When Gary Numan says something weird, you know it’s really weird. This is a man whose idea of a ‘fairly normal’ family life lives 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 may have garden dwarves.
The pop icon talked about how her second facelift involved her skin being lifted to the sky to such an extent that she had to shave behind her ears.
‘I have to pull my ears forward,’ he said, pointing out. So he has a beard where it shouldn’t? ‘Yes. I haven’t shaved today so I can feel it. Isn’t that weird?’
Even weirder is that she says she ‘don’t really care’ about cosmetic surgery, having only had two facelifts (and five hair transplants). His wife, Gemma, is a true addict. He has, well, everything, up to and 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 good into it. She had done everything from her earlobe to her little finger. I did this lift about a year and a half ago.
‘I might have another one, but it gets a little ridiculous after a while. People tell me I don’t look 64 years old, and I say, “That’s fake. It’s all fake!”’
Does it make him feel younger? ‘Well,’ he said. “You’re still grumbling when you stand up.”
There’s always something out of the ordinary about Gary Numan. That is part of the appeal.
When he first appeared on the British pop scene in the late ’70s, the ‘synth godfather’ seemed to have stepped out of an alien spaceship (although in fact he had worked at WH Smith near Heathrow before fame came calling). She has bleached hair, thick eyeliner (applied by her mother, but she doesn’t scream about it), and her voice was once famously described as ‘pitched between a Gene Pitney and a Dalek’.
He had his first UK number one with Are ‘Friends’ Electric?, and at the age of 21 he is estimated to be worth £6 million.
His army of fans call themselves the Numanoids. He even married one. Gemma decided at school that she would become Mrs. Gary Numan when she grew up.
Gary in his prime, performing at the Warfield Theater in San Francisco in 1980
They weren’t together until he was 24, but they’ve been inseparable ever since.
“It’s going to sound cliché, considering it’s been 30 years and four days since our first date, but I miss him even when he’s in different parts of the house,” she said. ‘He was everything to me – which was most things, really.’
Gemma protects me from a world that makes it hard for me to be a part of. He protected me from humanity
Then, in April 1981 at the height of his popularity, he announced his retirement. It was, he said today, ‘a big mistake – and I’ve spent 40 years trying to fix it’.
Within two years he started back. Who knew it would be a 40 year comeback?
This year he achieved an ambition he says takes closer to a superhuman obsession: a symbolic return to Wembley Arena (now renamed OVO Arena Wembley), four decades after he last played there. In May he stepped onto the stage once again, but not before his wife coaxed him onto it.
Now a new documentary that follows its development captures footage of Gemma comforting her as she trembles backstage, almost paralyzed with fright. ‘I was overwhelmed,’ he admitted today.
‘I lost it. He calmed me down, as he always did. I couldn’t have done it without him – all that.’
Gary Numan’s Resurrection on Sky Arts is an incredible insight into an extraordinary man, recognized as an influence on stars like Prince and Lady Gaga. This film provides the most moving story about what it means to live on Planet Numan.
Most tell the story of his lifelong association with Asperger syndrome (a form of autism), a condition that contributed to his expulsion from school, was a major factor in his retirement and, to this day, puts him at odds with others. in this world.
How did he subdue her, or perhaps embracing her would be a more accurate description? Easy, he said: he married Gemma.
‘Gemma protected me from humanity. He is a buffer between me and the rest of the world. He protected me from a world I found it difficult to be a part of.’
I went through young adulthood thinking the reason I didn’t have friends was because I wasn’t liked
Born Gary Webb in Hammersmith in 1958, the son of a British Airways bus driver based in Heathrow, he was definitely a bright kid. He won a grammar school spot but has been identified by teenagers as a troublemaker. His principal described him as the most annoying student he had ever worked with.
At the age of 14 he was referred to Dr Eva Frommer, a psychiatrist who has controversially used drugs to treat depression in children.
He puts Gary on Valium and Nardil, which he says leaves him in a ‘zombified’ state. He also mentioned something called Asperger’s, but no formal diagnosis was made.
‘I had no idea that I was ever officially diagnosed. I have been reading since then the diagnostic criteria were finally established until the 80s.
‘I think it was seen as a novelty at the time. Honestly, I don’t care. I just see it as a great day in London with my mother.’
His parents were terrified and stopped him from seeing Dr Frommer. ‘My mother took exception to Asperger’s because she saw it as a reflection of their upbringing.
‘Not mentioned again. Funnily enough I never joined the dots until I met Gemma, who knows very little about it because her sister owns it.
‘I went through young adulthood thinking I had no friends because I wasn’t liked.’
He’s always been obsessed with the things he’s interested in – airplanes, sound, when sound comes into music. He would go on to excel in all of this, famously piloting and forming aerobatic display teams.
But it was his experimental electronic music that would make him famous. He did try the traditional band route, but his bandmates clearly found his behavior odd.
‘I was evicted. They didn’t tell me. I just showed up and they had another singer. I started following them like a puppy, but they didn’t want to know.
‘Things like that are traumatic, but I’ve just come to the conclusion that I’m very unlikable.’
He began to channel his feelings into his music. But he’s not exactly the pop pop star type, and when success beckons, he’s struggling with the industry.
He would be overwhelmed at events, and wouldn’t know how to talk to record company executives. He still doesn’t.
‘I rarely go to events now, but I’m confused by them. Gemma is brilliant though.
‘He can sit at any table and talk to anyone about anything, all day long. I have learned the mechanics of communication from him.’
He had seen Gemma on the show ‘for years’ before asking her out, but the chances of them becoming a couple must have been low? He nodded.
‘Having a relationship with fans is difficult because everything fans see is carefully selected. They have a poster where you look really good looking, but that’s the 300th photo taken and in the other 299 you look a bit of a jerk.’
What about the ‘problem’? He says they are clear. ‘I have problems with communication, talking to strangers, eating out.
‘We would go to a restaurant and I would fight in the street so we ended up going home. Finally he said, “Why are you doing this? Why were you so displeased when we left the house?”’
It sounded as if he was the first girlfriend to question his behavior rather than walk out. ‘He was the first to not think of me as a gloomy person. He gave me a coping mechanism.
‘He didn’t change my personality, he gave me the tools to express it. When I got Aspergersey he told me.’
By the time they connected, Gary’s career was over and he was £600,000 in debt. He’s been making a comeback for decades now, but he still feels their relationship is out of balance.
‘He gave me more than I gave,’ he said.
Their lifestyle sounds a bit ‘woowoo’ Los Angeles (they moved there in 2012) and he clearly has a complicated relationship with his body. Their marriage path is also not the easiest.
They have three daughters – Raven, 18, Persian, 16, and Echo, 15 – but had several rounds of IVF and lost a daughter prematurely. Gary wrote a song about it.
‘I never write when I’m happy,’ he said. So Gary Numan must be miserable? “No, but I need to worry.”
His Asperger’s isn’t one of those worries anymore. It required his entire adult life, but he eventually accepted his condition, and even sounded very attached to it.
‘The positives far outweigh the negatives,’ she says, arguing that she sees her as a ‘multiple superpower’, as long as she has Gemma by her side. ‘Otherwise,’ he admitted. “I’m going to get lost.”
- Gary Numan Resurrection airs on Saturday August 13 at 9 p.m. on Sky Arts and NOW.