchies.

7) Thrill seeking and often reckless behaviour. Outsiders are likely to be those with the sharpest taste for adventure: the more dangerous and the further from home the better. This can take bizarre forms. Mine was a keenness to explore the most notorious and dangerous parts of any city I visited – somehow feeling connected to the poverty and squalor (indeed, both romanticism and “downward mobility” are further outsider traits).

8) Career zigzagging. As with identity hopping, so with career pursuits. Outsiders often have wayward career paths, although this is sometimes due to poor attainment in formal education, resulting in us developing “alternative routes” – not all of which work out. For instance, most of my contemporaries at Manchester University were amazed that I’d left my run-down Essex comprehensive with just one O’level. “How did you get here?” they’d ask. “With difficulty,” I’d reply (actually through evening classes and guile).

9) Failing to retain friendships. And just as we identity-hop, so we’re poor at maintaining close friendships. This isn’t deliberate and certainly isn’t rejection on our part. It’s actually part-restlessness, part individualism, and part a well-formed notion – based on experience – that friends tend to come and go. Certainly, as friends, outsiders are unreliable, though that’s not necessarily the case with respect to love. Indeed, love can offer true salvation for many outsiders (with Maslow’s hierarchy offering an explanation).

10) Entrepreneurialism and creativity. Outsiders see things differently. They’re observers rather than participants, which can – when nurtured – result in strong creativity and often in the development of an entrepreneurial attitude. Indeed, many outsiders end up entrepreneurs of one form or another – not least because they struggle within formal workplace hierarchies.


So, that’s the outsider. Not necessarily black or female, or white or male. That said, a white male could well be the best-placed person to write such a book. Why? Because female and ethnic outsiders will write books based on overcoming the (strong and debilitating) vertical divides they’ve been forced to surmount in order to succeed. I had no such vertical divides (though the horizontal divide of class remains a highly-pervasive and corrosive division) – meaning I can discern the psychological wood from the vertical trees. Persuading editors of this is, of course, another matter.




The Outside Edge: How Outsiders Can Succeed in a World Made by Insiders.


Why the solar eclipse left me cold

706834main_20121113-solareclipse_full (1)Hurrah, it was cloudy yesterday morning. Really cloudy: that dirty-white duvet-thick covering that only British skies seem capable of. Oh, how I love the British weather on such occasions as the solar eclipse. There was absolutely no chance of viewing it here in London, meaning there was absolutely no chance of being distracted by yet another daft thing intended to distract us.

What a terrible boss I am to think such thoughts! Apologies. Yet it goes much deeper than that. It’s not just the galley drumbeat that drives me to detest such ridiculous impositions into the working day. It’s the bloody distractions themselves. The modern world seems to generate historic “must see” events on an almost weekly basis – all somehow timed to stop people going about their midweek daily routines.

I first noticed this during President Obama’s inauguration speech back in 2009. I came back to work after a tiring round of meetings to find the office deserted. The team, assuming this a never-to-be-repeated must-see event, had gone to the pub – leaving just one person holding the fort and even he was watching it on his PC. I reacted angrily, which triggered an angry exchange between us, resulting in me going home to work. Here, I found my partially-deaf mother-in-law watching the bloody inauguration on the TV with the volume so loud it could be heard down the street.

“What’s wrong with the 10 O’clock bloody news,” I shouted above Barack’s layered tones (it wasn’t heard) before resorting to earphones, my iPod, and a loud Frankie Knuckles session.

I should add that, yes absolutely, Obama becoming president was certainly an “event” to be marked. But, indeed, the world used to wait until the evening news to mark it: with the event itself packaged and edited to remove the boring bits and provide context. Why are we now expected to watch the whole over-blown invented tradition as if we were there, and be treated like a pariah for refusing to think such an indulgence some sort of human right?

Of course, Obama’s inauguration was a mere blip on the screen compared to Nelson Mandela’s funeral (in fact a state memorial service). Forget context. Forget editing. This was a full-on real-time global wake intended to absorb every living creature’s consciousness for days on end. The BBC threw out its scheduling for the day and sent 120 journalists to cover it – eventually comparing the great man to Jesus! And still the only two significant events (President Zuma being booed and the Obama/Cameron/Thorning-Schmidt selfie) had to wait for later editing to be revealed (the live-feed filtering out the booing).

