By 1980, Bowie was back in dress-up mode again – flying between London and New York and playing gigs in both cities. On ‘Saturday Night Live’, he performed with the then-unknown cabaret countertenor Klaus Nomi. To sing ‘TVC 15’ he wore a dress with a toy poodle at his feet with a television screen in its mouth. Don’t think anyone saw that coming…
For the ‘Ashes to Ashes’ video, he revisited a lifelong fascination with sad clown figure Pierrot (who he would also reference in song ‘Threepenny Pierrot’: ‘Happy little feet that dance all day/Lonely little heart with lots to say’) and commissioned Natasha Korniloff (costume designer for Bowie’s 1967 stage debut, ‘Pierrot in Turquoise’) to create an astonishing cyber-clown suit. He dropped in on London’s Blitz club, the hive brain of the new romantic movement, and recruited scene kingpin Steve Strange for ‘Ashes to Ashes’.
Ever prolific, he also played Joseph Merrick, duetted with Queen, and, in a performance that still gives children of the ’80s nightmares, played the Goblin King in ‘Labyrinth’. King Jareth’s crystal globe is in the exhibition; thankfully his codpiece is not.
Track of the era: ‘Ashes to Ashes’ – Dave waves goodbye to Major Tom over a crunchy ’80s workout.