Sebastian Horsley arrived at the gates of America in a top hat and tails and a red velvet vest. It’s how the London author and artist always dresses, whether attending some rock star’s fancy party or just visiting his favourite neighborhood prostitutes.
Horsley arrived at the Newark airport last week, excited to be back in the United States. Three years sober after a lifetime of epic drug abuse, Horsley, 45, was coming to America to do that most American of things: sell his story. “I love America,” Horsley says.
“Everybody gets a chance in America. In England, success only inspires envy, but in America it inspires hope.” Horsley strode across the arrivals hall, looking like a flamboyant cross between a clean-shaven Abe Lincoln and Presto the Magician. Cheerfully, accompanied by his longtime girlfriend, Rachel Garley, a former Page 3 Girl (a topless model) in the British tabloids, Horsley plunked down his British passport and placed his finger on the biometric fingerprint reader. Then he heard: “Please come with me, sir.”
For eight hours, armed agents of the US Customs and Border Protection interrogated Horsley. A party was set to kick-off a week of television and radio appearances to promote the US launch of Horsley’s autobiography, Dandy in the Underworld.
It’s a squirmingly brutal book that starts with his mother’s attempts to abort him, and splatters readers with so much sex and feces and heroin and crack that Chapter 12, in which Horsley has himself crucified in the Philippines as part of an art project, seems to almost make sense. “I’m an artist—depravity is part of the job description,” says Horsley, who warns readers with a wink at the opening of his book: “I’ve suffered for my art. Now it’s your turn.” In a small airport office, the agents asked about drugs and prostitutes. It’s all in my book, Horsley said, offering them a promotional flier that quotes English musician Bryan Ferry calling it “a masterpiece of filth”. “If I had to live my life again,” he told them, “I would take the same drugs, only sooner and more often.” They asked about his criminal record. Again, in the book: 25 years ago, when he was 20 and walking around London with his hair dyed bright orange, he was arrested and fined £ 100 for possession of a gram of amphetamines. Sebastian Alexander Horsley was refused entry under the provisions of “Section 212 (a) (2) (A) (i) (I) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, as amended.” He was being run out of America for “moral turpitude”.
About 1,000 people a day are turned away trying to enter the US at airports, seaports and border crossings, said Lucille Cirillo, a spokeswoman for US Customs and Border Protection. Cirillo didn’t know how many are turned away for “moral turpitude”, which the dictionary defines as vileness or depravity.
However, Horsley regards his life as a work of art and sometimes art shakes people up. “I am a dandy,” he says. “And dandyism is a way of performing your life.”