That said, at least those were genuinely historic events. Some just feel like excuses to flee the office. England Vs Costa Rica in the World Cup – let’s stop work. One more bloody test in yet another Ashes series – let’s stop work. Another stupid protest outside of RBS’s front door (this one featuring Russell Brand perhaps or a Channel 4 journo losing his temper) – let’s stop work.

I hasten to add that, for me, there’s more to it than just a Scrooge-like cumugeonly dislike of anything likely to lift heads from the lathe (or PC), although – I confess – that is a factor. There’s my inbuilt cynicism as an outsider. At root, almost anything that smacks of collectivity – of something we’re all supposed to acknowledge, feel and appreciate as a group – has me instinctively reaching for the sick-bucket. Tell me to watch a royal wedding or smile at a royal baby, and I’ll roll my eyes and talk about Oliver Cromwell’s genius. Tell me to support England (any England) and I’ll start supporting Bangladesh or Samoa or Costa Rica (though perhaps not Australia, France or Germany).

Indeed, anything that can be called “national life” and – these days – “global life” triggers an innate rebellion I find difficult to suppress. It comes from a childhood dislike of authority based on a mutual disrespect between myself and anyone trying to impose their will upon me: perhaps because they were older, or more senior, or just happened to be my father. Then, all I could see was their blank insistence – an imposition that offered no attempt to explain why or carry me with them.

Of course, in childhood this is a disabling trait – and one that has enormous repercussions in adulthood. It makes us the outsiders, without the necessary insight regarding why we feel so estranged. It also triggers reactivity in adult situations that most certainly goes against our self-interest. So it’s something we ultimately have to suppress if we’re to make progress – although, as I state in my upcoming book (The Outside Edge), this is only possible if we have a thought-through objective. Then, we can see authority – any authority – as nothing more than a gatekeeper to be negotiated. Someone we look through to the other side, rather than as a judge of our isolation or our inadequacies. And we may learn to see customs and collectivist moments such as historic or sporting events in the same way.

Indeed, with an objective, it’s just possible that smiling at royal babies and even supporting England could work in our interest: by encouraging people to think well of us, perhaps, or by motivating our team into being more productive due to feeling fulfilled at work. That said, I still draw the line at mid-morning solar eclipses.


The Outside Edge: How Outsiders Can Succeed in a World Made by Insiders, out April 2nd

Do outsiders have to be better? Just ask the man (not) from the Pru

The entire premise of Malcolm Gladwell’s best-selling book David & Goliath is that misfits and outsiders have inbuilt advantages they can exploit for personal gain. The book’s eponymous hero, David, is a case in point. David took on the warrior giant, not head to head, but by using his shepherd-boy guile. Declining the heavy armour offered to him, he instead employed his slingshot (used by shepherds to ward off predators) to fell the colossus. His outsider skills won the day – meaning David confounded his detractors, who’d assumed him too feeble to match the strength of Goliath.

Thus outsiders are advantaged, opines Gladwell, which is great news. It’s just a shame it isn’t true.

In fact, outsiders have enormous disadvantages. Gladwell’s book – though interesting and insightful – was simply picking the winners from three millennia of recorded history: a tiny cohort of famous names that include the Viet Cong and Martin Luther King from the last century and more myth than fact prior to that. The rest have been crushed and forgotten – their names neither celebrated nor used as case studies in zeitgeisty books supporting an unsupportable hypothesis.

Yet outsiders can win. Partly by guile – for sure – but partly by the simple expedient of being better than their insider opponents. Much better. This is true for both vertical divides that shut-out certain types of people – those based on race or gender perhaps –  and for horizontal ones, such as class, education, upbringing or simply outlook. Of course, the vertical divides are easier to spot – and celebrate – which is why they’re most-often used as shining examples of people that overcame the odds to conquer all…etc.


One in the news this week is Tidjane Thiam: the man very much not from the Pru, who – nonetheless – turned the staid UK insurer into a healthy animal able to face the future with confidence and ambition. Thiam is a classic example of an outsider having to be better than the insiders – and then some!

On March 10th this year Thiam – a black African from Cote d’Ivoire – was announced as the new chief executive of Credit Suisse, an appointment that saw shares in the Swiss banking behemoth jump 6.7%. Meanwhile, shares in Prudential, where he had been CEO since March 2009, fell 3.1% (reducing its book value by £1bn).

