From Es to bees to birthing – unusual celebrity passions

Model railways for Rod Stewart, Barbies for Johnny Depp and a nice sideline in ‘dance painting’ for billionaire, Michael Flatley — celeb hobbies are quite surprising, says Steve Cummins.

WHEN Billy Corgan dropped a hint in March about winding up Smashing Pumpkins, few would have predicted the 48-year-old’s next move would involve his “deep-rooted passion for pro-wrestling”.

Corgan surprised many last month by taking up a full-time role with America’s TNA Wrestling as Senior Producer of Creative and Talent Development. Effective immediately, it’s not quite clear what his new role will mean for his on-off band of 25 years, only that he will fit Smashing Pumpkins’ remaining commitments around his new responsibilities.

Corgan isn’t the only celebrity with an unusual second passion. From beekeeping to cheese making, and Barbie dolls, we look at some other well-known faces with unusual passions, some of who have turned their hobbies into second jobs….

Mark ‘Bez’ Berry (Happy Mondays/ Celebrity Big Brother): Beekeeper and election candidate

From Es to bees, manic, maraca-wielding Happy Mondays dancer Bez is the unlikely face of Britain’s drive to highlight the environmental importance of bees.

The 51-year-old took up the hobby shortly after his Celebrity Big Brother win in 2005, while living in a commune in Wales. Two years ago he turned his initiative into an enterprise after setting up two hives on a Manchester city centre rooftop.

“It’s just a great soothing, restful, calming thing to do, with such a fabulous bounty at the end,” Bez told The Guardian in 2013.

“It’s not like gardening, you know, where you have to get your pitchfork out and really work. They look after themselves, bees. Bit like a cat, really. They just come in and go out, as the fancy takes them. But then they give you honey.”

His passion took him on the political trail in Britain last month, where he stood for election on a sustainable living ticket.

“The idea is to teach kids to look after themselves and create their own food – and look after their health.”

As for the downsides to being a beekeeper....”I’ve been stung quite a bit,” he said.

“It doesn’t hurt so much after the first time. But once about a hundred got in through a hole in my tracksuit pants, like an army. That was proper painful. I couldn’t walk for two days.”

Not to mind dance.

Erykah Badu, Singer: Doula/ Midwife-in-training

Forget the dream of having Erykah Badu perform at your wedding, how about having the multi-Grammy Award winner at your child’s birth?

It just might happen as the R&B singer has added delivering babies to her skill set after becoming a qualified doula in 2001.

A doula is a birthing partner, trained in assisting a woman before and after natural homebirths. Badu — whose clients call her ‘Erykah Badoula’ — is working towards a certificate in midwifery, which she will earn after 22 births.

“That keeps me really busy because I never know when a mom is going to go into labour,” she said last year. “So that means if I’m at a show and I get a page then I got to go.”

The mother-of-three said she usually takes on two mothers at a time, meeting them for weekly 45-minute sessions to discuss their health and perform Reiki. She also shows them her own at-home birthing videos.

“It’s important they see I did not cry and scream,” she said.

Bill Wyman: (Ex-Rolling Stones) Treasure hunter

A Rolling Stone gathering no moss, former bassist Bill Wyman has spent much of the last 20 years pottering about the English countryside looking for buried treasure.

No, Wyman didn’t join another famous five when he quit the Stones in 1993; instead he’s indulged his passion for metal detection, seeking out objects even older than his ex-bandmates.

Wyman has even written a book on British treasure, and in 2007 launched his own metal detector.

“Metal-detecting is not just for anoraks or eccentrics; it’s probably the best and the most enjoyable way of learning about our history,” he said.

The 78-year-old’s discoveries, which he posts online, include belt buckles dating from 1100; buttons from 1700, flint tools dating back to over 8,000 BC, and medieval gold coins worth €1,400 each.

Tom Hanks: Typewriter collector and app developer

Tom Hanks loves typewriters. The You’ve Got Mail star first began collecting the “beautiful works of art” in 1978 when he bought his first proper typewriter, a Hermes 2000.

Since then he’s amassed “a ridiculous amount” of the redundant devices. Wrestling with the reality of the convenience of his iPad and his nostalgic desire for the clickety-clack of keystrokes, Hanks came up with a solution last August — an app called Hanx Writer, for iPad and iPhone users.

Hanx Writer is the Hollywood star’s first foray into app development.

