When we meet at his Pimlico flat, I want to thank Fat Tony. He is sharp, funny and, if it wasn’t for him, 2020 would have been unbearable. If you aren’t familiar with him, look him up on Instagram — @dj_fattony_ — where he posts memes that encapsulate the moment to his 164,000 followers, and your mood will instantly lift, despite the impending second lockdown. A favourite is “Christmas dinner with the family”, which shows six snowmen gathered around a table outside. “If you make light of something it goes far further than if you just post the serious side,” says the DJ, aged 54, whose real name is Tony Marnach.
He is friends with Kate Moss (“I met her when she was 15, she’s incredible”), Donatella Versace (who always provides dinner if you are working with her and will have done her research and know all about you) and Meghan and Harry (he played at the royal wedding but is sworn to secrecy about it). As well as being 2020’s answer to Hogarth with his social satire, Tony has adapted his day job to Covid. Before lockdown 2.0 was announced, he was playing small sit-down parties called “social discoing”, as well as doing livestreamed sets, including a two-hour event for Victoria Beckham’s birthday in April.
Lockdown was novel for Tony, who before this year was unfamiliar with nights in. He started DJing aged 16 at Rusty Egan and Steve Strange’s The Playground because he had a job on the door and they were “tired of me moaning about the music so told me to try and do better”. There he met Marc Almond and Freddie Mercury, who gave him his first line of cocaine at 16. “I had no idea who he was,” says Tony. “I wasn’t a Queen fan, I just wanted to go to a party”. Since then he has flown around the world playing at fashion week after-parties and on private islands. Tony and Boy George would, he has said, “go out on Wednesday and come home the following Tuesday”. “I didn’t plan to go into DJing but I love music,” he tells me. “I love clubbing; this enabled me to be in a club off my nut and get paid for it, what more do you want?”
Still, being king of the memes isn’t so different to DJing. “It is about collecting things, memes or music, and sharing them when the timing is right, in an order that makes sense. I have more than 150,000 memes on my phone. Instagram is a modern way of DJing.” One per cent of his posts are political, he estimates — on Saturday, as the second lockdown was announced, he posted a picture of the Prime Minister with the message: “We must act now!…Starting Thursday.” Sometimes the message is completely unvarnished: “Ever look at someone and just think ‘c***’?” “Don’t get me started on politics,” he says. “It feels good to slag these people off because it lightens the load. They need to be doing more for the people, not taking from the people.”
TV presenter Trisha Goddard is his most prominent fan. She likes all his Instagram posts and is liberal with her comments, like an enthusiastic Aunt on Facebook. “People messaged me saying I needed to ban Trisha,” he says, aghast. “They don’t get her mum humour. The world needs more people like Trisha.” Tony has just finished two weeks of quarantine after a trip to Ibiza to do a talk and then play a set, which was “magical because it was peaceful, all the people who ruin the island weren’t there. It reminded me of 1986”. He was happy to stay home afterwards (“if you’ve done the crime, you’ve gotta do the time”). His partner David Graham kept morale up by playing show tunes, as did playing with their dog Tailor.
The way to get through this pandemic, he says, is to evolve. “There is no normal, this will change the way we do things forever,” he says. “We cannot open nightclubs like before and I can’t see festival season going ahead as we know it, but we can embrace the new ways. My job is to make people dance, however we can right now.”
There are secret parties going on but Tony isn’t judgemental about them: “Look after your own hula hoop — stop worrying about what anyone else is doing and think about yourself. People need a release right now, to go somewhere where they can feel something different to what is being pumped at you. Fear of lockdown, and we haven’t even mentioned Brexit.”.”
Tony’s zen attitude comes from having been through “a lot of pain and heartache”. In 2006, Tony started getting treatment for drug and alcohol addiction. At one point while on meth he took his own teeth out with a screwdriver.
“I didn’t even think I had mental health issues when I did that,” he laughs dryly. “You see this jokey person on Instagram and think their world is amazing but it took a long time to get here.”
“It was such a relief to admit I needed help,” he continues. “The day I realised it was when my partner at the time asked me what had happened to me and I couldn’t answer. That was it. It was a God-given moment. The next day I went to see my GP.” He tells the story in his YouTube series The Recovery and receives hundreds of messages every day from people about their mental health. He replies to every one.
It took him a while to feel confident DJing sober. “I had this big welcome back Tony party at the Raymond Revuebar and I couldn’t do it. I freaked out that I couldn’t do this sober. It was like getting into a swimming pool where everyone was a good swimmer but I had inflatable armbands on. It’s like the first time you have sex, you build it up so much and it is the biggest disaster. Drugs had defined who I was for 28 years, it was about learning to walk again.” His teeth look perfect now, white and even (“I had them redone in lockdown”), and he is wearing a t-shirt from his new range, Arrogant Hypocrite, which he has tattooed on his hands. “I started it because streetwear is straightwear,” he says. His range will just be 100 pieces, mainly t-shirts with pictures on the back that come with a story. He is wearing one with him and Leigh Bowery on, “we are slagging someone off there”, he says.
Tony was born in the house across the road, where his grandmother lived. His mother, who was a cleaning supervisor for Buckingham Palace and met the Queen “loads”, went into labour on the stairs, “so I’m like a homing pigeon for Pimlico”. He grew up on a council estate in Battersea, “so I was street savvy, I grew up around gangs fighting”. His dad was a plumber and they always played music in the house — he would wake up to Elvis on weekends. His parents didn’t worry about him going out — “they knew I was capable of looking after myself”. If he had a 16-year-old would he let them do the same? “If I had a 16-year-old in this current climate I don’t know what I’d be like. I like to think I’d be honest with them.”
Despite Covid, Tony has been booked to DJ a lot of events, virtually and hopefully in real life at a social distance for New Year. He plans to spend Christmas at Soho Farmhouse and come back to London to play music so that we can dance our way into 2021. “We will have good times again,” he says, grinning. “It is up to you to f**king create them.”