As anyone in the City knows, markets have no sentiment. That spike/fall response was a genuine assessment of Thiam’s stewardship, nothing else. Markets don’t nod and smile in public while speaking privately – among friends – of tokenism or window dressing. Markets are brutal, which is why publicly-listed companies so often play it safe when it comes to senior appointments (and why those insider “playing it safe” candidates can command such inflated salaries).

Prudential took a risk with Thiam, and it paid off – eventually. Yet Thiam – as a francophone African – had to be better than the others to both get to the top and, just as importantly, stay there. The first Ivorian to pass the entrance exam for France’s prestigious École Polytechnique, he also finished top in his class at the equally prestigious École Nationale Supérieure des Mines de Paris. That was degree number two. Degree number three came via winning a scholarship to achieve his MBA at the world-renowned INSEAD  business school. McKinsey followed (where else!) then work for the government back in Cote d’Ivoire (including negotiating with the World Bank and IMF). Then – after being forced out by a military coup – he arrived at UK insurer Aviva. In 2007 he left Aviva to become CFO of Prudential, before becoming the first black African CEO of a FTSE-100 company two years’ later.

Tokenism or window dressing it wasn’t. For Thiam it was a battle – against all those insider instincts within some of the UK’s most established financial institutions – though one he fought and won.

“He will leave the insurer in a hugely better position than he found it in, and could have done even more had the City been more trusting when he first took over,” writes Allister Heath in the Daily Telegraph.

Indeed, his tenure started badly. Soon after taking over – and perhaps driven by an inner “imposter syndrome” making him want to prove himself to those doubting insiders – Thiam launched a disastrous US$35.5bn takeover bid for AIG’s Asian life-insurance arm, AIA.

As Heath states, in hindsight Thiam was right about the deal (and the value it would bring Prudential), but wrong about the timing – leaving the bid to fail and the Pru to pick up the bidding-costs of £377m (and to be later criticised by the regulators). Both the shareholders and the media were brutal in their response and Thiam was lucky to survive. Yet he learnt the lessons – not least that Prudential’s growth in Asia should come about incrementally. Instead, he focused on turning Prudential into a “well-oiled machine” as described by the FT’s Lex column (not a place that usually pulls its sardonic punches and another column now heralding Thiam as Prudential’s saviour).

Over the past five years, Prudential (once a byword for corporate stuffiness) has became the model of a modern, efficient insurance/investment company – with Thiam making decisions that insiders wouldn’t have dared, and would certainly have been incapable of executing.

Now Thiam takes over an investment bank without a single day’s experience as a banker. Finally accepted – even lauded – by the City, one wonders whether Thiam’s become too used (perhaps addicted) to being the outsider. From such a unique vantage point, outsiders can see the wood for the trees – as well as the issues that matter and need dealing with (such as the Pru’s need to grow in Asia). They can also take risks – not least because their instincts will always be more poacher than gamekeeper.

Yet the disadvantages remain, first and foremost being all those insiders willing him to fail. So just remember Tidjane: as an outsider, you’ll always have to be better than them. It’s just the way it is. But then you knew that, didn’t you?


The Outside Edge: How Outsiders Can Succeed in a World Made by Insiders



Entrepreneurs as social superheroes: not so fast

Oh no, I’ve just made myself unpopular again. This time it was at a breakfast event (at the House of Lords, donchaknow) – celebrating social enterprise and entrepreneurialism as a social good. Why I couldn’t have kept my big gob shut I don’t know. But I couldn’t. I just had to ruin it, saying that entrepreneurs tend to be selfish people. They’re highly uncharitable, I said. They’re individualists, misfits, outsiders. So while entrepreneurialism provides society with social benefits such as innovation, employment and economic growth, the notion of entrepreneurs doing so purely because of their altruistic instincts is false.

Of course, this rather went against the grain of the entire event. In fact, I was focusing on a particular story – just told by a guest speaker and well-known London restaurant entrepreneur. He’d been involved in a cooking-skills project in a London prison, aimed at developing a route towards employability for young offenders. One shone above the others and, on release, was offered work experience in his kitchen, which morphed into full-time employment as a chef.

Great news. In fact, such great news it found its way into the newspapers (via a deliberate PR drive, of course), which led to a spike in interest and bookings for the restaurant.

