Belinda Carlisle, who famously transformed herself from the bouncy, charismatic lead singer of hit-making punk-pop girl group the Go-Gos into a sleek, beautiful chart-topping solo artist, has a new surprise in store — over the past few years she’s become a philanthropic adventure traveler. The 56-year-old entertainer, who still occasionally tours with her former bandmates (expect a new tour in 2016), has long been a very vocal ally for the LGBT community, due to her sense of what is right, but especially since her now 22-year-old son James Duke Mason came out as a teenager. Now she’s devoting her time and considerable energy to assist women in need and neglected animals.
Beginning February 28, Carlisle will drive a motorized rickshaw (a three-person three-wheel auto) more than 1,000 miles across the rugged terrain of India, to raise money and awareness for the Animal People Alliance, a Calcutta-based non-profit she co-founded with Made by Survivors, an organization that helps youth and females in impoverished countries acquire skills such as veterinary training that will prevent them from becoming victims of human rights abuses, including human trafficking, abuse and poverty. (Donate to her campaign here.) Carlisle chatted with Queerty about her upcoming adventure, LGBT equality in India and her son, who is running for city council in West Hollywood.
Queerty: You’re driving a rickshaw across India to raise money for the Animal People Alliance. How did you decide to do this?
It came about because I’d always wanted to have a donkey sanctuary. I volunteered at this hospital and sanctuary called Animal Aid in Udaipur. I thought in the back of my mind that this is what I want to do. It combines my love of animals and India. This is my future. So this rickshaw ride will raise awareness for APA and awareness for the plight of street animals. It’s just to make people aware.
This isn’t going to be a glamorous jet-set vacation. It sounds not only adventurous, but like a lot of hard work.
It’s not glamorous at all, but I love stuff like that. It’s very much up my alley. We’ll drive through India and at the end we’ll have a big party in Udaipur and then I’ll start training myself to be a dog handler and learn all the stuff I need to know. I’m not doing this from afar. I want to be very hands-on with this. I’m moving to Bangkok in October so I can commute and go back and forth because it’s only and hour and a half away. This will be the rest of my life. We’ve been spending a lot of time there. I’m used to living overseas since I’ve lived in France for 23 years. I’ve always envisioned myself living in the east when I got older and I’m 56 and this is the way I want to live my life. I’ll probably keep a little place here in L.A.
How many miles will you be driving the rickshaw?
It’s about 700 miles. We’re taking a route through India that no tourists take. I’ve spent time in India and seen some things, but this is no tourist path. This is going to be very rural and colorful and I’m probably going to see things I can’t even imagine. It’ll be amazing.
Have you driven there before?
I’ve driven a car and a scooter there. I had to get my motorcycle license. I have zero interest in driving a motorcycle by the way, but had to get my motorcycle license and drive on the streets and go through a whole big song-and-dance to get my international license. Now I can legally drive a rickshaw. I’ll be splitting the time with Paul [Suit, Made By Survivors’ project manager] and we’ll have a couple of friends who speak the local language in a car following us along the way. It’s going to be an adventure. India is always unpredictable. It’ll be fun.
What are some of your concerns about driving there?
It’s not safe at all, that’s for sure. I don’t let my mind go there. I’ve always done adventure travel anyway. A couple of months ago I broke down in the Atacama desert [in South America] and that wasn’t safe at all. I like stuff like that. I don’t like anything predictable and I know it’s not the safest thing in the world to do, but I don’t let my mind go there. If you go there, then you attract it. I’ve always assumed that everything is going to be great and fun and will have a wonderful ending.
You’ve spent a lot of time in India over the years. What initially drew you to the country?
When I was a little girl I used to see photos and I was very, very drawn toward it. I was drawn to pictures of Shiva. And my first crush, besides my husband who was on the TV show Daniel Boone, was Sabu the Elephant Boy, who wore a turban and rode an elephant. I was just always drawn to that part of the world. When I finally went about 17 years ago I thought it was hideous. I was always told that India is like child birth. You get through it, never want to do it again and then a year later you want to do it again. That’s exactly what happened. The second time I went was with a couple of girlfriends and we did the five-star thing, which was fine but I didn’t feel like I was seeing the real India. I was seeing it through the filter of a nice hotel and chauffeured car. I went back about six months later with my yoga teacher. That changed my life and I decided to figure out a way to live there and experience it so I did. I had a place there for three years and got to know the country fairly well and the people somewhat well. They’re still very mysterious and very different from Americans. I just had the best time. It changed everything for me. It changed the way I live my life and think about my life. It’s not all “Om Shanti Om.” There is that peaceful element to India, but there’s also poverty and violence. There’s a lot of problems with the caste system. Once it gets in your blood, that’s it. You either like it or hate it and if you like, it’s in your blood forever.
Are you recognized there?
Sometimes. I went to a yoga class and introduced myself to the instructor before it started. She corrected me at one point and said “Belinda.” There was a gasp and someone said, “I knew it was her!” They’re kind of thrown off when they see me. I’m recognized sometimes, but I’m pretty anonymous there. Or I’m as anonymous as I can be there with red hair. [Laughs]
What’s life like for LGBT people there now?
Homosexuality is pretty much illegal. It was illegal to cohabitate. Hopefully, it will change. I have lots of gay friends there and they have a gay parade that goes on in Delhi. When they see Westerners they see dollar signs before they see your sexuality.
Has your son Duke traveled there with you?
No. He won’t go to certain places if they don’t have gay-friendly laws. I don’t blame him. India is a little bit different for me. There’s a lot that can be done there as far as good work. I have a lot of gay friends there. In fact, Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil, who came out a few years ago, is on the board of APA. He’s a big human rights activist.
You’ve been an incredibly supportive mother since Duke came out. Have you had encounters with parents of LGBT kids in India?
No, but I did have a conversation with a friend there from Northern India and I mentioned something about gay people in India. He said, “We don’t have gay people in India.” What do you say to someone who says something that ignorant to you? That’s how some of them think.
Duke is running for city council in West Hollywood this year. I know him and think he’s smart, passionate and has a strong sense of what is right and wrong, which is a testament to you and Morgan [Mason, Carlisle’s husband of 30 years]. What qualities do you think make him a qualified candidate?
He’s working his butt off. He’s very, very dedicated and goes to every meeting, whether it’s transportation or zoning. Things that would put me to sleep. He’s very passionate. No matter what happens, this is a really, really good thing for him. Some people will say he’s very young or too privileged, but you can say that about the Kennedys or the Bushes. I don’t think that should play in to it. He definitely knows a lot about the city and how it ticks. His age might work against him, but his passion says everything. No matter what happens it’s a great experience. If it doesn’t happen this time it will eventually.
I know you’re planning to tour with the Go-Gos next year so I’m glad you’re not entirely giving up your performing career.
I’m in the middle of making a mantra album now. I’m going to the studio today. It might be out in the fall or a year from now. I’m very excited about it. It will blend pop with mantra. It’s in Sanskrit [the classical language of India], which is something I’ve been working on for a long time. They’re sacred mantras. What you don’t know intellectually, your body understands. You can put these on and not even practice yoga and it will change the vibe in the room. I think even pop music fans will really appreciate it.
Watch a video for APA below and donate to Carlisle’s ride here.