The cost was a nervous breakdown - contemplating the wallpaper: “Just rocking to and fro, you know, the days merging, the seasons coming and going.” It’s David Hoyle talking to London’s Time Out magazine back in 2006. Hoyle is a performance artist, actor, and writer, he was talking about the cost of being The Divine David - his caustic alter-ego.
“In a way the Divine David became the patron saint of decadence and nihilism and all the rest of it, and it’s hard for that not to affect your own actions,” Hoyle recalls. In the end, he felt, the character was doing him more harm than good. “As much as I used to say, ‘Oh yes, you have to be very sure of your identity to be doing all this business,’ I don’t think I actually was. If you’re used to creating aliases and camouflage and all that sort of palaver, eventually you have to peel it all away and work out who you are.”
The Divine David Presents first appeared on British TV screens in 1999, and offered a series of his thoughts, views, pastiches and whatever came into his head about lile, sex and everything in between. Television was never to be the same again for The Divine David pushed boundaries and challenged perceptions - wait, that description is the kind of media cliche The Divine David would hate - let’s just say he fucked with his audience, and sometimes he fucked with himself, as he once explained to Joe Coleman:
DD: I’m very suspicious of actors and actresses… anything that I do as Divine David is not acting, it’s being. When I say something like ‘I’d like to stab you in the neck’, I really mean it. I said I wanted to rip people’s spines out so they could make attractive pendants and earrings…
IW: David has done a performance where he tried to rip his own spine out on stage…
DD: I just decided ‘I’m gonna do it’, I had Siouxsie and The Banshees singing Through the Looking Glass: “even the greatest stars dislike themselves in the looking glass”. I was laughing my head off. I broke a glass and thought “I’ll shove in it my back and try to rip my spine out”, so I just got it and shoved it in… there were people being sick… it challenged their ideas of themselves to such an extent. But I think that, ultimately, can be quite liberating.
His TV series on Channel 4 brought him some mainstream success, but Hoyle was “mired in drink and drugs,” and to save himself, decided to kill off The Divine David in an ice-show spectacular at the Streatham Ice Arena in London. He then moved back to Manchester, “At the end I was pretty burnt out.” And that’s when the breakdown happened.
Hoyle was born in Blackpool, the seaside city famed for its lights, its shows, its candy rock, its kiss-me-quick hats and its Tower. As a gay child, living in Blackpool was “horrendous. Going to school everyday was like “was like walking to your death on a daily basis. Knowing that you were going to get assaulted, knowing that you didn’t have anybody to talk to.” As he told The Times there was no one to turn to, even his teachers were unsympathetic:
“They would watch as my bag was emptied out of the window, three storeys up. They would allow it because they believed that by subjecting me to violence it would make me heterosexual. Your life is a nightmare but you can’t tell them why, because what you are is so massively wrong that what people are doing by assaulting you is the right thing. You should be assaulted for being a homosexual. That’s what was going on in my mind.”
Hoyle coped by turning his pain into comedy. At 17 he made his stage debut at a working men’s club, the Belle Vue.
“I created this character who was the illegitimate offspring of the Duke of Edinburgh and Dorothy Squires. His name was Paul Munnery-Vain, taken from the pulmonary vein in your heart.”
He was a success, and you know the rest was…as they say, and started Hoyle onto his brilliant career.
Then in the 1990s, Hoyle developed the Divine David, a “queer cultural terrorist,” who satirized the lifestyles many of his audiences held dear - gay-community narcissism, the chauvinism of drag artists, sexual politics, celebrity culture and sex. Hoyle was not just mining the world around him, but using up large chunks of himself - and it came at a cost.
Six years after Divine David’s death-on-ice, David Hoyle returned to “straight” performance, and world domination with more brutal, brilliant, emotionally charged and bitingly funny shows. As the writer Paul Darling recently commented, “David Hoyle is a political/comic/philosophical/poetic GENIUS and we’re lucky to have him.”
And here’s where it started with Hoyle as The Divine David.
Bonus - ‘Surrealist Situationist’
Bonus - At Home With David Hoyle