And it’s here where I intervened: stating that the increase in bookings via strong PR should be the essential takeaway for entrepreneurs. For the entrepreneur, the social good is a byproduct: a happenstance (though one happily publicized for gain). What really matters is the entirely-selfish economic benefit, not least in the fact the restaurant found a new chef willing to work hard and demonstrate loyalty (a small price for having his life turned around), and the restaurant itself saw an uplift in custom from the propagated feelgood factor.

What’s not to like?

Yet I was nearly hounded out of the room for my temerity. No, no, no, said speaker after speaker: entrepreneurs should do good for good’s sake. “Giving back” – perhaps via a corporate and social responsibility programme or even by the very nature of the business – was cause-enough for strong social works: profit motive be damned. Soon, they were out bidding each other trying to prove their social worth – and me wrong – even suggesting percentages of profits to be ring-fenced for good deeds.

Before long – and to my amazement – we were hearing about swathes of the African countryside being educated on the proceeds of British entrepreneurialism, with each step towards this social nirvana making me feel more like some despicable and selfish capitalist pigdog. Or at least someone at the wrong event. I even noticed the body-language of those around me stiffen: who let this freemarket dinosaur in, they seemed to be saying? What a throwback!

But then I remembered where I was. Here we sat, in one of those slightly faded mock-gothic committee rooms in the bowels of Parliament. Lords, OBEs and CBEs sat around me, as well as people from government agencies, think-tank wonks and a smattering of accounting, banking and private equity bods whose job it was to attract entrepreneurial clients.


And then there were the entrepreneurs that had cashed-out and were now “giving back” in one form or another. Sure, in-the-thick-of-it entrepreneurs were also represented. But, even here, all was not what it seemed: one wanted to become a politician, for instance.

So I tried again with my “entrepreneurs are essentially selfish and that’s just fine” line – only to dig myself into an even deeper hole. Take a Rotherham window cleaner, I said. He’s only concern is putting food on the table while he grows his business. He’s more interested in outfoxing rival Rotherham window-cleaning firms – and then moving on to outfox those in Doncaster – than being the good guy, doing good things. Sure he may employ an ex-offender, but that’s because he’s cheap and willing to work long hours: it’s got nowt to do with charity.

Yet even my fictional Rotherham window cleaner didn’t escape the need to deliberately-benefit wider society (rather than as a byproduct of his selfishness). While accepting his narrow motives, it was no excuse for not consciously acting for society’s benefit, they said – with someone even suggesting he make a principled stand by using only environmentally-friendly detergent!

That depends on the cost, I replied, rather desperately.

In fact, so desperate was I that I made the mistake of referring to my favourite thinker, Abraham Maslow: he of the hierarchy of needs. Here was Maslow’s hierarchy in action, I stated, to bemused looks from the audience.

As all psychology students know, the point of Maslow’s hierarchy is that it’s impossible to move to the higher level without first satisfying the lower need. So, while the most basic personal needs are food and water, we cannot move towards the next level (safety) without satisfying them. Once fed – and only once fed – will we seek safety via shelter. Only once safe will we seek love and belonging. And only once we feel loved, will we seek self-esteem – usually via achievement, including wealth.

Finally, only once we have self-esteem, will we arrive at our “self-actualized” summit, in which we seek attributes such as creativity and morality. It’s here where we become concerned about social good or “giving back”. If we have everything else we need – including self-esteem – morality matters. Before that, morality’s a highly suspicious public attribute, potentially hiding a deep-seated selfishness.

Of course, I love Maslow’s hierarchy. For me it explains why I always felt such an outsider at university and even in my early careers in the media (unlike those around me I was still seeking self-esteem, or even love and belonging). It then explains why I felt equally out-of-sorts in the City (having become self-actualised while working in the media, I no longer sought achievement via wealth). Indeed, it explains all those “greedy” Essex boy City traders, as well as all those “champagne socialists”, middle-class “tree huggers” and wealthy entrepreneurial social “do-gooders”.

“Congratulations,” I concluded, “you’ve all arrived at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy.”

Of course, I thought my Maslow speech would go down well – offering psychological insight into why this wonderful audience of self-actualised winners seemed so divorced from the more basic needs of my Rotherham window cleaner. I expected spontaneous applause. Yet it was received in silence and with embarrassed smiles (embarrassed for me, that is). Soon, someone – again – defended entrepreneurial social activism, and the enthusiastic smiling and nodding started once more.

Oh dear! The event ended and those either side of me turned right and left to network with those on my far side. Others were keen to meet the organizers and maybe catch a word with one of the entrepreneurial names on the top table. Meanwhile, I sat and pretended to make some notes. I then collected my coat and made my way to Westminster tube station, alone.

