David Hoyle - Still Really Rather Divine

The controversial and genuinely hilarious hackle-raiser is back in action. But it turns out the killing off of the Divine David was almost more than just a metaphor

Feature by Paul Mitchell | 06 May 2009
  • David Hoyle

David Hoyle enthusiastically explains the premise of his new show at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern in London, which, depending on reception, he hopes to go on tour with. “There’s a big mental health content in the shows. Dave’s Drop-in Centre is based loosely on a psychiatric daycare centre with lots of activities, and hopefully empowerment and group catharsis. It’s centred around the idea that we all come together in a supportive atmosphere and have a good time, not be too worried about it because laughter always makes us feel better. It’s very healing, so hopefully it will be quite a holistic experience.”

Readily admitting that the content of these shows draw heavily from his own personal experiences, he charts his own depression as having become “quite serious” towards the end of the nineties, when he was performing as a character called the Divine David. “At the end of it I really didn’t know who I was. There was just a husk of a person there. It took time to recover, and I was a lot gentler on myself, taking time out from the frenetic lifestyle I’d had. I had a little bit of therapy which was beneficial, but really I needed to change the way I lived and get out of London. At that stage I wanted to be a recluse and never speak to another human being as long as I lived and cut myself off from everything - because it had all gone a little too far.”

The Divine David had built up a huge following on the gay scene courtesy of some riotous, unpredictable and confrontational on-stage behaviour (he once took a shard of glass to his back in an attempt to rip his own spine out). Two Channel 4 series brought the ‘transgender culture terrorist’ somewhat into the mainstream but suddenly, and without warning, the Divine David was dead, having ‘committed suicide’ in an ice-show spectacular at Streatham Ice Rink. “I’d done the Divine David for ten years. The only option I felt after exhausting that vehicle (I’d done a lot of things, crossed a few lines) was to kill myself on stage. I didn’t see any other option as I was quite burnt out.”

The 46 year-old suggests however, that there is little to distinguish between his current onstage persona and that of the Divine David. “What’s in a name?” he asks, “We’re not that different, I just don’t do as much drink and drugs.” Indicating that the character was created as a coping mechanism for low self-esteem, he goes on to say that he’s always felt like an outsider. “You sometimes feel that you’re alive but you don’t seem to be participating, or that you’re excluded in a way. I don’t know where it comes from but that was definitely a sense I had. It’s like you’re watching life from a distance, and that happiness is for other people. I think there were a lot of self-confidence issues which is why I relied on booze a lot, all self-medicating. I think it was to make up for not liking myself very much.”

Hoyle hasn’t quite worked out if this negative self-image is related to traumatic younger experiences as an obviously gay man growing up in Blackpool. “I don’t really know if it’s directly related to my sexuality or if it’s just one of those mental things. I felt a bit alienated from my own community too. I was no good at all that gym business and wearing the right clothes and all that carry on. If you’re no good at that, you’re automatically on the outside. There’s a certain conformist strand that goes through the gay scene and if you don’t fit in with that you’re on your own. It can make you feel very unattractive, undesirable and not part of it.”

With target firmly sighted Hoyle does what he does best, speak his mind. “There is a conformity within the gay scene sometimes which can be quite irksome. I think we have the potential to be much freer than we actually are. I think in some ways people are aiming for hetero-orthodoxy, that we’re normal all along, work nine-to-five and buy a comfortable place to live which is depressing, and not something I’ve ever wanted. I just think that we’ve got the potential to widen our parameters, instead of constrict them and become like straight people. I’m not interested in that, I want to be a bona fide 100% queer person.”

Dave's Drop-in Centre is at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, London SE11 Thursdays from 30 April 30 to 4 June. After that, he really wants to play Glasgow.