Sebastian Horsley: Remembering the Dandy of the Underworld

The unmistakeable artist that stalked the streets of Soho, Horsley is still sorely missed since his death from a heroin overdose. We reminisce with some of his greatest quotes...
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At first I thought Dini had slipped something funny into my espresso. But the shuffle of seats and a mixture of laughter and gasps from the tables around me confirmed that I wasn’t the only one who had spied that at the very end of Frith Street where it meets Old Compton Street, stood a man, around 6’9 in platform heels, dressed in a red regency style three piece suit as red as a winter apple, with a matching top hat taller than Napoleon himself. Strutting down a metropolitan catwalk with his head, almost literally, in the clouds, he made the usually unshockable patrons of Soho’s bars and restaurants crane their necks to catch a glimpse. He didn’t so much cross your path as parade through it, complete with trumpets and fireworks, before marching on as quickly as he’d come leaving me bewildered and eager to know more. “Oh that’s Sebastian” I heard someone say on the table next to me.

“It is unthinkable for a dandy to arrive at middle age without having syphilis. Without it, one simply cannot claim genius”

The man we’d all seen was Sebastian Horsley - dandy, artist, wit and pervert, whose excessive lifestyle of drug-addiction and sexual misadventure made the Marquis De Sade look like Donny Osmond in comparison. Throughout his life he reportedly spent £100,000 on prostitutes, was banned from the US on grounds of ‘moral turpitude’, and crucified himself in the name of art. As a person he was controversial, sometimes arrogant, but good humour and eyes that his friend Stephen Fry described as being “just short of pleading” made it hard to ever find him anything other than charming. Above all this though, he was very funny, and possessed a wit often compared to his idol Quentin Crisp.

I wasn’t to see the flamboyant figure of Sebastian Horsley again, as within a month he had fallen victim to what his friends agree was an accidental heroin overdose and died, aged 47. Soho mourned the loss of one of its own, one of the last great English eccentrics. His death was even more poignant as it came just two nights into the Soho Theatre’s run of ‘Dandy in the Underworld’, a stage adaptation of his outrageously funny memoirs. But like so many greats before him, in death Sebastian merely transcended Soho’s physical streets and became part of her very fabric, living on in the stories that still whisper down the corridor of Dean Street on any given evening, in the cobbled alley of Meard Street which he called home, or in many a Berwick Street doorway. So in honour of the man who said “I don’t speak, I quote” here are some of his best:


On Sex

“I only write to get my knob sucked, but the kind of girls I’m attracted to are illiterate”

“The difference between sex for money and sex for free is that sex for money usually costs a lot less”

“I have probably slept with 1,000 prostitutes at a cost of £100,000. I wish I was more ashamed”

“Of all the sexual perversions, monogamy is the most unnatural”

On Drugs

“A dealer is a pickpocket who lets you use your own hands”

“Emily was the only fat junkie I ever met. She looked like a condom full of custard”

On Dandyism

“It is unthinkable for a dandy to arrive at middle age without having syphilis. Without it, one simply cannot claim genius”

“The only place a dandy would push a pram is into the Thames”

“You can’t cage a dandy anymore than you can nail a butterfly to a wall”

On Britain

(Edinburgh)  “For eleven months of the year it produces nothing but vomit”

(Hull) “It’s like a cemetery with traffic lights”

On Himself

“For a successful first date with me, wear a full length mirror around your neck and say nothing”

“If I had never existed, it is unlikely anyone would have had the nerve to invent me”

“Dancing with me is like trying to assemble a deckchair”

“I am a lighthouse in the middle of a sewer. Brilliant but useless.”

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