It’s not easy being an outsider.


The Outside Edge: How Outsiders Can Succeed in a World Made by Insiders, by Robert Kelsey, Capstone, £9.99.


Steve Strange: the outsider (poacher) turned insider (gamekeeper)

I’m not great at reacting to news immediately, which – I realise – is not a fantastic trait in a blogger. I’d rather ponder news, digesting it for a while before reacting. In fact, I’m not even sure what news affects me until – after a few days – I notice it’s still there: in my brain – worming away.

So it is with the news of Steve Strange’s death: not least because his passing triggered an awkward reaction in me. On the face of it Strange should be a hero of mine. Influenced by David Bowie (a definite outsider hero), Strange was probably the single most important person in the New Romantic movement, the musical identity that was at its height when I was at my most impressionable age for such influences: aged between 16 and 20.

Certainly, his outsider credentials are impeccable. A man from the perennially-unhip Welsh valleys, Steven John Harrington was the son of a divorced paratrooper. He was also a state-school drop-out, although his vision of a musical movement based on David Bowie’s Ashes to Ashes video was spectacularly successful – changing music and fashion forever. Strange was not particularly musical (his best subject was art). Nor was he particularly good-looking. Despite his best efforts with make-up, his face was a little too round and podgy for the high-cheekbone catwalk look of the New Romantics (based on Bowie, of course). Yet his influence was extraordinary because he developed something all-important for an outsider’s success: as I explain in my new book (out in April) The Outside Edge.

Above all his other “talents”, Strange had entrepreneurial flair. He saw an opening and exploited it for commercial gain: first developing the “look”, then the music, and then (most importantly) the movement – in his case via nightclub promotions at The Blitz nightclub in Covent Garden followed, most famously, by Camden Palace.

Yet it’s here where my admiration for Strange becomes problematic. This is because Strange (unbeknown to him, of course) had a direct influence on my own identity and sense of self. And it was a negative one. Strange’s nightclub nights developed a Studio-54 style door policy, in which he strictly policed entrance – reserving it for his friends, his uber-fashionable followers and those brave enough, and cool enough, to try and make it passed the most discerning (and capricious) velvet rope policy in early 1980s London.

Many of my New Romantic friends went, and loved it. I never dared try. To me, it looked like the jackboot law of the fashion police – an oppressive regime I was certain to offend. Any midweek trip (I have a vague recollection of it being Monday nights?) “up to Camden” would have certainly resulted in what I most dreaded: the personal judgement of others – my “betters” – and the utter devastation and humiliation of their rejection. In my heart-of-hearts I knew I wasn’t worthy of entrance into Camden Palace, and so I kicked around my home town and, if asked, lied that I’d been (“yeah, it’s great,” I’d say, and quickly change the subject).

Thanks Steve!

Of course, if it wasn’t Steve Strange they’d have been others, so my resentment of this poacher turned gamekeeper (or gatekeeper) is a small-minded reaction. And I liked the music – often going to concerts involving New Romantic bands such as Depeche Mode, Bauhaus, Spandau Ballet and Simple Minds (even then, Duran Duran was a wee bit teenybopper for our tastes). Yet concerts sold tickets to all punters. Strange picked his followers. And I’d have certainly been one of the un-chosen.

Yet there’s a corollary to this. While enjoying the music, I hated the look, which seemed to be Strange’s central preoccupation (despite having one hit with Visage). I didn’t like the quiffed and quaffed hair or pigtails, I detested the make-up and even the clothes were awful – making my then-skinny frame look even skinnier. I actually preferred the mod look (revived as it was in the early 1980s), because the clothes were nattier, the hair sharper and there was no bloody make up. Yet, here, I disliked the 1960s music and found their events (which always seemed to end in violence) scary. And then there were the heavy-metal fans. Here, I had some admiration for the music, thought the Caroline Radio Roadshows (the main headbanger nights) great fun and yet thought heavy-metal fans looked like ragdolls thrown through a hedge.

So I had New Romantic friends, mod tastes in clothes and attended heavy-metal bashes. And while some would consider this confused, I’ve now decided it was the typical eclectic tastes of an outsider. Perhaps I should have started my own night at Camden Palace.



Out in April: Outside Edge – How Outsiders Can Succeed in a World Made by Insider