As the larger-than-life frontman for the most flamboyant British rock band since Queen, Justin Hawkins is not a man for whom understatement comes naturally. But when he talks about the way his life has turned around in the past six years, he says simply: "I'm very lucky." Hawkins hasn't touched booze or drugs since he emerged from rehab in August 2006 after blowing £150,000 on cocaine in three years. And having quit The Darkness at the same time in an effort to stay clean, he is now celebrating – with a Starbucks latte – the release of the reunited band’s new album, Hot Cakes, and a successful stadium tour opening for Lady Gaga. “I couldn’t ask for more,” he says.
On a scale of one to 10, how happy are you right now?
We’ve got a great album out. The tour with Gaga has been fun. So that’s probably about a seven out of 10. But if we had a platinum-selling mega-album, and I had the added mania from some of my former activities, I have to say that would increase the number.
Have you ever been a 10 out of 10 kind of guy?
Well, we always used to say that The Darkness was three depressives and a manic depressive.
Who was the odd one out?
I’m not telling. But have you ever met Ed, our drummer?
Now that you’re not drinking or doing drugs, what do you in your spare time on tour?
Now I’m being professional! I play tennis when I can, but mostly I like taking pictures of my dog – in different scenarios, wearing different costumes. She’s a griffon Bruxellois. Bigger than a Chihuahua, a terrier-sized dog. A bit like a pug with longer legs.
Small dog. Outfits. It’s all very Lady Gaga.
I suppose it is. And my dog is on tour with me. She was a welcome addition to the Gaga tour.
How was the Lady Gaga tour for The Darkness?
The reaction from her audience ranged from nonplussedness to completely mental. Copenhagen was like a homecoming for us – hands in the air right to the back of the stadium. But in some places, like Bulgaria, it was quite frosty. That’s support slots for you.
Having recently stated that you connect with gay audiences, you must have felt that you had something in common with Lady Gaga.
Yes. ‘Justin Hawkins gay’ is a popular search on Google. And we’ve definitely gone down well with her audience.
**Did you worry that touring with her might damage your rock cred? **
I think we’ve done a lot of damage to our rock cred over the years. I think this was probably a step up.
So, Hot Cakes… We can’t be the first to ask the question: is it selling like them?
You are the first, actually. In the current climate the album’s doing very well. It achieved the highest chart position of any Darkness album in Germany, in the US, in Australia… the list is, well, it’s not endless. It has an end, I just don’t know where. And I’m not sure that ‘hot cakes’ is an expression that translates. A Spanish journalist asked me if it meant piles of cocaine.
There’s a lyric on the album’s opening song, Every Inch Of You, that may also have lost something in translation – when you sing: _‘Every man, woman and child wants to suck my cock.’ _
It’s not ‘child’, it’s ‘chile’, with an ‘e’ on the end. It’s an important distinction. Well, that’s the party line. You don’t think I would… Oh dear, that’s disgusting!
**On a more serious note, do drunk people disgust you now that you’re sober? **
No. But they’re so fucking tedious. I look at them and think: “Oh, I wasn’t like that, was I?”. And the smell – I can’t stand it. That’s worse than the repetition and the stumbling.
**But in this business you’re continually surrounded by drunken well-wishers. **
Some of my best friends are drunken well-wishers! It’s not unbearable. Drunken strangers saying shit that you don’t want to hear. I think: “Fucking hell, why am I standing here? I want to be over there, talking to my dad – who is also drunk! But at least I know him”.
You have a new tattoo with the name of the band’s home town, Lowestoft. Is that you reconnecting with your roots?
Yes. It’s a moving tribute to a special town [laughs]. It was actually so painful that it made me stop having tattoos for a year.
So what’s next for Justin Hawkins? Your brother Dan, the guitarist in The Darkness, has kids. Is that something you want in your life?
You know, when you’ve been through what I’ve been through you have to be really careful about how you launch into stuff. It’s great to be an uncle. But immediately after rehab, I would have hesitated to have a house plant, let alone all the stuff that Dan’s doing. It’s quite difficult to contemplate doing stuff like that.
When you said back in 200. that you’d hit rock bottom, you weren’t exaggerating.
I literally had to start again. But I’m happy now. I’ve got my band. I’ve got my dog. I’m lucky in a lot of different ways.
And The Darkness – when will you be splitting up again?
I don’t know. What year is it? Classic Rock will be the first to know, of course. But no plans as yet. When one of us has died, that will be it.
This was published in Classic Rock issue 177.