When Gary Numan says something weird, you know it’s very weird. This is a man whose idea of a “pretty normal” family life consists of living in Los Angeles in a house that looks like a castle with trapdoors and secret passages, complete with a 20-foot bronze dragon in a garden where others might have a garden gnome.
The pop icon tells how his second facelift involved pulling the skin to such an extent that he had to shave behind his ear.
“I have to stretch my ear forward,” he says, pointing. So does it have stubble in places it shouldn’t be? ‘Yeah. I didn’t shave today so I can feel it. Is not it strange?”
Even weirder, he says cosmetic surgery “doesn’t bother him that much” since he’s only had two facelifts (and five hair transplants). It is his wife Gemma who is the real addict. She had, well, everything, including a full body lift.
Gary Numan with his wife Gemma and their three daughters in the garden of their home in LA
“Gemma is having a good time with it. She had everything done from her earlobe to her little toe. I had this lift done about a year and a half ago.
“I might have one more, but it’ll get a little silly after a while. People tell me I don’t look 64 and I’m like, “That’s fake. It’s all fake!”
Does it make you feel younger? “No,” he says. “You still grunt when you get up.
There was always something about Gary Numan that wasn’t quite of this world. That was part of the appeal.
When he first appeared on the UK pop scene in the late 1970s, the ‘godfather of synth’ seemed to have stepped out of an alien spaceship (although he actually worked at WH Smith near Heathrow before fame came). He had bleached hair, heavy eyeliner (applied by his mum, but he didn’t shout about it) and his voice was once famously described as ‘sitting between Gene Pitney and a Dalek’.
He had his first UK number one with Are ‘Friends’ Electric? and at the age of 21 he was worth an estimated £6 million.
His army of fans called themselves Numanoids. He even married one. Gemma decided at school that she would be Mrs. Gary Numan when she grew up.
Gary in his heyday, in 1980 he performed at the Warfield Theater in San Francisco
They only got together when she was 24, but have been inseparable ever since.
“It’s going to sound corny considering it’s been 30 years and four days since our first date, but I miss him even though he’s in another part of the house,” she says. “He is everything that I am not—which is most things.”
Gemma protects me from a world that is difficult for me to be a part of. It protects me from humanity
Then, in April 1981 at the height of his popularity, he announced his retirement. Today, he says, it was “a terrible mistake – and I’ve spent 40 years trying to fix it”.
Within two years, the comeback began. Who knew it would be a 40 year comeback?
This year he achieved an ambition he says requires an almost superhuman obsession: a symbolic return to Wembley Arena (now renamed OVO Arena Wembley), four decades after he last played there. He stepped onto that stage one more time in May, but not before his wife talked him into it.
Now a new documentary tracking his progress captures footage of Gemma comforting him as he shakes backstage, almost paralyzed with fear. “I was amazed,” he admits today.
“I was losing it. She put me at ease, as always. I couldn’t have done it without her – none of it.’
Gary Numan Resurrection on Sky Arts is an extraordinary insight into an extraordinary man, recognized as an influence on stars such as Prince and Lady Gaga. The film gives the most moving account yet of what it means to live on the planet Numan.
Much of it tells the story of his lifelong relationship with Asperger’s syndrome (a form of autism), a condition that contributed to his expulsion from school, was a major factor in his retirement, and still puts him at odds with others today. world.
How did he conquer him, or maybe embrace him, would be a more accurate description? It’s easy, he says: he married Gemma.
“Gemma protects me from humanity. She is the buffer between me and the rest of the world. It protects me from a world that is difficult for me to be a part of.”
I went through young adulthood thinking the reason I didn’t have any friends was because I was unlikable
Born Gary Webb in Hammersmith in 1958, the son of a British Airways bus driver based at Heathrow, he was clearly a bright child. He won a place at grammar school but was identified as a troublemaker during his teenage years. His headmaster described him as the most disruptive pupil he had ever met.
At the age of 14, he was referred to Dr. Eva Frommer, a psychiatrist who controversially used drugs to treat depression in children.
She put Gary on Valium and Nardil, which she says left him in a “zombified” state. She also mentioned something called Asperger’s, but no formal diagnosis was made.
“I don’t know that I was ever officially diagnosed. I have since read that the diagnostic criteria were not definitively established until the 1980s.
“I think it was seen as a new thing at the time. To be honest, I didn’t care. I saw it as a nice day in London with mum.’
However, his parents got scared and stopped him from visiting Dr. Frommer. “My mum took exception to Asperger’s because she saw it as a reflection of their parenting.
“There was no mention of it again. Strangely enough I never made the connection until I met Gemma who knew a bit about it because her brother had it.
“Through my young adulthood, I thought I had no friends because I was unlikable.
He was always obsessed with things that interested him – airplanes, sound, the point where sound became music. He would excel in all of these, becoming a famous pilot and forming a team for aerobatic displays.
But it was his experimental electronic music that made him famous. He tried the traditional band route, but his bandmates apparently found his behavior strange.
“I was fired. They didn’t tell me. I just showed up and they had a different singer. I started watching them like a puppy, but they didn’t want to know.
“Such things were traumatic, but I’ve just come to the conclusion that I’m pretty unlikely.
He began to transfer his feelings into his music. But he wasn’t a poppy pop star, and when success beckoned, he struggled with the industry.
He was overwhelmed with features and had no idea how to talk to record company executives. Not yet.
“Now I only go to events on rare occasions, but I’m confused by them. But Gemma is great.
“He can sit at any desk and talk to anyone about anything, all day. I learned the mechanics of communication from her.”
He had been seeing Gemma at concerts for “years” before asking her out, but the chances of them becoming a couple must have been low? He nods.
“Having a relationship with a fan is difficult because all the things that fans see are carefully selected. They have a poster of you looking incredibly handsome, but that’s the 300th photo that’s been taken and the other 299 have you looking a bit s***.”
What about his “problems”? He says they were obvious. “I have problems with communication, talking to strangers, eating.
“We’d go to a restaurant and I’d get into an argument on the way, so we’d end up going home. Finally she said, “Why are you doing this? Why are you so unhappy when we leave the house?”’
It sounds like she was the first girlfriend to question his behavior rather than leave. “She was the first one who didn’t put it down to me being a moody s***. She gave me coping mechanisms.
“It didn’t change my personality, it gave me the tools to express it. When I get Aspergersey, he tells me.’
When they got together, Gary’s career was all but gone and he was £600,000 in debt. He has been earning for many decades, but still feels that their relationship is unbalanced.
“She gives me a lot more than I give her,” he says.
Their lifestyle sounds a bit ‘woowoo’ Los Angeles (they moved there in 2012) and she clearly has a complicated relationship with her body. Their marriage path was not the easiest either.
They have three daughters – Raven, 18, Persia, 16, and Echo, 15 – but had several rounds of IVF and lost their daughter before her due date. Gary wrote a song about it.
“I never write when I’m happy,” he says. So Gary Numan must be unhappy? “No, but I have something to worry about.
His Asperger’s is no longer one of those concerns. It took him his entire adult life, but he eventually came to terms with his condition, and it even sounds pretty connected.
“The positives far outweigh the negatives,” he says, arguing that he sees it as a “neurodiverse superpower” if it has Gemma by its side. “Otherwise,” he admits. “I would be lost.
- Gary Numan Resurrection airs Saturday 13 August at 9pm on Sky Arts and NOW.