At the Border, No Tip of The Hat for This Dandy

By Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, March 24, 2008

LONDON -- 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 favorite neighborhood prostitutes.

Horsley stepped off the plane at the Newark airport last week, excited to be back in the United States. Forty-five years old, three years sober after a lifetime of epic drug abuse, Horsley 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, a flamboyant confection in a jet-lagged herd of Crocs and fleece. He looked like a 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.

And then he heard those words.

"Please come with me, sir."

For eight hours, armed agents of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection interrogated Horsley.

Scores of friends, relatives and great-and-goods from the publishing and art worlds were waiting in Manhattan. A party was set to kick off a week of television and radio appearances to promote the U.S. 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."

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