John Lydon has said he is competing to represent Ireland at this year’s Eurovision song contest primarily in order to raise awareness of Alzheimer’s disease. The former Sex Pistols frontman (once known as Johnny Rotten) will appear with his band, Public Image Ltd, on the Late Late Show on 3 February, performing Hawaii, a love letter to his wife of 44 years, Nora Forster, who is living with the illness.
“I’m doing it to highlight the sheer torture of what Alzheimer’s is,” said the singer, who holds an Irish passport as well as US citizenship. “It gets swept under the carpet, but in highlighting it, hopefully we get a stage nearer to a cure.” Lydon insisted that spreading this message was much more important than competing to win, so he isn’t listening to the five other entrants.
He said: “I don’t want all that stuff to clutter me up, although if there’s a gold cup in it, I’ll have it.”
The announcement of the 66-year-old former punk’s appearance in a contest associated with bombastic power ballads and energetic dance routines raised eyebrows, although Lydon suggested “the Irish side” had been courting him to represent them for some time. “I kept telling them, ‘Don’t touch. I’m a married man’. But somehow or other this song got picked up and here I am.”
Lydon took his time over Hawaii, which will appear on 7in vinyl and on a forthcoming album, End Of World, later this year. “I had to be very careful with the wording, as it’s based on how our life is at the moment,” he said. Judging from comments online, lyrics such as “Remember me, I’ll remember you”, have moved some listeners to tears.
The title references a favourite holiday the singer had with Forster and PiL in the 1980s, when the sea was “loud, ferocious and dangerous” and the band’s then manager was almost swept out to sea. “We heard screaming and threw him a rope … unattached, of course.”
Lydon met his future wife in Vivienne Westwood’s shop Sex in 1975, marrying four years later. He remembered: “Her absolute independence stuck out to me like no other. She was straight out of a film, just totally individual and oblivious to the fashions of the moment. Of course she was told not to come near me. ‘He’s horrible’. Which piqued her interest.”
Since Forster’s diagnosis in 2018 he has become her primary carer: shopping for groceries online and cooking meals that Forster finds “fun enough” to eat.
“Forty-eight years together isn’t enough,” Lydon said. “But even in illness we’re still finding out new and great things about each other. With Alzheimer’s, they can’t always formulate the words but the real person is still in there. The saddest thing you can do is cut them off.”
Lydon has been playing the song to Forster at home, showing her the words on an iPad and involving her in his rehearsals. He said: “I’m going round the house carrying a ghetto blaster and a Hoover, pushing her in a wheelchair. It’s fantastically hilarious, but that’s the only way I can learn the song.”
He said: “I’m going to be absolutely terrified and stage-frightened and all those things. The realisation of how big an audience this is is mind-numbing.” The singer said he has also been dreaming about his late Irish parents, hearing their voices in his head.
“They’d have been over moon at the idea of me representing Ireland. But my dad would be going, ‘Don’t mess it up’. The other day I was picking out a suit to wear for it and I could hear his voice saying, ‘For heaven’s sake, don’t you wear that suit’.”
The singer has also suddenly found himself mindful of Johnny Logan’s schmaltzy 1980 winner, What’s Another Year.