The year was 1991, and Donny Osmond was eager to reinvent himself. The wholesome Mormon thing had worn very thin indeed, and it had been years since he and his sister’s popular variety show, Donny & Marie, had been off the air.
Donny had just cut a new album, and the single “My Love Is a Fire” was getting him vital playtime on MTV. In the pre-internet era, of course, that was crucial, and Donny had a new look. Lifting more than a few tricks from the George Michael style guide, Donny was sporting a leather jacket and five-o’clock shadow. This sort of made him look tough, but also like a cook I used to know in a Greek restaurant.
My friend called me in a tizzy: Donny was coming to Montreal and he was going to have a record launch at Foufounes Electriques! Knowing my love of all things kitsch — not to mention my Osmond fetish — my buddy knew we would go together. For those of you not versed in Montreal nightlife, Les Foufounes Electriques is a legendary raunchy punk club — not the kind of place you’d expect an Osmond to set foot in, let alone have a launch at. But this was all part of the plan to change Donny’s image.
Donny arrived and there was a significant crowd there to see him. He was moving around, having Polaroid pics taken with us and then signing them. He seemed a pretty warm and decent fellow. Someone yelled out, “Hey, Donny, are your socks purple?” This was a reference to the claim he used to make on the variety show that he loved purple socks. I thought to myself, “Can’t they leave Donny alone?”
Later, Donny disappeared. I stepped out onto the terrace to see where he was. He was standing with his handler on the street, waiting to be picked up. Apparently, a local DJ had a Win a Dream Ride in a Limo with Donny Osmond contest, and the DJ and the two lucky ladies who’d won were standing with Donny. I rushed down to join them, carefully hiding the beer I was holding under my coat.
When the white stretch limo pulled up and the door opened, I pretended to be part of their entourage and jumped in with them. As we pulled away, I was overcome with excitement: I was riding in a limo, slightly wasted, with Donny Osmond! But a sense of concern also set in, as I had no idea where we were going.
Suddenly, the DJ got suspicious. “Um, who are you with?” he asked.
I was quick on my feet: “I’m with the press!” Having never actually written for the press at that point in my life, I was pretty much lying through my teeth.
The DJ pushed on, smelling a rat (or an obsessive gay fan): “Who with?”
“The Globe and Mail,” I said, also lying, as I’d never written for them.
Being a quick-thinking lush, I immediately put on my invisible reporter’s hat and began asking journalist-style questions: “Any chance of a reunion with Marie?” No current plans, he responded. “Ever want to make a film with John Waters? He recently cast Pia Zadora in something!” Donny didn’t know who Waters was, but he did know about Zadora.
We arrived at the hotel and piled out of the car. It was time for another photo, and I pushed my way into the frame, putting my arm around Donny. After the flashbulb went off, I leaned over and gave him a great big sloppy wet kiss on the cheek.
Donny looked at me and gasped. He was speechless.
“Okay!” his manager yelled, breaking things up, “It’s time for Donny to get to bed!”
I watched Donny and his manager disappear through the sliding hotel doors. It was a poignant moment; perhaps not for Donny, but for me, and that was all that counted at that time.
But the very best part came when I arrived in my hometown of Edmonton for Christmas some two months later. By some weird coincidence, two of my childhood friends had been at the club that night while on vacation in Montreal; they had spied me lurching into the back of a limo with Donny. They had gone back and told everyone in the neighbourhood I grew up in that they knew Donny Osmond must be gay because they had seen it with their own eyes: that Matthew Hays gay guy who used to live here picked up Donny Osmond in a punk club in Montreal one October night.
When my mother picked me up at the airport that year she told me the rumours were all over the neighbourhood about me and a famous Mormon. She had one burning question on her mind: “You didn’t actually sleep with Donny Osmond, did you?”
Needless to say, that was the greatest Christmas, ever.