“I wanted the sound of typing if nothing else,” Hanks said in a Twitter Q&A last year, “cause I find it’s like music that spurs along the creative urge.

Bang bang clack-clack-clack puckapuckapuckapucka.” As Hanks suggests, the chart-topping app recreates the experience of a manual typewriter but with all the perks an iPad offers.

Hanks isn’t stopping there either. Last October he published a short story in the New Yorker, his first from a forthcoming collection inspired by his typewriters.

The actor is also on the lookout for an Irish typewriter, telling the Belfast Telegraph in 2008 that he’s after a Gaelic language typewriter to complete his collection.

Ringo Starr: Computer art

Being part of The Beatles makes Ringo Starr one of the finest artists of his generation, but that hasn’t stopped him trying to make his mark on the digital world.

Since the early 1990s, the former Beatle has been toying with Microsoft Paint to produce art of varying quality.

“I started in the late nineties with my computer art,” Ringo writes on his stuck-in-the-nineties website, ringostarrart.com.

“While I was touring it gave me something to do in all those crazy hotels.” 

All of Ringo’s art is for sale on his website, with all proceeds helping to fund his charity, the Lotus Foundation.

Alex James (Blur): Cheesemaker

After Britpop pioneers Blur first split up in 2003, bassist Alex James got married and moved to a farm in the British countryside— where he started making cheese. It was an unlikely move for a musician more associated with falling out of plush London nightclubs.

James’ cheese has since gone from firm farmers’ market seller, to British supermarket favourite. The bass player’s “exotic range” for Asda included flavours such as curry, tomato ketchup and salad cream, before being pared back to sweet chilli and spring onion.

He even picked up a British Cheese Award for Little Wallop, a goats cheese wrapped in vine leaf and washed in Somerset cider brandy. Next, James is looking to brew his own drink after trade marking the name ‘Britpop’ last year.

Alongside Jamie Oliver, he also runs the Big Feastival, a food and music festival on his 200-acre farm. All he needs now is an “automatic cheese generator”, he said last year.

“Imagine a shed where a cow walks in one end and perfect cheese pops out the other— it could even be solar-powered.”

Johnny Depp: Barbie doll collector

An eccentric like Johnny Depp was never going to have an ordinary hobby.

The Hollywood star is an avid collector of limited edition Barbie dolls and earlier this year told Jimmy Kimmel Live that he used to use the dolls to road test some of his most-loved characters on his daughter Lily-Rose.

Depp said: “We played a lot of Barbies, my daughter and I. I used to test out characters on her, through playing with the Barbies.”

He said the playtime helped him to figure out voices for characters, including Willy Wonka and Pirates of the Caribbean’s Jack Sparrow. As well as Barbies, Depp also has dolls based on Beyoncé, the High School Musical cast, New Kids on the Block, and Elvis.

“The weirdest one is a Lindsay Lohan,” a source close to Depp said in 2013. “The doll is complete with ankle monitoring bracelet from when she was under house arrest.”

Michael Flatley: Tap art

Only weeks after making headlines with his final performance on an Irish stage, Michael Flatley once again caused a stir in April as a tap dancing painter.

Almost overnight, Flatley became one of the most expensive living Irish artists after two of his artworks sold for a combined total of €120,000 at auction in Dublin.

Flatley, who says painting is his “deep passion”, is now second only to Jack B Yeats in the list of the highest priced painters at auction in Ireland this year.

His artworks are made by tap dancing on canvas, with the Lord of the Dance creating much of the work at his home in Barbados where he says he is “inspired by the light”.

Flatley’s exhibit in London, which closed last month realised sales of his work realised sales of over €1 million.

Rod Stewart: Model train enthusiast

When Rod Stewart revealed that he liked to spend much of his free time with model trains, many might have asked ‘are you sure he didn’t just say models?’

His love of a world in miniature caught the eye of Model Railroader magazine, whom Stewart invited to his Beverley Hills home in 2007.

There he revealed a 1,500 sq ft model city, reminiscent of 1940s Manhattan, which takes up almost the entire third floor of his home.

“It is truly an extraordinary model, one of the best I have seen, with startling level of detail,” Model Railroader’s senior editor Carl Swanson said at the time. Stewart was similarly impressed.

“It means more to me to be on the cover of Model Railroader than to be on the cover of a music magazine,” he said.

“I pity a man who doesn’t have a hobby like this one - it’s just the most supreme relaxation.”


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